When Concrete Blocks Were the Latest Fad, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, we learned about Vicksburg’s first concrete block building, the Bonelli Building on Washington Street. Mr. Bonelli’s idea apparently caught on quickly because within a few months, a Vicksburg contractor, J.W. Mann, had set up a plant to produce the blocks on an industrial scale. Mann used the blocks on his own projects, and although I had never heard of him before, later articles in the Post indicate that his contracting business included projects in Jackson, Edwards, and even Hermanville (a concrete block bank that must no longer stand). The following article doesn’t say what machine Mann used in his plant, so it’s hard to say which buildings around town were his blocks, and adding confusion, we don’t know how long his plant was in operation.

At least a few of Vicksburg’s finest homes in the South Cherry Street neighborhood are constructed of concrete blocks and appear to date to this period. Many of the low walls in the area are also built of blocks. Who knows, maybe some of them are Mr. Mann’s handiwork?

Vicksburg Evening Post, March 26, 1906, p.1

J.W. MANN’S PLANT MAKING CEMENT BLOCKS

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THE METHOD OF MANUFACTURING THIS POPULAR AND INDESTRUCTIBLE BUILDING MATERIALS–COMMENT THEREON

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J.W. Mann, the progressive and up-to-date builder, realizing the necessity of keeping pace with modern construction has erected one of the largest and most complete Cement Block Plants in the South, with a daily capacity of 900 blocks. All mixing is done with continuous mixer in strict accordance with government specifications, for thoroughly mixing of concrete material. All work is done by machinery, even the loading and unloading of material on and off the cars.

The plant is located on the Y. & M.V. Railroad, Mr. Mann having gone to Chicago to arrange with that Company for an equitable freight rate and satisfactory location, all of which was immediately and satisfactorily arranged.

Mr. Mann says he will keep about twenty men employed at this plant continuously, at salaries ranging from $1.50 to $3.00 per day. The plant is under full headway, as the last machinery was received last Saturday. Mr. Mann says he has orders enough on hand now, including the blocks he needs for his own work, to keep his plant going for 60 days, and by that time he feels confident the people generally will be awakened to the merits of this construction for the various reasons which are: First, its inexpensiveness; second, its impervious nature to cold, heat, dampness or anything else as the continuous hollow space in the walls makes it like a bank vault with its dead air space an absolutely non conductor; third, its beauty, as it is not only ornamental and complete in artistic texture, but it also gives a massive and substantial effect; and last but not least, its everlasting and indestructible qualities, after it is one time properly constructed, as there are records of cement used as far back as 4350 B.C., and it has never been found in any instance that cement work, in any form, after being properly worked, has ever deteriorated to any perceptible degree, so any part of a building constructed of this material, will never need any repairs or paint.

The “Cement Age,” in its February issue, under head of “Cement Work in the South,” says: “Cement work is making its way in the South. Building operations in the South are not on the large scale of the Northern cities, but it is beginning to appreciate the advantages of cement construction.”

“The Contractor” in its March issue says: “We feel confident that no explanation is necessary for the fact that large space is devoted in this number to matters relating to Concrete Construction, in fact this issue would not be fairly representative of the Engineering and Contracting world at the present time if such were not the case. The wide range of adaptability of concrete is bringing it into a hitherto untried use almost every day in the year, making it by all odds the most important factor in constructive work at the present time.”

All the best construction today is being done with cement, as all experienced architects, engineers and builders, agree on the material as being unquestionably the best, they only differ as to the most practical and substantial method of construction.

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Categories: Architectural Research, Vicksburg

7 replies

  1. It’s a later era, but in the 30s and 40s there was a contractor in Oxford known as “Concrete” Cullen who was building houses and other buildings out of concrete with a formula of his own devising. I’ve been told by an engineer that the concrete is unusually hard. A number of the buildings still exist around town, all of them interesting ones.

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  2. So how valid are Mann’s claims? How energy efficient are these structures today?

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  3. The blocks used for the cap of the low wall show some playfulness with the block machine. The manufacture used a form for the short side of the block that was half the size of the block they were making. This gave it a half rockface, half smooth finish to the block.

    Mann’s claims are 100% valid. The continuous dead air space they refer to in the article is a pretty good insulator since dead air does not transfer temperatures. With modern insulation like fiberglass bats or spray foam (gasp, boo, hiss) its not the product insulating the structure but the dead air space the insulating material tries to create. Like Malvaney said air infiltrating the space will negate the value of a cavity.

    Well maintained this method of construction is fairly efficient. Although temperature transfer through walls is pretty low on the list of concerns. Walls are fourth on the list behind roof, floor, & openings(doors and windows).

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