A company could hardly have had a more modest beginning. In 1940, as the Great Depression was ending and just before the United States entered World War II, a time when anything seemed possible in America, John Orsina purchased his first block-making machine from Sears and Roebuck. Although this type of machinery was available from other sources, financing was not. For one dollar down and a commitment to pay one dollar per week on the balance owed, Westbrook Block was born. John set up this hand-operated machine in the backyard of his farmhouse in Westbrook , Connecticut.
At the beginning, manufacturing concrete blocks was a part time endeavor. Blocks were produced nights and weekends while the founder maintained a full time job and ran a small farm to generate income. During the early years, his blocks were used primarily in place of stone in the construction of house foundations with only one size available, 8 x 8 x 16 inch.
As demand for John’s products grew, making block became a full time occupation. More machinery was added to reduce the manual labor required to produce a block. Even with this equipment, however, manual work defined the major ingredient needed for success, with each block having to be handled several times before it was ultimately used by the mason. Persistence, perseverance and just plain hard work by John and his wife Lena, who was the company’s bookkeeper, were the defining characteristics that sustained the business during the early years.
Around 1945, the business was moved from his back yard to another part of the farm. A new building was built specifically for the production of block, and modern equipment was added to the operation. Production grew from 100 units per day to approximately 900 units. After a number of modifications and additions over the years at the family farm, the business was again moved in 1973 to its present location on 50 acres of land on Route 1 (Boston Post Road) in Westbrook. Today, this location houses two separate facilities, manufacturing and processing.
The manufacturing portion is housed in a 43,000 square foot building. Equipment consists of two fully automated block-making machines ( Columbia and Besser), each capable of producing one thousand 8″ equivalent units per hour, twenty-four hours a day. Learning from the experience of our founder, who was always ready to adapt the business to the needs of his customers, adequate space was left in this facility for the introduction of a third machine when the demand of our customers warrants increased production. This production facility manufactures conventional masonry units, units for grinding and polishing, profile units (split face, split rib, brick block, etc.), retaining wall units and pavers. In addition, it is here that we produce all of the special shapes and sizes of block we have developed over the years.
Our processing facility is located adjacent to the production operation. It is here that blocks are ground, polished and decro-faced (sand blasted). Also housed in this facility is our masonry cutting machinery designed and custom built by our staff for the cutting of special shapes and sizes of masonry units, particularly ground and polished block. We are presently developing equipment to produce different types of profile blocks which will also be housed here.
Westbrook Block utilizes the most up-to-date equipment available to the industry. However, as with any company, our main asset is our employees.
The ownership and management of this company is entering its third generation. Our delivery staff has been with us an average of 10 years. We believe our office staff and sales force are the most knowledgeable in the industry. The heart of our operation, our manufacturing personnel, have been with us an average of 15 years, with some having as much as 35 years of experience and customer knowledge. This longevity is important to us and to our customers. It is also essential in mentoring our new generation of employees whose service will extend these same ethics and quality craftsmanship well into the 21 st century. In a word, we are dedicated, committed people who are as enthusiastic about what we do as John and Lena Orsina were in 1940.
Over the years Westbrook Block has provided both the design community and construction professionals the widest selection of modern masonry materials available. We’ll continue to do this so that our customers can express themselves in creative and innovative ways with the use of masonry.
Today, the blocks that John Orsina manufactured for the foundations of homes that adorn the Connecticut shoreline can still be seen, as can those used in the facades and foundations of many of the newer schools, civic buildings, office complexes, cultural centers etc. whose designers and contractors selected the quality material manufactured by Westbrook Block. We expect the same to be true for years to come.