Inside the Long-Lost Brickyards That Built N.Y.C.

Hudson Valley bricks are an “inescapable presence” in New York City, George V. Hutton, a retired architect, wrote in his e-book about the once-booming business.

Mr. Hutton, regardless of his clear bias — he was from a outstanding brickmaking household in Kingston, N.Y. — was not improper.

It’s pretty secure to imagine that any brick constructing constructed between 1800 and 1950 consists of some type of sediment from the banks of the Hudson River. The Empire State Building, the Museum of Natural History, the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, Delmonico’s and numerous residential buildings — together with the Parkchester improvement in the Bronx and Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan — have been all constructed from Hudson Valley bricks.

During the business’s turn-of-the-century heyday, there have been greater than 135 brickyards alongside the riverbanks mining seemingly countless deposits of clay. In Ulster County alone, 65 brickyards have been as soon as in operation. In 1904, 226,452,000 bricks got here out of Ulster County, in line with its archives workplace, and most of them have been despatched on to New York City.

Hutton Company Brick Works in Kingston, which opened in 1865, was the longest-running brick plant in the Hudson Valley. When it stopped operations in 1980, representing the finish of an period, the grounds have been all however deserted.

But loads of artifacts stay. There are three huge steel-frame kiln sheds, partly sunken barges and a crane that after transferred bricks onto barges. These outdated crumbling, rusted out websites in Kingston present bodily proof that brick factories dominated the native economic system only a century in the past.

“This was basically all a skate park,” mentioned Taylor Bruck, 30, who grew up in Kingston and whose great-great-grandfather labored at a brickyard in Glasco, 10 miles north. He can be the archivist for Ulster County and Kingston’s official historian. “All the kids from the neighborhood that needed space to play, we’d come here.”

The 73-acre riverfront web site can be awash with outdated bricks. Instead of sand or rocks, the shore is blanketed with the classic rectangles, or chunks of them. Underwater lie 1000’s extra. On the grounds, brick corners poke up from the grass, and anybody digging just some inches is more likely to uncover a brick or two.

In the 1800s, Haverstraw, in Rockland County, was a brickmaking hub and the site of much innovation. It’s where coal dust was first added to the clay mixture in 1815, which halved burning time in the kilns, and where Richard A. Ver Valen invented the first automatic brickmaking machine in 1852. By the middle of the century, Haverstraw was producing millions of bricks a year.

Brick had become the material of choice for new buildings in the city ever since two disasters — the Great Fire of 1835 and the Second Great Fire in 1845 — destroyed much of Lower Manhattan. That, plus the construction around the same time of the Croton Aqueduct, which was made entirely of bricks, meant that the clay deposits along the banks of the Hudson were of great value. Factories sprung up in the Hudson Valley, with the number of brickyards nearing 100 by 1860.

By the latter half of the 19th century, thousands of people were employed at the brickyards. The trade offered a good living for many immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Hungary and Romania.

“You had immigrants from all over the world coming to Haverstraw; they would get off the boat in Ellis Island, and there were people from the brickyards there, telling them, you don’t have to live six people to room, it’s nice and open, and you can have a job,” Ms. Whitlow said. “In one generation, if you were an immigrant, you could have money in your pocket and you could send your children to school, and by the second generation, you were already often investing in something else or you would go upriver and make a new brickyard.”

By the early 20th century, as part of the Great Migration, Black Southerners were also being recruited by brickyard owners, who would pay for their travel expenses.

Most brickyards offered company housing, which then expanded into thriving, engaged communities in or near river towns like Newburgh, Beacon, Kingston and the capital of the industry, Haverstraw.

But on Jan. 8, 1906, tragedy struck Haverstraw: A landslide caused by the continuous excavation for clay killed at least 19 people and destroyed countless streets, shops and houses. To this day, the town holds a memorial service every January for the victims, and exhibitions about the landslide are on permanent display at the Haverstraw Brick Museum, which was founded in 1995 by descendants of brickyard workers.

By the late 1920s, the industry was fading because of the rise of cement, cheaper European imports and even bricks being made in the South. According to Mr. Hutton’s book, the number of brick factories had been cut in half by 1927. The Great Depression and World War II also caused many brickyards to shut down, although the ones that survived enjoyed a postwar boom for a while. By the 1950s, many more were closing.

In 1965, Hutton Company Brick Works was sold to a competitor, who then sold it to another competitor. Fifteen years later, after a brief resurgence in popularity for molded bricks in the 1970s, Hutton was closed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

As the hotel celebrates its opening this month, Mr. Bruck, Kingston’s historian, is feeling nostalgic. “I think it’s better for the area in general, but it’s no longer ours,” he said of the former skate park and current industrial-chic property. “Knowing what it looked like before and what it is now, they put millions into this place, and I love that they kept everything.”

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