Sylvanus Johnson was a Connecticut native, born November 12, 1813, who worked in his father’s brickyard before moving to Iowa City. I like to call him Mr. Red Brick since it was his brickyard in Outlot 24 – at the corner of Burlington and Gilbert Streets (see map below) – that made much of the building material used in the earliest days of The Red Brick Campus. Click here to read all about The Red Brick Campus.
Johnson was one of Iowa City’s earliest settlers, arriving here in 1839. From his obituary in The Iowa Citizen – January 10, 1902 – we find this info…
In truth, settling in Iowa City was not in Sylvanus’ original plans. Author Charles Ray Aurner explains…
Once here, Sylvanus got right to work, doing what he knew best, making bricks. He soon set up shop along Gilbert Street just south of Burlington, and his first bricks were made on April 15, 1840, going into a boot store building on Iowa Avenue just west of Dubuque Street. Over the next few decades, Johnson was supplying bricks for every need from chimneys to buildings.
We call him Mr. Red Brick, because his bricks were used in every building built on campus between 1840 and 1875, from the interior walls of Old Capitol, to the Mechanics Academy, to both South and North Hall on University Square. Read more here.
But, before Sylvanus built his dream home in 1857, he and his wife, Emily, lived in this small brick home located at 412 N. Dubuque Street (see map above). It’s believed that Sylvanus built this home in 1847 with bricks from his own brickyard. More details here.
Click here to read the original Iowa State Press obituary for Sylvanus Johnson from 1902 “Death of A Pioneer.”
Sylvanus (1813-1902) and Emily (1819-1899) Johnson are both buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.
Here’s to Sylvanus Johnson – Iowa City’s first brick-maker. Certainly a foundational stone – or shall we say brick – in our fair city’s heritage.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Pioneer Passes Away – Sylvanus Johnson obituary, The Iowa Citizen Newspaper, January 10, 1902.
Leading Events in Johnson County History, Charles Ray Aurner, Western Historical Press, 1912, pp 38-41.
The Honey War – Forgotten History
Sylvanus Johnson, Find-a-Grave
Emily Bradley Johnson, Find-A-Grave
Sylvanus Johnson (1813 – 1902), WikiTree
The Sylvanus Johnson House, Wikipedia.
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