"The Bricks"


by Tony Parker 
Sherman County  Star

The red bricks that decorate Main Street and downtown Goodland have  stood the test of time, lasting for over 77 years.  This unique attraction was  laid be a single Oneida Indian, Jim Garfield Brown.  This "Speed King"  bricklayer worked for Cook and Ransom Company paving the streets of several  towns, and could easily lay 36,000 bricks a day.

In 1920, petitions were circulated  in Goodland about paving Main Street.  The mayor and city council awarded the  paving contract to Cook and Ransom, an Ottawa firm, for the sum of $109,703.60.   Cook and Ransom advertised their Indian brick layer, that he could lay brick as  fast as eight men could bring them to him.

Brown reportedly had been educated  as a football star at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.  The purpose  of this school was to train Indians to learn the ways of white men.  In its  39-year life span, Carlisle Indian School was attended by 12,000 children and  three Jim Browns.  The Sherman County Historical Society is searching for the  records about bricklayer Jim Brown.  After attending school, Brown decided to  find work rather than return to a reservation, and the tall, slender Indian made  a name for himself in brick laying and concrete work.

Brown had just completed his work  for a brick layer in Liberal when he came to Goodland.  The best way to get from  Liberal to Goodland in 1921 was via Topeka or Kansas City for the trip to  Goodland.

Goodland's Main Street was to be 65  feet wide and paved with brick from Eighth to 17th. Side streets (10th, 11th,  12th, and 13th) were to be paved for one block each side of Main St.

Work started June 7, 1921, and was  not finished until December of that year.  The streets had already been prepared  with five inches of concrete covered with a layer of sand when Brown arrived.   He was so proficient that he could lay 125 to 150 bricks per minute.  Six men  were constantly bringing bricks to him using an instrument similar to ice tongs  which could carry a group of nine pound bricks at a time.  Brown did the work  leaning over from a standing position with leather pads on his fingers as a  group of spectators watched the work.  He would lay a brick with each hand  laying about two bricks a second at a steady pace.

Brown accompanied the Ransom  family, who traveled with their projects.  On many fishing and picnic trips, Mr.  Ransom would include Brown to be sure that he would no have a hangover from  weekend partying when it was time to go to work on Monday morning.

"In spite of his alcohol problem,  Jim Brown was highly regarded as a gentleman and considerate individual" stated  Willard Ransom Jr.

Ransom Jr. remembered his father's  employee as an enjoyable character to be around.   He remembered Brown teaching  him and his brothers how to use a rifle.  "He seemed to be good at anything he  started out to do" recalled Ransom Jr.  After finishing the brick laying in  Goodland, a contest to see who was faster at laying bricks was set as Brown  became famous for his skills.  An Omaha man named F.L. House wanted to compete  with Brown, but the two argued about the place of competition and negotiations  collapsed.

Brown was publicly quoted as  saying, "You can sit on the curbstone in Omaha and lay bricks with your feet  while you roll cigarettes.  You got to scamper back and forth like a prairie dog  down here."

Frank Hoffman was offered as a  prominent opponent and Brown accepted.  The contest day was set for Sept. 12,  1925, in drizzling rain and 60 degrees.  The contest celebration included 300  floats and decorated cars.  The contestants were to lay brick on a stretch of  unfinished road 833 feet long linking Olathe to the highway.   The contestants  were positioned at the midway point of the roadway, back to back.   Brown laid  200 tons of bricks, paving 416 1/2 feet with 46,664 bricks, 1,755 more bricks  than his opponent.  Although Brown received a medal designating him as the  Middle Western Champ, he claimed to be the "World's Champion Bricklayer" and  although his claim was challenged, he was never defeated.

Brown continued to pave the streets  of Baldwin and other towns as we was needed.

The last time anyone is known to  have seen him was in 1931 at the Oklahoma Free Fair in Muskogee where Ransom Jr.  was showing cattle, and saw Brown was an unemployed drifter.

Today, the bricks are still  traveled on by all who come down Main Street.  The history of the bricks and the  man who laid them is a story that is a part of Goodland's heritage.  Much  controversy surrounded the project in 1921 with allegations that the brick was  not of proper quality, spacing or satisfactory work.  However, it has proven to  be one of the longest lasting and beneficial investments that the city has ever  made.

The history along Main Street does  not end with the red bricks.  The Sherman County Historical Society along with  the Kansas Historical Society is taking action to preserve the heritage in the  bricks, buildings and businesses.  They will be undertaking several projects in  the near future, and may include a walking tour, some type of plaque or banner  outside of each building and possibly a framed photograph and history to hang  inside the building.  Also, citizens in the community will have the opportunity  to show their support and buy a brick to preserve the heritage that is a crucial  part of downtown Goodland.

"Tourists are attracted to these  sorts of things" said Gennifer House, President of the Sherman County Historical  Society.  "This is a specific area of interest, and you take for granted what  you have in your own town."  If anyone else has information on the Main Street  bricks or any history in the area, the historical society would appreciate the information.

www.goodlandnet.com/history/brickstreets.htm 08/29/07