Decorative concrete blocks were the rage in house building from about 1890’s to the 1930’s. These decorative concrete blocks came in an assortment of styles and sizes.
They could be purchased from a local building supplier but most likely made right on the construction site. A concrete block machine could be ordered from the Sears catalog for $42.50 in 1910.
Many homes were built entirely of decorative concrete block. Some Foursquare homes had concrete block on the first floor and clapboard or wood shingles on the second floor. Some homes only used
decorative concrete block for the foundation. Concrete block was also used for garages. The automobile was thought to be a fire hazard so people felt safer with their automobiles in a fire proof concrete block garage.
Seeing decorative concrete block on a Victorian is a good way to date the house. Although the architecture may look like it’s from the 1800’s, seeing the use of concrete block I have found can usually date the house to around the 1910’s. I have also discovered much older houses that have been moved to a new location and used concrete block for the new foundation.
The 1930’s saw the end of decorative concrete block due to mass production machines prohibiting the cast ornamental faces. The plain concrete cinder blocks were faceless and best never seen.
The above information comes from an article in The Old House Journal. For more detailed information read the full article here .
At the same time construction with decorative concrete blocks was booming, Thomas Edison was experimenting with building concrete houses from a single molding operation. This process turned out to be a failure. Here is the story .
Where Can I Get Decorative Concrete Blocks Today?
As of the time of writing this article there were two places making these blocks.
Another option is to contact your local cinder block company. They can make a mold of a historic block and reproduce the blocks. The process can take about two months.
Thank you to my neighbor Kathy M. for inspiring me and helping me with this article.