WV Brick Company

(West Virginia Clay Products - Charleston Fire Brick Company)

Homer Wiseman owned the WV Brick Company for many years;  then it was passed on to Clyde Wiseman and Claude Wiseman.  The made face brick and fire brick, but eventually they couldnt produce both in enough quanity, so they gave the fire brick business to the Elkland  company just up the river at what is now Coonskin Park. They also had a plant in Barboursville. The Elk Two Mile plant was liquidated in about 1970.  The plant property covered the mountain which now includes Northgate Park. 

Along the Elk River on Barlow Drive is a complex that once had several names and in fact, opened and closed several times over it's history.  We just called it "the old brick plant".  I can remember hauling as many "rejected" brick as my red wagon could carry from this plant to Smith street.  The load was so heavy that by the time I got home, all the rubber tires had come off the wagon.  The photo above shows part of the old original conveyor belt that ran from the plant across the road,  then up the hill to where the clay mine entrance was.  Just above that is a nice sized pond.


 

LETS TAKE A LOOK AT THIS PLANT IN THE LATE 40S, STARTING WITH THE MINE

The old clay mine entrance.  I have been here many times and have actually gone inside for some distance before the water and obvious slate fall turned me around.  It now has a metal gate blocking the entrance and is hard to get to.


 

Men drilling the clay.  Other than not being as dirty, clay mining is pretty much just like coal mining.

 

Few clay mines around here were as automated as the coal mines at the time.

 

 

Even in the late 40s,  Mules were still used here for their cost effectiveness.

 

The clay miners. One might be your father or grandfather, especially if you lived near the plant.

 

This is one of the kilns where the brick was baked.  Most brick made here was fire brick shipped out of state.

 

Checking the "glory hole" for heat.

 

Working with small block here in a very hot environment.  I doubt OSHA would approve today.

 

 

Hardened block ready to transport.

 





 

 

The green line shows the old conveyor route up the hill to the mine.  You can also see the pond just above it. 


This is a shot of the pond that I took a couple of years ago.

 

Clay Mine in West Virginia

 This is my friend Danny Davidson on one of his many trips to the old clay mine entrance.








 

If you're the least bit interested in learning more about the local clay mines....

ELKLAND  FIRE BRICK COMPANY  1927

Later Charleston Vitreous Clay Products Company.. specializing in glazed building tiles

Elkland Clay Mine

Henry Ford Brick


Henry Ford got much of his materials to build cars and factories from West Virginia.  He bought coal and coal mines to heat his furnaces and to make steel.  He also needed brick,  both to build his factories and to build his ovens.  Most of that brick came from right here on the Elk River, because it was considered the finest clay of its kind.  The fire brick was of exceptional quality, and so he purchased the entire production.







Elkland Fire Brick Co


This is a color sample of the tiles they made.  If you look around Charleston and beyond,  you will see this product in just about every old school and office building built here in the last 100 years.  They also made white and blue wall and floor tiles,  fire brick, and 10 colors of regular building brick.

Elkland Fire Brick Co

The photos above were taken at the old Elkland mine area in 2015.  Shafts, bits of machinery and broken tile still litter the landscape.  Most of Coonskin Park sits atop a large labyrinth of clay mine shafts.




Clay map2

This map shows the main clay mines in red,  while the yellow represents clay surface operations.




 

THE RALPH BARD STORY

Ralph Austin Bard (July 29, 1884 – April 5, 1975) was a Chicago financier.  His son wrote the following:

In 1939, my father asked me if I would like to help rescue a difficult investment he and others had made in a tile and brick plant in Charleston, West Virginia, which was  losing $25,000 per month. So we moved east. After observing operations for a month, I decided that I understood the business and fired the plant manager, the sales manager and several others, and took over all their jobs. All losses stopped, but my wife and family saw little of me for two years, and I became very unpopular with the CIO. and the United Mine Workers.  At one time, two C.I.O. agents tried to push me into a hot kiln and later a miner arranged to drop a large chunk of clay on my head in our deep mine.  In 1941 with one more child, a son, we left Charleston Clay Products, leaving the company in good hands.
World War II changed all our lives. My father, Ralph A. Bard was Assistant Secretary of the Navy (later Undersecretary) and because of this I didn't want to accept a commission in the armed services, but I did want to participate. I enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private and went to boot camp at Parris Island....

