Nelsonville’s history brick by brick

Photo courtesy Mercer County Historical Society

Nelsonville Block brick, which was salt-glazed for strength and to decrease permeability, was made in Nelsonville and used all around the country, including Main Street, Celina, in Mercer County.

NELSONVILLE — The salt-glazed brick has not received the recognition it deserves, considering that this type of brick contributed to the industrial revolution in transportation. Cities across America paved their streets with this strong and water-tight brick, and the Nelsonville Block may have been the king of brick pavers.

The Nelsonville Block brick originated in Nelsonville and the Hocking Valley. The growth of brick-making was a part of the iron ore production of the Hocking Valley. Early blast furnaces in Hocking County date back to the 1850s. Wood was burned into charcoal which was used to heat furnaces that in turn heated the iron so it could be reduced to ingots for shipping.

As forests disappeared, bituminous coal was the next fuel for the iron furnaces. Stone availability was limited, so bricks were used in the making of the furnaces. During the Civil War Era, railroads wanted coal and iron, and clay bricks were in demand. Several clay-related industries grew in Hocking and Athens counties.

The Nelsonville Brick Co. began in 1877. The Nelsonville Block brick had a salt-glazed surface which made it water tight. In 1904, this brick won first prize at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The Indianapolis 500 race track also was paved with Nelsonville bricks.

The color of old brick was determined by the type and amount of shale and fireclay used in the brick-making process. Generally, the more shale in the product, the darker red it was. Shale gives the product its strength, and fireclay gives the mixture more plasticity so it can be extruded. Due to the Great Depression, the plant closed in 1937.

At one point, there were six brick factories in and around Nelsonville. There are many old brick homes in Athens County, and brick business buildings in the villages confirm that brick makers have always been in demand for their skilled trade.

Over a century later, the brick industry no longer exists in Nelsonville. The General Clay Brick plant in Diamond, near Nelsonville, closed in recent years, as did the General Clay Products Corporation in Logan. Logan Clay Products has been in continuous operation since 1890 making clay sewer pipe, flue lining and other kindred products (see www.loganclaypipe.com).

Editor’s note: Nelsonville Block bricks paved the streets of Celina in Mercer County. The Mercer County Historical Museum in Celina has one of the bricks on display. Alig wrote this article — with the help of local resident Dutch Junge, who is on the Logan-Hocking County District Library board — to share the history of brickmaking and the clay industry in Hocking and Athens counties. She welcomes any correspondence from citizens who want to share more about the history of Nelsonville Block bricks. She can be contacted at 3054 Burk-St. Henry Road, Saint Henry, OH 45883, histalig@bright.net or 419-678-2614.

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