Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Columbia’s history: Brick by brick

Posted 6/22/2012 5:10:00 PM

A few of weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour a piece of South Carolina history that’s not usually open to the public: The Guignard Brick Works. The Historic Columbia Foundation opened up the works for a one-day tour with informative talks by historians, architects and even descendents of the Guignard family.

I actually used to live at an apartment complex right by the Brick Works. Everyday I would drive by a group of abandoned, domed, brick structures sitting in the middle of an unkempt field and wonder what on earth they were.

About a year after we moved in, construction started in the field. The field was cleared and day-by-day, piles of bricks stacked up as the workmen turned over the earth. Over time utilities were laid and a small network of streets built, ready for commercial traffic.

I worried that the mysterious brick domes would disappear as well, but thankfully, they did not. In fact, the domes and the brick office building that stands nearby are undergoing a slow restoration. The Cayce Historical Museum is developing the Brick Works as an historical property and hopes that when the commercial property finds tenants that the Brick Works will get more visitors from the foot traffic.

The Guignard family first began building bricks in Columbia in the early 1800s. After closing during the Civil War, the Guignards reopened the Brick Works during Reconstruction, seeing the need for materials to rebuild South Carolina. The Guignards continued making bricks here until the 1970s.

Although the Brick Works are not generally open to the public yet, you can still drive over to Cayce and take a look at the exterior of the buildings.

Start by looking at the rectangular, brick (naturally) office building. You’ll see that there’s a lot of variation in design in terms of how the bricks are laid. That’s because the building itself served as a sample book of sorts. If you came to the Brick Works to buy bricks, the office gave you an idea of everything that could be done with them.

Next, take a look at your feet. You’ll see train tracks. The Guignards own locomotive would travel down to the river, where they extracted clay from its bank. One of the Guignard locomotives is on display at the S.C. Railroad Museum in Winnsboro.

Finally, head toward those four domed structures. They’re actually beehive kilns. Three of these kilns were built around 1919 and the fourth in 1932. Bricks were stacked in the center of the building while fires were started along the structure’s perimeter. In the center of the dome’s floor, a downdraft vent helped circulate the air.

The Guignard Brick Works can be found at 100 Granby Crossing at Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce. For more information visit The National Register of Historic Places.