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A view from the bricks
The red brick chimney is the most noticeable remnant of the once thriving brickyard. Photos by Susan Safford
The Trustees of the Reservations (TTOR) annual hike to the site of the old brickyard in Chilmark really is a walk back in time. Sarah Trudel, education and interpretation coordinator at TTOR, organized this year's walk. It had been planned for the previous weekend but the extreme cold and high winds that were blowing right off the sound onto the north shore, the site of our destination, made a postponement necessary. Although it was still chilly this past Saturday, there was not much wind and all 13 of us were sufficiently bundled up for the walk.
Walk leader Sarah Trudel from The Trustees of the Reservations shows the site layout of the old brickyard on a hand-drawn map.
This year we were fortunate to have Preston G. Harris as our guide. His great grandfather, Nathaniel Harris, a banker from Boston, foreclosed on the old Smith and Barrows Brickyard and rebuilt what was to become the Vineyard Brick and Tile works back in 1868. He owned 600 acres between Menemsha and Spring Point, and had an additional thousand-plus acres in mineral rights. The brickyard produced 800,000 bricks a year and had 70 employees. Mr. Harris said this whole part of Chilmark was bustling with industry at the time. There were other brickyards, and a paint mill, and clay works. Wharves along the North Shore served trading schooners that picked up the product to ship to points along the east coast.
Sarah Trudel didn't mind getting her feet wet as she helped hikers cross Roaring Brook at the base of the brickyard.
After we left the warmth of the house, we followed a trail, sometimes thick with scrub oak and brambles. towards the shore. We could hear the water tumbling down Roaring Brook as we approached the cliffs overlooking Vineyard Sound and saw the 100-foot red brick chimney rising out of a tangle of underbrush, the sole reminder of what once was.
Preston G. (P.G.) Harris, great grandson of brickyard founder Nathaniel Harris, had many colorful stories to tell about the area.
To really go back in time, though, one has to imagine this whole area without trees. The brambles and underbrush and scrub oak have all grown since the brickyards closed, after there was no more fuel - that is - trees, to fire the kilns. The last trees used for fuel were chestnut trees from the Island's great plains, according to Mr. Harris. So in 1900, the Chilmark Brick and Tile Works had to close.