Historic Chilmark brickyard is given to The Trustees

The 18-acre property on the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard contains the remnants of an old brick factory.

A water view of the brickyard property that's been donated to The Trustees of the Reservations. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) announced Monday it had received the historic brickyard property in Chilmark, a gift from the estate of Flora Epstein. The 18-acre property on the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard is adjacent to TTOR’s Menemsha Hills Reservation property to which it will be joined by a future trail.

The red brick chimney, a familiar landmark for boaters, is all that remains of the former brick factory. The property is inaccessible to the public from North Road.

Ms. Epstein, a long-time resident whose family ties to the Island goes back generations, died in 2010. The site is historically significant, having served as the first commercial brickyard in New England, in operation from 1642 throughout the late 1800s, according to a TTOR press release. The clay deposits on the property are among the oldest soil found in the northeast, dating back 140 million years. By comparison, 99 percent of the Vineyard’s surface soils are less than 10,000 years old. The clay was used to manufacture the highly sought-after bricks that were shipped to Boston, New York, and Newport to help build these great American cities.

“It is through the generosity of prescient donors like Ms. Epstein and her family that The Trustees can help to preserve irreplaceable historic and archaeologically significant Massachusetts landscapes like the Brickyard for everyone, forever,” said Barbara Erickson, TTOR president and CEO.

Ms. Epstein contributed $60,000 to The Trustees in 2005 to establish a start-up endowment for the preservation of the Brickyard. The gift was realized in 2010, shortly after her death. The Trustees have also received a temporary easement from Ms. Epstein’s family, owners of the abutting property, so crews can access the property and begin making important safety and public access improvements. TTOR said that priority projects will include erecting safety fencing around the industrial remnants and creating walking trails for the public.

“We are honored to be entrusted with preserving and protecting the legacy of this important site and to be able to link it to our current Menemsha Hills Reservation,” said Christopher Kennedy, TTOR Martha’s Vineyard superintendent. “We look forward to creating many opportunities for Islanders and tourists to visit the property and learn more about its important place in our cultural and geological history.”

The Trustees expect the Brickyard to be open to the public during the summer of 2015, after a property plan has been established for the site.