photo - Banner/Chad Fleetwood
COMMEMORATING the dedication of the historical marker for
the Medora Shale Brick Plant on Saturday were, from left:
Jack Loudermilk, Eph Brock, Boob Davis,
James Lambert, Sr.,
and Bernard Gray.
historical marker was unveiled at the corner of Perry and Main streets
in Medora on Saturday, commemorating the Medora Shale Brick Plant as a
place of historical importance for JacksonCounty and the state of Indiana. A large crowd gathered for the
dedication of the county’s fifth historical site, with a large portion
of spectators being life-long Medora residents. Indiana State
Representative Dennie Oxley, majority whip of the state’s general
assembly, was in attendance to commemorate the occasion.
Allman began the ceremony with an anecdote describing a childhood
impression of the plant. Allman recalled being around six years old,
waking in the backseat of his father’s 1940’s era Model A Ford to see
the glowing kilns in the smoky distance. Thick plumes rolled from giant
square towers rising above the cluster of glowing mounds. “I remember
when I saw the glow from the kilns and all the smoke, it frightened me,”
Allman explained, getting a chuckle from the crowd after revealing why
the view struck such a chord. “After how I’d heard the devil described
[in church], I thought maybe it was Hell.”
noted the plant’s impact beyond the small town’s borders. “We take great
pride in our heritage, that’s why we fund the historical markers. The
Medora Shale Brick Plant was important to not only this town and
economy, but to this entire region,” Oxley said, before asking town
council members to unveil the two-sided monument dedicated to the
plant’s storied history.
plant began production in 1907, converting an abundant supply of shale
into brick through a tedious, extremely labor-intensive process. At a
time when the fledgling town had roughly 300 residents, the plant
employed one-sixth of the total population. The plant produced hundreds
of thousands of bricks per week, providing materials used to construct
buildings on the campuses of Purdue, Louisville,
as well as the building housing the Indianapolis Star and numerous
hospitals. Originally specializing in heavy paving bricks, the plant
fell on hard times and was purchased for $30,000 in 1924 by the Jackson
Brick and Hollow Ware Company in Brownstown. After securing a pair of
substantial contracts which helped pull the business through the
Depression, the facility entered a prosperous era, firing an average of
57,000 bricks per day, six days per week. Under the guidance of its new
owners, the plant shifted to producing primarily wall brick. The plant
continued operating until 1990, with the day before Thanksgiving being
the final day of production according to Bernard Gray, who worked at the
facility for 46 years, serving as plant superintendent from 1968 until
its official closing in 1992.
informed the audience, most of whom descended from the town’s founding
families, with vivid memories of prosperous times enjoyed by those who
endured the physical demands associated with the job. Gray’s father had
been superintendent of the facility, with Bernard hiring on full time
after returning from a two-year tour of military service during the
Korean War. At the conclusion of his address, Gray expressed gratitude
and pride towards the plant and the community. “I think we have a great
heritage here, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Gray said.
additional former employees joined Gray to be recognized for their
service. Jack Loudermilk, Eph Brock, Boob Davis, and James Lambert Sr.
gathered for pictures in front of the marker, all agreeing that the
plant was a good place to work. The Historic Landmarks Foundation of
Indiana assigned the property to its list of the 10 most endangered
landmarks in 2004. The property, now privately owned and not open to the
public, has fallen into disarray over the past fifteen years, a victim
of graffiti and vandalism while becoming overgrown with unruly
website dedicated to collecting and recording the extensive history of
the plant is maintained by
resident Steve Graves, who was in attendance for the dedication. Graves learned of the plant while researching his
family’s ties to the town, as well as the plant itself. To learn more
about the Medora Shale Brick Plant, or to contribute photos or
information, visit www.medorabrickplant.org.
An additional collection of photographs and artifacts is on display at MedoraTown Hall.
State marker pays tribute to Medora Shale Brick Plant
MEDORA - Working at the Medora Shale
Brick Plant was not easy.
James Lambert Sr. would tell you that. So would the other nearly 60 employees of
the former brick plant.
"I worked there 40 years and I fired the kilns," Lambert said. "Seven days a
week, rain or shine."
Heat from the domed, beehive-shaped kilns reached 1,800 degrees.
"I don't think very many would do it," he said of working in those conditions.
"A lot of people didn't like it because it was seven days a week, but I liked
it. I liked the job because I got off in time to fish and hunt."
On Saturday, those who worked for the
plant and kept it going from 1907 to 1992 were honored as a state historical
marker was placed in front of State Bank of Medora, along
235 in the center of town. It's now among about 500 markers across the state.
Medora Brick Plant supplied building materials to various institutions and
homes," said Clyde Allman, who served as master of ceremonies. "It furnished
employment and it furnished building materials. We need to keep in our minds and
thoughts the people that worked at the Medora Brick Plant. It was dirty, hard,
Historian Steve Graves, a native of central Illinois
who now lives in Florida,
said the farm town in which he grew up was about the size of Medora. He said a
family member gave him pictures of his grandparents, who had moved from Medora
to central Illinois.
"It sent me on a little odyssey," he
He did research at the Indiana State Library, and he also got assistance from
Charlotte Sellers and Julia Aker of the Jackson County Public Library. Among
other things, Graves found out his
great-great-grandfather was the boss of the plant in 1914.
He now has information and pictures he
collected on the Web (medorabrickplant.org).
Graves also learned that the plant was
organized in 1904, but it didn't begin production until 1907.
According to information on the state
marker, in 1920, Indiana
was seventh in the United
States for production of clay products. With 10
kilns at the site in 1927, Medora was part of the industry making a variety of
clay products for agriculture, street paving and building construction that
"contributed to Indiana's
growth as a leading industrial state."
In the mid-1920s, ownership changed to John W. Heller and Joseph Robertson. The
plant struggled at times, but owners pushed the plant onward, even making it
through the Great Depression.
Bernard Gray, who was also present Saturday, worked with Heller for 40 years.
"He cut you no slack when it came to honesty," Gray said of Heller.
In 1907, Gray said, Medora had a population of about 300 people. The plant
employed 55 people to run it, plus the pit crew and the office staff.
"As you go through the history of the community, there are very few families of
this community that were not affected by this plant," Gray said.
At one time, there were 52 brick company operations in Indiana.
"Now, there's three, to the best of my knowledge," Gray said, with one near
and two in Mooresville.
When Heller was running the plant, Gray said, 60 percent of production went to
residential and 40 percent went to architecture. "It was very well
accepted by stringent government standards and by the architecture industry,"
Bricks from the Medora Brick Plant were applied to buildings at Purdue
University, Ball State University, Hanover College, University of Louisville,
University of Kentucky, The Indianapolis Star building and Veterans Hospitals in
Louisville, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Indianapolis.
The site of the plant is now deteriorating, and it's up for
sale by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.
District 73 Rep. Dennie Oxley,
D-English, who has represented southern JacksonCounty,
including Medora, for 10 years, said "remembering our heritage" is an important
thing to legislators at the Statehouse and to all Hoosiers.
"The brick plant was such a vital part of the economy," he
said. "Not only for the history of the town.
Historical markers commemorate significant
individuals, places and events, and they help communities throughout Indiana promote, preserve
and present their history for the education and enjoyment of residents and
For more than 90 years, the Indiana
Historical Bureau, an agency of the state of Indiana,
has been marking Indiana history. There are about 500 of these
markers, with a dark blue background, gold lettering and the outline of the
state at the top, across the state.