On the surface, Camp Salmen looks like your typical nature park: lawns and green trees everywhere, wildlife scampering about; all the usual nature park stuff. Little betrays the billions and billions of bricks and brick parts buried beneath the surface here. Go anywhere in the park and turn a spade of dirt and you’ll likely come up with a brick. This one of the park’s themes.
This place began with bricks. It’s just up the bayou from where the Frenchman “La Liberte’” made a living in the early 1700s making bricks from local clays. The clay was brough to Bayou Liberty naturally, suspended in its moving waters. Little by little, over hundreds, even thousands of years, it settled out and accumulated in quiet, flooded areas and covered up over time. Jaffre and other Frenchmen dug up the clay, formed it into small, rectangular blocks and baked them in small ovens or kilns. Jaffre’s bricks were snatched up like brick hotcakes in old New Orleans and were put into the foundations, floors and walls of the city’s earliest structures. Others caught on to his little scheme and the mania for making bricks spread from there up and down the bayou and beyond until, much later, Slidell became the “City of Brick.”
New Orleans ended up burning to the ground twice in the late 1700s and the Spanish, who were in charge, declared, “Enough is enough!” and decreed that all new construction would henceforth be of brick and mortar. The game was on for brick and mortar makers on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
By the time Joseph Laurent bought this place in the early 1800s, “brickbats,” which is what broken bricks are called, were noted as being piled high on the banks of the bayou and were used as local landmarks. Laurent built a trading post here with his own bricks and, no doubt, dabbled in the trade for them across the lake. What is probably one of his old clay pits, “the hole in the ground from which the French Quarter sprang,” remains next to his trading post, today’s Salmen Lodge.
Later, Fritz Salmen, a.k.a. “Grand Master Brick” and his posse (family) took brick making to a highly industrialized art form and sought clay deposits throughout the area. What later became Camp Salmen gave up its clay to him and became, in exchange, a repository of evermore brick waste from Salmen’s factories. This was added to brick deposits along the bayou that fortified and defended its banks from erosion.
Mixed in with all this are the countless “Bricks Named Joe.” A lot of broken St. Joe bricks also made it onto the property and each loudly declares its personal identity and soul to any and all.
One of Fritz Salmen’s bricks.