Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 16
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his late eighties, and could only get around
with the help of a cane, he made a pilgrimage
back to Austin to look at the building
again. As one of the few surviving workers,
he was interviewed by reporters,and he
related his memories of scrambling around
on the scaffolding under the high dome 65
He next opened a lime, cement and
brick supply business in Lockhart, and,
determined to rise in the world, began in
earnest to educate himself. In 1894, he and
a partner began to contract brick work and
to build brick houses. During that year, he
also worked as a stonemason on a dam
being built on the Colorado River. Accidents
were frequent, and Birkner tells of
two close calls he had. He thought the
project supervisors were unethical, and
finally quit when his wages were cut. He
noted in his diary that he was troubled by
the way the dam was being constructed.
Since it was hollow, he felt it would not
hold. This apprehension was confirmed in
1900 when, in the same storm that devastated
Galveston, the dam gave way,
flooded the area and drowned 12 people.
In 1895, he contracted to construct his
first building, the Blanks Store in Lockhart.
Others followed in Luling, Halletsville
and Seguin. Lockhart underwent a
building boom during the late 19th century,
and a good many of the commercial
buildings around the square were built by
Birkner. By then he had also taken his
brother Otto into the business. His efforts
to educate himself has been successful, and
at this point he was able to do all the calculations
and computations required to plan
and execute the projects. He sold his supply
business in 1904 because of the new competition
from lumber yards.
Birkner tells of the disdain that many
Texans at that time felt toward Germans.
They were dubbed "Dutchmen" and were
thought of as very foreign and difficult to
understand. Birkner, who seemed to take
such treatment philosophically, commented
on the customs of the immigrant
German bricklayers who worked for him.
They each had to have a bucket of beer at
ten in the morning and three in the afternoon,
which they apparently found most
refreshing, since he notes that afterwards
they "seemed to be revived and did lots of
In 1901, Birkner formed a corporation
to manufacture brick. They spent $15,000
on machinery, and went into production.
The bricks were stamped "L&L" for
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Circls inicat thetown in hichBirker cntrate d o ostrcionroect
Lockhart and Luling. The results were very
disappointing, however; the local clay they
were using was of poor quality. They never
succeeded in getting more than 40 percent
usable bricks from any bum, and they finally
closed down the plant.
In 1905, the stockholders of L&L were
facing loss of their investment. They were
faced with letting the equipment be auctioned
off to pay the mortgage. Salvation
came in a curious form. On a project in
Hondo, Birkner had a carpenter who liked
to go down the road to the "wet" town of
D'Hanis on payday for a drinking spree. On
one of these excursions, he met a Mr.
Wallrath who owned a brickyard where he
was making bricks by hand. That Sunday
night the carpenter, still somewhat
intoxicated, staggered into the hotel in
Hondo and told Birkner excitedly that the
brickmakers in D'Hanis wanted to see him
about buying his machinery.
When Birkner visited D'Hanis, he
found that Wallrath had a hill of excellent
clay 100 feet high and a mile long from
which he had been making white brick.
Birkner tested the clay, found it was rich in
iron and should have made red brick. Although
they were good and hard, the color
had not been able to develop because
Wallrath wasn't baking them long enough.
A deal was struck that saved L&L from the
auction block. The machinery was shipped
to D'Hanis, and Birkner showed them how
to use it, and how to properly bum the
brick. The deal gave him a 10 percent
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/16/: accessed April 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.