From 1883–1915, Imdieke Brickyard in Meire Grove produced bricks using traditional European methods. Residents supported this business venture by purchasing materials to create structures that represented their German culture.
Meire Grove lies in western Stearns County surrounded by a mix of prairie and hardwood forests. The Sauk River flows nearby as gently rolling hills define the landscape. German-speaking immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century embraced this environment as they established farms on the rich prairie soil. Most came from Oldenburg, Germany, bringing their language and Catholic faith with them.
A small group of immigrants (including town namesakes Herman and Henry Meyer) formed the nucleus of Meire Grove in 1858. They initially built dug-outs and log structures for shelter. Farmers started improving their houses in the mid-1880s as families and incomes grew. But memories of Oldenburg inspired many residents to think about brick construction and the possibility of using this traditional German building material in Minnesota.
Herman and Joseph Imdieke arrived in Meire Grove around 1870 with goals similar to their neighbors'. They went a step further ten years later, starting a business based on community interest. Both brothers had previously worked in brickyards, where they gained practical knowledge and industry experience. Clay deposits north of Meire Grove on the Imdieke farm offered an abundant resource for brick making.
The Imdiekes' technique greatly influenced brick quality. They first mixed slop clay, then let each batch soak for twenty-four hours before spreading it into wooden molds. Bricks were removed after several days and then dried for a few more. The procedure continued until about fifteen thousand bricks were ready for the kiln. The kiln baked the clay hard for about eight days, making it ready for building use. These initial efforts, however, failed. An excess of lime in the mixture caused the bricks to expand and then crumble when fired.
Success was on the horizon. In 1883, Herman and Joseph's younger brother Henry Imdieke constructed the first local Meire Grove brick house. Its exterior walls exhibited a distinguishing reddish-orange color that glowed when the sun shone on them. Firmness had improved but quality still remained unsatisfactory. In the next year, the Imdiekes hired skilled brick maker Ignatz Greve from Cincinnati to improve their process. Greve implemented a longer curing method that extended preparation over many weeks. Imdieke Brickyard was taking shape.
Father Meinulf Stuckenkemper from St. John the Baptist parish contacted the Imdiekes in 1885 about bricks for a new church in town. The request ensured steady work for months. It also signified another way residents maintained their traditions. Father Stuckenkemper chose Gothic Revival, an architectural style that reflected German culture. His choice also provided parishioners with a worship space that rivaled ones in their homeland. Brick construction soon spread to the community at large.
The Imdiekes supplied bricks for over thirty Meire Grove houses—about one third of the community. Books by landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing helped homeowners and builders choose a style. Structures built with gabled sides or in the I-house style showcased steep roof lines and front porches. Consolidated houses featured a single square or rectangular two-story design. Each pattern used about one hundred thousand bricks that cost a total of five hundred dollars.
The John and Elizabeth Caspers family completed a building project in 1902 for just over two thousand dollars. Features like window hoods and intricate porch molding hinted at the immigrants' ethnicity. But it was the houses' floor plans that truly expressed their owners' heritage. The interior household spaces reflected German customs, family roles, and Catholic traditions.
Demand for Imdieke bricks gradually declined in the early twentieth century. Meire Grove, however, had grown into a village since the early immigrant days of Herman and Henry Meyer. A saloon, a general store, and agricultural businesses scattered along Oak Street satisfied townspeople's needs. The 1886 St. John the Baptist Catholic Church dominated the streetscape. An 1896 plat map indicated that a majority of land was owned by German Americans. Imdieke Brickyard added to this cultural identity, its products used in dwellings and commercial buildings throughout the area. The Imdiekes' last production season was 1915. The family's expanding farming interests, coupled with dwindling brick sales, ended their operation.
Brinkman, Marilyn Salzl and Morgan, William Towner. Light From the Hearth: Central Minnesota Pioneers & Early Architecture. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press, 1982.
Conzen, Kathleen Neils. "Making Their Own America: Assimilation Theory and the German Peasant Pioneer." New York: Berg Publishers, 1990.
Grout, Frank F. "Minnesota Building Brick and Tile." Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Minnesota Geological Survey, 1947.
———, and E. K. Soper. "Clays and Shales of Minnesota." Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919.
Granger, Susan and Scott, Kelly. "Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820–1960." Vol. 1. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Transportation, 2005.
Hoffbeck, Steven R. The Haymakers: A Chronicle of Five Farm Families. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.
Imdieke Brickworks. Subject files, Meire Grove Brickyard.
Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota.
McKee, Harley J. Introduction to Early American Masonry, Stone, Brick, Mortar, and Plaster. Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1973.
Mitchell, William B. History of Stearns County. Chicago: H. C. Cooper, Jr., 1915.
Montgomery, Gladys. Storybook Cottages: America's Carpenter Gothic Style. New York: Rizzoli, 2011.
Peterson, Fred W. Building Community, Keeping the Faith: German Catholic Vernacular Architecture in a Rural Minnesota Parish. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998.
———. Western Minnesota Architecture 1870–1900. Morris: University of Minnesota, Morris, 1976.
Sisson, Richard, Zacher, Christian and Clayton, Andrew, eds. The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Swanson, Evadene Burris . "Building the Frontier Home." Minnesota History 15, no. 1 (March 1934): 43–55.
The Clay-Worker, 39–49 (January 1903).
Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000.
Upton, Dell. America's Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups That Built America. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1986.
Wanless, Dorothy L., ed. Century Farms of Minnesota: One Hundred Years of Changing Life Styles on the Farm. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company, 1985.
In 1883, Imdieke Brickyard produces materials for the first brick house in Meire Grove. The Imbdiekes build on this success a year later by hiring brick maker Ignatz Greve to improve their blend and curing process for a St. John the Baptist Church construction project.