Library Features...

LOCAL HISTORY: How the Library Helps Solve Yesterday's Mysteries
Branch: Felton

"Brick Bat Bob" Piwarzyk
BRICK BAT BOB: Bob Piwarzyk
used library files for research
on his book on the local lime
industry, and posted a web
article that helped solve an
archaeological mystery

More than two decades ago, Bob Piwarzyk found half a brick with some curious lettering along Laguna Creek near his home in Bonny Doon.

Piwarzyk, known to some as "Brick Bat Bob," is a retired engineer who has co-authored a book, Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County. From his expertise in that area, he knew that every brick has a story to tell and that this brick came from a source not previously encountered in Santa Cruz County. It took years, but eventually, through the library, the answer came to light.

"Most of the bricks used in this county in the last century came here around-the-horn from England, Scotland, and Belgium," he said. They often had markings to identify the source.

In this case, the problem was that he had the right half of the brick and the tail end of the wording on it, which made doing a search, even with today's computer technology, nigh impossible. But he held on to this brickbat anyway.

Then, twenty years later, when he was leading a group of students on an archaeological field trip in the same area, one of them found the left half of the brick. When the two halves were put together, the words "Ls.. Escoyez," "Tertra" and "Belgique" became clear.

That still didn't tally with anything Piwarzyk could run down, but he mentioned the brick in an article he wrote for the local history section of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries' web site.

Three years later, a man in Belgium typed "Escoyez" while doing a genealogical Google search and found Piwarzyk's article. That led to the explanation of the story behind the brick.

It turned out the man doing the search knew of one Louis Escoyez, former mayor of a Belgian town named Tertra, who was also the head of a brick factory that was the town's principal industry in the second half of the 19th century. At some point, the firm had made a sale to a business in Santa Cruz, which is how the brick ended up here.

This story illustrates the way the library system, including its web site, serves as a resource for historians and connects people around the world. But Piwarzyk, who volunteers for the library and state parks system, was named Historian of the Year for 2007 by the History Forum at the Museum of Art and History, and who has lobbied for preservation of this county's lime kilns and related structures, said the libraries were invaluable in his research in a more old-fashioned way.

Research for the book resulted in compilation of three sets of notebooks four inches thick, consisting of newspaper articles printed off the library's microfiche system, which has complete sets of the county's papers, including the Sentinel, as well as the now-defunct Santa Cruz Surf and the Mountain Echo, once published in Boulder Creek.

"It was a wonderful experience," he said, "like detective work, really. Every story in every paper was a little bit different, so you had to look for the little clues you could put together to get at what the truth might really be."

story by Mike Wallace