History Medora Brick Plant
Indiana 425 southwest of Medora in Jackson County
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July 30, 2006..beginning to develop pages that provide a timeline for Medora Brick Plant..will be placing information contain elsewhere on this site into the timeline. If you would like to share something for this timeline please Email.
The Medora Shale Brick Company was founded in August 2, 1904 and began producing brick in 1906 from a site constructed southwest of the town of Medora adjacent to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line. The hills surrounding the site contained a ready supply of clay for brick production.
Over the company built a complex of 12 domed brick kilns each with its own attached square chimney. Long, covered storage sheds were constructed around the periphery of the complex. A small office and a brick drying building were also built. There were several ponds on the property – the plant used 10,000 gallons of water a day drawn from the ponds.
Initially Medora produced mostly brick for paving streets but had financial troubles early on. In 1924 the Medora plant was purchased at bankruptcy auction by the Jackson Brick & Hollow Ware Company, who also operated in northeast Brownstown - making predominately hollow drainage tile. Under the new owners the Medora plant move from street pavers to producing primarily wall brick for facing commercial buildings including college campus buildings at Purdue Univ., Univ. of Kentucky, and Univ. of Louisville and beyond.
The new owners were Joseph Robertson who had the financial strength in partnership with John W. Heller, a farm owner from Brownstown. Joe Robertson was President of both the Jackson Brick & Hollow Ware Co. and the Medora Brick Co. until his passing in April 1944. And shortly, after coming out of the army in WWII, John Heller's son, James P. Heller, became President of the companies.
During the 1970's with PVC (plastic) pipe taking over the drain tile market the Jackson Brick & Hollow Ware Co. closed and Medora took over their assets.
But by 1990 with an aging Board of Directors that no longer had enough interest keeping the antiquated Medora plant going, the Medora Brick Company stopped production and officially closed on January 31, 1992.
Unfortunately some of the buildings on the
site were taken down to reduce the property's exposure to property taxes.
And the Environmental Protection Agency is said to have overseen the needed minor
clean-up of the plant property.
Today, the site is an abandon quite little industrial Stonehenge.
Times seems to have stopped but time doesn't stop, of course, so trees grow through the foundations and wall of the 10 remaining kilns and other structures, mortar leeches out, and rust attacks the iron straps around the kilns.
Preservation, restoration or finding a new use for such rare and unusual structures presents a tough challenge.
Medora Brick Plant has been placed on the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana's 10 Most Endangered sites.
According to Jackson County courthouse records, on July 8, 1904, there was a meeting to form Medora Shale Brick Company. On July 15, 1904 the company's articles of association were filed and officially recorded August 2, 1904.1
At the founding the five-member Board of Directors have been said to have been George W. Zollman, Cornelius V. Trautman, Josiah L. Hunsucker, John H. Sutton, and William T. Branaman and amongst themselves elected a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. (positions not known at this time).
The major stockholders were D.M.
Hughes from Medora, Cornelius V. Trautman, form Medora and Wm. T. Branaman. 1
The Board of Directors (as of Aug. 12, 1908) was N.V. Trautman, J.L. Hunsucker, C.C. McMillan, H.M. Smith and D.M. Hughes.2
Stockholders and the shares of stock held were listed as:
<Will insert image of the 1908 articles document filed at the Jackson Co. Courthouse.>
County Recorder in Brownstown, Indiana.
1910 Federal Census
Census taken here in April and May of 1910
1924 Change of Ownership
taken here in April of 1930
Will check and add from the the 1940 census by the end of June 2015.
Bernard Gray’s father, Ralph, went to work at the plant in 1925 after it came under the ownership of Mr.'s Heller and Robinson. Bernard's brother, Erridine was the brick plant salesman 1946-1969.
Bernard Gray worked at the plant first at the age of 16 in 1946. After his Junior and Senior year he went two years into military service for the Korean War and returned to work in the plant.
He became the Superintendent the first of Feb. 1968 and served in that position until the plant closed in January 31, 1992 – 24 years to the day as boss! Covering a 46 year span!!
Bernard Gray knows the entire brick making process and much of the plants' history. He said that plant originally made mostly ‘paving block’ commonly called street paving brick. But that slowed in the early 1920's and the Company went into bankrupcy – later they produced mostly wall brick for facing buildings. So a ‘Medora stamped brick’ is circa 1924 or before.*
* - not sure when or if the plant ceased operation in connection with bankrupcy but things went away from paving block after Jackson Brick & Hollow Ware purchased the plant in 1924.
Regarding street brick - about an inch from each end of the brick there was a raised (1/8 inch) dimple that was purposefully placed there to keep shod horses from slipping on the brick. Some Medora paving block had 4 dimples (date produced?).
In 1900 there were approximately 52 brick companies in Indiana.
The Medora Brick Plant kilns are about 30 feet in diameter. The walls - 8 feet high and 24 inches thick. The domes ceiling/roofs were self supporting sitting on the walls. When loaded and processed each kiln (1950’s-1992) was to yield 70,000 saleable brick from the 72,000 to 73,000 brick that it contained per firing. A three to five percent loss. It took about 1 lb. of coal (that generated the heat) to produce one brick.
Bricks were placed in the kiln 30 high, then brick would be laid up to close the doors and then mudded over. Then heat was put to the kiln to fire the brick.
When were the brick ready? There was a 6 to 8 inch opening at the top of the dome and that was covered with a steel plate. The distance down to the top of the brick pile was measured and after days of raising the temperature kiln the brick were ready when there was a "12 ½ inch settle" - which was a measurement down from the opening at the top of the kiln … the net measurement comprised of expansion (upward) of the dome itself as well as the settling of the brick stack below.
It has been said that the plant would make up to 54,000 bricks per day which was 324,000 brick per week - didn't get confirmation of those numbers from Mr. Gray. It took 21 days from quarrying material on through till the brick was on the job site as a product.
At some point (year/s ?) it took 45 men to operate the plant. And with Medora having a small population, that was a large percentage. When the company quarried material by team horses, sledge, and dynamite it took about 8 more employees than when shale was quarried by large shovel equipment and trucks. After 1938-1940 material was trucked in from a sight about a mile north of Medora.
"Clay" is the broad term including dirt, sand, shale. But "Shale" is the more specific 'clay only' term.
Bricks went to Purdue University, Ball St., Hanover College, Univ. Kentucky. They went to Cincinnati and Chicago, Detroit, and other Midwestern cities to brick up portions of brick buildings. The plant did also produce brick to custom order - bricks of unique sizes, shapes and finishes.
When the plant went bankrupt in 1924, Mr. Heller (John W. Heller, farmer, wife Margaret, and son James P.) and Mr. Robinson bought the plant for $30,000 at auction. John W.'s son James P. Heller (1910-2000), of the Brownstown area would later take over as President of the Company through the plants closing in January of 1992.
When the plant closed Jan. 31, 1992 there were about 22 stock holders ranging in age from 60-87 and who seemed to have no children interested in carrying on the plant. Mr. Gray said perhaps the plant should have never closed…there was just no interest in keeping it going among the aging stockholders.
Mr. Troy Darkis, of Vallonia, who himself worked at the plant as a young man under Bernard Gray, purased the brick plant site and much of the adjoining acreage.
The plant site is on about 9 acres. Several years ago an individual bought the pond area and built a nice large home on it clearing some timber to do so. Another man bought a small section and placed a trailer or two there.
In December 2017 Troy Darkis transferred ownership of the brick plant property over to the non-profit Save the Medora Brick Plant organization.
Help get the story of the brick plant correct.