After the war, I figured it was a perfect time to be self-employed. Rawleigh Warner, Jr. (1944) and I formed our own company, Warner-Bard, and had an interesting time finding financial backing to launch people with new ideas and inventions, some good and some terrible. Rawleigh left to work in the oil business and, later, became Chairman and C.E.O. of Mobil Oil.  In Barrington Hills, outside of Chicago, we added another daughter to our family. I visited Charleston Clay Products and was surprised to find large shipments of tile going to Toronto - too far for us to ship before the war. I went to Toronto to see why, and was amazed at the enormous growth and opportunities there. Oil had been discovered in 1946, and there was a ferment of oil and mining exploration. I was fortunate to meet some of the mining, oil and banking leaders of Canada and, eventually, organized an investment company with backing from some of them and U.S. investors. Pretty exciting times !


 

More... From the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, 1905

In Kanawha county, in 1905, there were three brick plants, manufacturing building and paving brick in the city of Charleston:   The W. Va. Clay Products Company, The Standard Brick Company and The Kanawha Brick Company. Most would continue to be worked into at least the 1950s.


West Virginia Clay Products Company.

"The plant of this company was built near the close of the year 1902, two and one-half miles west of Charleston on the Kanawha & Michigan railroad. The plant was a very substantial one, with a large equipment of machinery, housed in large and well constructed buildings. The cars were hauled from the mine by electric trolley and the buildings lighted by electricity. It was one of the most expensive plants in the State, but was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1904 and has not been rebuilt. It manufactured fire brick, building brick and a very high quality of paving block. The destruction of the plant was a great loss to the brick industry of the State. 

West Virginia Clay Products Company Mine Two

This plant was formerly the Charleston Fire Brick Company, and on pages 231-233 of Vol. Ill, West Virginia Geological Survey, the following description is given:

"The plant of this company is located up Elk river two miles from Charleston at Two Mile creek station on the Coal & Coke railroad. It is one of the old brick yards of the Charleston region, and has been used from time to time for the manufacture of fire brick, but it has been idle since 1901. During that year 1,500,000 fire brick were made for the coke ovens of the *Kay Coal Company.

"The capacity of the plant is 25,000 bricks a day. The plant is equipped for the manufacture of stiff-mud building brick, though none has been made for some years. The equipment consists of a nine-foot dry pan, six-foot wooden pug mill, Bucyrus auger of 30,000 capacity, Eagle repress. The building bricks were dried in minetrack tunnel drier heated by fires below. The fire brick were dried on a heated floor large enough to hold 10,000 brick. The building brick were burned in one up-draft kiln, and the fire brick in two round down-draft kilns, 26 feet in diameter, drawing into one stack.

"The river clay from a ten-foot pit near the mill was used for building brick. The fire brick were made from a mixture of one third flint clay and about two-thirds plastic clay from the mine on the hill back of the plant.

"Clay Mine.—The clay is worked in an open pit one mile and a half from the plant on Elk, and 180 feet above the level of the plant. This mine could be reached by wagon road and the clay was formerly hauled to the plant by this route. Later a track was built from the mine around the hill to an incline by cable and across the railroad on raised trestle to be dumped at the mill. This track is now in bad repair but could be renewed at no great cost.

"Some of the best fire brick in the State were made for a number of years on Elk river, just above Charleston, but at the present time no fire brick are made in this vicinity. Near Charleston are located some deposits of fire clay equal to the best in the State, and to be favorably compared with standard fire clays of the Eastern states. These shales and clays make paving brick of the highest quality, and the deposits are almost unlimited. They burn both buff and red, making fine grades of pressed and ornamental building brick. Here also occur fine grained clays adapted to manufacture of pressed brick and tile, also good stoneware clays.

*Vol. Ill W. Va. Geological Survey, 1905.


 

Kanawha Brick Company

Section 1 was 1.3 Miles east of Charleston, at Mine of Kanawha Brick Company.
Section 2 was on the Elk River, the plant being at 1600 Penn. Ave.  

"At the plant of this company, one mile east of town on the Kanawha river, ten feet of river clay is worked, as well as the hard clay from the hills above. The equipment of the plant has been described in the preceding chapter with a description of the hillside clays. The river clay has been used since 1897 in the manufacture of red building brick and is burned in three up-draft kilns.

"This company has another yard on Elk river, one mile from Charleston, which was started by Mr. Isaacs seventeen years ago. The clay is ground in a Potts crusher, tempered in a twelve-foot pug mill and molded on an auger machine of 40,000 capacity, making 25,000 brick daily. The brick are dried in an eight-track steam tunnel drier, holding 72 cars, with 45,000 capacity. The brick are burned in one down-draft kiln, 28 feet in diameter, holding 60,000, and three updraft kilns, 21 arch, holding 360,000 each, and burned with gas.

