Searching to save Big Piney’s ‘native brick’ history

SUBLETTE COUNTY – More than a century ago in 1913, an enterprising George Durnford decided to construct a local “native brick” kiln.

The homey pale red brinks in turn were used to build two of Big Piney’s notable historic landmarks and several earlier homes that are still standing.

The town’s First State Bank of Big Piney was built of the native brick in 1914 at 401 Budd Ave. and after decades of other uses, now serves as the foundation for the Town Hall. The next year, the First Congregational Church was built at 410 Black Ave. and is still in use today, according to Clint Gilchrist of the Sublette County Historic Preservation Board.

At its Nov. 7 meeting, Gilchrist presented the Board of Sublette County Commissioners with basic history about the brick kiln and historic buildings – as well as the actual kiln site, possibly south of Big Piney, he said.

The proposed project is called the “Big Piney Native Brick District.”

“The preservation board would like to do a National Register (of Historic Places) nomination for the five buildings in Big Piney that were built with native bricks from the kiln from 1913 to 1916,” he told commissioners. “There are no National Register sites in Big Piney. … We hope all six are considered.”

Intact, functional and stable, the old bank and church when compared to three homes that Durnford’s bricks built two or three years earlier on show a growing refinement in style and design. This project evolved from a historic study of the church last year.

“It became very apparent that a few buildings still standing in town were built from locally kilned bricks,” he said in his request. “This is very unique in the area where early construction was dominated by log and wood. The Big Piney kiln was the only one in the history of the Upper Green River Valley and only operated for a short period of time, from 1913 to 1916.”

Durnford built the first home in 1913 on North Fish Street from his first batch of native bricks; only one brick wall is now visible. Another one on North Smith Avenue, Durnford built for himself and family. The third – unrecorded and unconfirmed but apparently a match – is on the same street.

All are or have been occupied in the recent past. Gilchrist said he has owners’ verbal support.

Gilchrist asked for approval to apply for the NRHP grant to nominate the historic district, which will cost $9,792 for an experienced professional contractor to complete the application. The federal grant provides $5,000, the county $4,000 and “in-kind matches” $792, he said.

The preservation board has enough left from the Sommers Homestead Ranch project to provide the county’s share, he said.

The board is working with the Wyoming State Office of Historic Preservation on the nomination and potential listing. NRHP listings do not prevent owners from making changes to their buildings; each will be marked with a brass plaque.

If approved, it will be the first National Register listing in the “sister towns of Big Piney or Marbleton,” Gilchrist wrote, and Big Piney is the county’s oldest community.

There are 22 sites listed throughout the county, from fur-trade-era sites around Daniel to the Green River Cattle Drift.

The commission unanimously approved the request.

The historic preservation board welcomes any information about the kiln site and related brick buildings, additions, fireplaces or chimneys as background for the Big Piney Native Brick District. Contact Clint Gilchrist at [email protected]

George Durnford’s first batch of

native bricks was used in this 1913 home.


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