Grandson of brick maker sees history at his feet. He hopes Ybor City is next.

John Copeland is grandson of the man who founded the Copeland Brick Co. in Alabama. When Tampa began paving its sandy streets, the city contracted for the company’s products. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
John Copeland is grandson of the man who founded the Copeland Brick Co. in Alabama. When Tampa began paving its sandy streets, the city contracted for the company’s products. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published July 13, 2019

TAMPA — John W. Copeland sees family history at his feet when he walks the neighborhoods of Tampa.

His grandfather was John R. Copeland, founder of Copeland-Inglis Shale Brick Co. of Birmingham Ala.

In the early 1900s, they sold the city of Tampa millions of "Copeland-Inglis" branded bricks used to make roads.

Half a century later, the city replaced or paved over most of its brick streets with asphalt.

But bricks are in vogue again. The city wants to use the pavers to replace asphalt stretches of Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.

Ybor's streets were made from bricks stamped Augusta Block, made by Georgia Vitrified Brick & Clay Co.

But to acquire enough pavers for that one-mile stretch of Ybor City's main drag, the city is open to using other bricks as long as they maintain the district's historic look, are made from red clay and are a century old.

Copeland-Inglis bricks — still found today downtown, in Hyde Park and in Palma Ceia — fill the bill.

"It would be great to see my grandfather's name in Ybor," said Copeland, 86, who lives in Land O' Lakes. "More important is that people know the story behind the man and the bricks."

Copeland is walking history lesson on the subject.

READ MORE: Tampa is interested in re-bricking Seventh Avenue. But they can't find the bricks

In 1883 at the age of 20, John R. Copeland moved from the family's 1,000-acre plantation in Pickens County, Ala., to Birmingham in search of a new career.

Incorporated just 12 years earlier, Birmingham emerged as a hub of iron manufacturing.

"That's what made the bricks there special," Copeland said, holding a brick he owns and standing on others along Ola Avenue outside downtown's Armature Works.

"The clay had iron. The shale clay was very dense and strong."

As the family story goes, cousin George Lunsford taught Copeland's grandfather the brick industry.

Copeland doesn't know when his grandfather and B.A. Inglis formally incorporated Copeland-Inglis. News archives show the company was doing business with Tampa by 1912.

In May of that year, Copeland-Inglis won a city of Tampa contract for 1 million bricks at a cost of $28.75 per 1,000. A year later, according to news archives, the city purchased another 5 million of the company's bricks, and in 1914, Orange and Hernando counties split 5.2 million bricks.

The partners would personally lobby for the contracts.

"I am told that my grandfather was not a great manager," Copeland said. "But he was a great salesman. He had a gift for gab."

In the 1920s, Copeland-Inglis shifted its focus to asphalt, Copeland said, and began paving highways throughout the southeast. During the Great Depression, clients — including government agencies — failed to pay for completed work. Copeland-Inglis went bankrupt in 1932.

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"It was once the largest brick manufacturer in Alabama," Copeland said. "And one of the largest in the southeast."

Copeland was born in 1934.

A year later, he said, his grandfather was at a horse race in Ohio and left the stands to help repair the truck that raked the track between runs. A horse got loose, bolted, and killed Copeland's grandfather. He was 72.

As a child, Copeland knew his family was once in the brick business. During summer trips to Birmingham from his hometown of Ottawa, Ill., he would see the family name stamped on brick roads.

But it wasn't until he retired to Tampa around 30 years ago, and spotted Copeland-Inglis bricks here and elsewhere in the state, that he he understood his grandfather's influence.

John R. Copeland considered it crass to lay bricks with the company name facing up. Any bricks found that way today were pulled up and flipped when brick roads were restored, his grandson said.

It's a bit irksome, Copeland said, when people assume August Brick provided all the material for Tampa's brick streets. The company was the top provider, accounting for 730 streets in Tampa, according to the Augusta Museum of History.

But there were others, according to news archives, including Copeland-Inglis, Coaldale Block and Southern Clay Manufacturing.

"Those deserve attention too," Copeland said. "They, too, are part of history."

Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa's historic preservation officer, knows all about Copeland-Inglis and mentioned it by name as a brick that is eligible for use along Seventh Avenue.

READ MORE: Old-school bricks making a comeback?

Copeland has 40 of his grandfather's bricks, built into his back patio.

He hopes someone has a stockpile of Copeland-Inglis bricks for Seventh Avenue.

And he understands why a city that paved them over and ripped them up is now eager to add to its 41 remaining miles of brick streets.

"Anything that lasts over 100 years," Copeland said, "is going to be vogue again."

Contact Paul Guzzo at or follow @PGuzzoTimes.