"The river clay is 15 feet thick in this pit and is hauled in cars by cable to the plant. The first paving brick probably used in the United States were made from the Kanawha Valley river clays at a point further down the river, by Mr. Isaacs.

"In the Charleston region there have been a number of brick plants in operation at various times, a number of which have been unsuccessful on account of poor business management rather than on account of the quality of the clays. The first brick paved street in the United States was laid in Charleston in 1872. One block of Summers street, nearest the Kanawha river, was paved with brick set on sand, with a substructure of planks dipped in tar and also resting on sand. This block is still in use, and the street at this day is in very fair condition. For a number of years after that date, the Charleston brick was shipped into Ohio, and the first brick paved street in Columbus in the early1880's was laid with the Charleston brick, set on tarred planks.

"With the opening of the paving industry in Ohio, the sale of Charleston brick was confined to the State, and in later years they were used mainly for local trade, very few paving brick being shipped away. At the present time no paving brick are made at Charleston.


This clay is also found on the other creek valleys near Charleston, and on Ferry Branch on the south side of the Kanawha river, opposite the mouth of Elk river, where the clay is exposed along the road leading from Kanawha river to Sugar Camp creek of Davis creek, and is about 10 feet thick, 120 feet under the Ames limestone horizon.



The Standard Brick Company.

Clay was once mined near the mouth of the Kanawha Two Mile Creek by the Kanawha and New River Fire Brick Company, on the west side of the Sissonville road.

The Kanawha and New River Fire Brick Company once manufactured brick in Charleston, but the plant is now abandoned, as it was destroyed by fire in 1904, and has been rebuilt as the Standard Brick Company. The following is a short description of the original plant and mine given in Vol. IIl, pages 229-231, W. Va. Geological Survey, 1905:

"The plant of this company was built near the close of the year 1902, two and one-half miles west of Charleston on the Kanawha & Michigan railroad. The plant was a very substantial one, with a large equipment of machinery, housed in large and well constructed buildings. The cars were hauled from the mine by electric trolley and the buildings lighted by electricity. It was one of the most expensive plants in the State, but was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1904 and has not been rebuilt. It manufactured fire brick, building brick and a very high quality of paving block. The destruction of the plant was a great loss to the brick industry of the State.

"The equipment consisted of two nine-foot Stevenson dry pans, one Martin wet pan, twelve-foot plug mill, Freese auger brick machine (Mammoth Junior) of 75,000 capacity, two Raymond represses. The brick were dried in a hot air tunnel drier of eight tunnels, with capacity of 75,000 bricks. The fire brick molded by hand were dried on a floor above the drier tunnels. Hot air was forced into the drier by a large fan. The brick were burned in eight round down-draft kilns, 28 and 30 feet in diameter, holding 40,000 blocks, and in five square down-draft kilns, holding 70,000 blocks.

The clay mine is located at the side of the county road, over one-half mile north of the plant, and is opened by three entries. "The fire clay and associated mottled clays are found one mile east, by the road side and up Woodward creek, (now Woodward Drive) and of apparently the same quality. Along this creek is a deposit of pottery clay which has not been developed. "The shales found on Two Mile creek and used by the Kanawha and New River Brick Company were traced into the hills to the east near the Hannah farm as described in an earlier section. Shales of the same horizon were found at Barlow a few miles up Elk river, on the McDonald farm about 80 feet above the blue clay described above, from the same farm.

Old photos courtesy of Steve Fox

 




SIDE NOTE:

Charleston Clay Mine

In March of 2015,  the end of Yeager Airports runway over-run collapsed.  It was the highest "Fill" of its type in the United States and had been in place for years.  About a year earlier, the airport authority discovered cracks in the top of the fill.  At about that same time,  contractors were blasting away at a hill in front of and slightly to the left of the main runway in order to lower that obstacle for takeoff.  This blasting was very close to, and in some cases over top of the clay mine shafts.  Is it possible that the huge voids underground acted like a drum, amplifying the vibrations to the airport runway about 3000 feet away?   Of course as mentioned, this was the highest fill of its kind,  and the harsh winter and then heavy rains certainly contributed to its failure.  But could the blasting over the mines have contributed also?  ( The map above is showing the mine shafts in white, which you can see cover a large area.  This map is approximate, and not to be considered exact... but it's very close)

Runway Collapse
Yeager Airport Overrun Collapse.



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