What are Hidden Bricks?
Have you ever come across a brick with the word “HIDDEN” inside of it? Across the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area you can find historic buildings constructed from these iconic red bricks. They have quite an important history to the city of Vancouver, WA and other parts of the Pacific NW.
First is that the word “hidden” represents the Hidden family, specifically Lowell Mason Hidden. Hidden was born in 1823 in Vermont. He came from an impoverished family who could not afford to raise him, and by the age of six his family sent him to a farmer to work in exchange for an education. Unfortunately this farmer did not keep his word.
At the age of 13, Lowell Hidden left to seek his fortune in the world. He worked on farms in Vermont and saved his money, and eventually sailed to San Francisco to seek other employment opportunities. Because of his skills and history of farm work, as well as his work ethic, a businessman quickly hired Hidden to work on his farm in Vancouver, WA.
The Start of Success
Hidden continued farm work in Vancouver for a few more years. The City of Vancouver soon hired him to build and replace a damaged dock on the Columbia River. After completion of this project, Hidden sought other opportunities for work and found them. He quickly saw a need for fencing in the town, and he opened a fence rail business. That became successful and he soon after bought land and built a log cabin on it.
(Lowell M. Hidden in 1887)
Lowell Hidden continued to seek opportunity and success in Vancouver and found it, through finding needs and fulfilling them. In 1871 at the age of 48, he opened the Hidden Brick Company. This was just in time to fulfill the need for building material for Mother Joseph’s Providence Academy in Vancouver, WA.
The First Major Project
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and four other Sisters of Providence designed Providence Academy and supervised its construction. It was to serve the community as a school and orphanage, in addition to serving as the governance offices for the Sisters. The building was completed in 1873, constructed out of one million Hidden bricks. At the time, it was recognized as the largest brick building north of San Francisco and became the seat of governance for all of the Sisters’ ministries in the Northwest. It operated as a school and orphanage for almost 100 years.
(Providence Academy in Vancouver, WA)
In 1969 the Hidden family purchased the building in order to preserve its history and save it from demolition. In 1978, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Providence Academy still stands, and it serves the community of Clark County as a place for events and gatherings.
Other Notable Landmarks
The National Register of Historic Places happens to list many more buildings made of Hidden bricks. These include the landmark St. James Cathedral, the Lowell M. Hidden house, the W. Foster Hidden house and the Carnegie Library (now the Clark County Historical Museum). The company also provided bricks for the Tacoma Hotel in Tacoma and for projects in Portland and Astoria.
(St. James Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, WA)
(Clark County Historical Museum)
(Lowell M. Hidden house)
(Foster Hidden house)
The Hidden Brick Company was not the only brickyard in Clark County, but it was certainly the most successful. The first factory was located at 15th and Main St, and it remained there for 60 years.
(Hidden Brick crew in 1890s)
In his later years, Lowell Hidden gave an interview about his success. He related the story of his successful enterprise as such:
“For over twenty years I ran a brickyard on the first land which I acquired here and made over forty million bricks from this ground. Most of the early-day brick buildings in Vancouver are built from bricks I made.” (History of the Columbia River from the Dalles to the Sea).
In 1905, Lowell Hidden finally retired. He lived for another 18 years before passing away in 1923. His two sons Foster and Oliver Hidden carried on his business, renaming it the Hidden Brothers Brick Company. By 1929, Oliver had also retired and Foster continued to operate the family business, changing the name back to Hidden Brick Company. The company remained in the Hidden family until 1992 when the business finally closed.
For more information about different types of brick and how they can be used in construction, contact us!