Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Columbia County's Sleeping Dragon: Part IV

The next installment of Margaret Schram's series about Lake Albany clay continues the discussion of brick making in Columbia County. This article appeared in The Independent on July 28, 1988.

Industries from Lake Albany Clay
Brickyards that operated with full crews at the turn of the century were given a wide berth by the local citizens. Not only did they object to the smoke, dust and noise, but they judged the communities of workers "too loose and lively" and "not the best behaved."
A real panic occurred in 1900 when small pox was discovered at the Walsh & Co. brickyard in Stottville. The workers refused to be vaccinated and many fled the yards, raising the fear that they would create an epidemic in neighboring towns.
The local Hudson National Guard was sent to the brickyard to enforce a quarantine. Three days later, health department officials believed the situation to be under control and the soldiers returned to Hudson.
Stockport Clay  
The Town of Stockport has deep beds of Lake Albany clay throughout the town. The beds near the river were worked extensively as brickyards well into the twentieth century. On the southern side of Stockport Creek, a brickyard was started in 1873 but was not successful. But in northern Stockport, between Gays Point and Little Nutten Hook, a brickyard was started by Jerome Walsh. This was one of the county's longest lasting brickyards. 
The community that grew around it was so large that the settlement was given the name of Walshville. In 1900 it had its own post office of that name.
Five years later, the Walsh brickyards changed hands and became known as the Empire Brick Supply Company. The name of the post office was changed to Empire. A local history states that 700 families lived there, working in the pits and kilns.

Stuyvesant Bricks
In the Town of Stuyvesant, another of the six county towns that contain dangerous beds of Lake Albany clay, brick-making was an early industry. In the northern section of the town, near Poelsburgh, the Brousseau brickyard operated with 23 workers. The bricks were known as north river bricks, and in 1878, 24,000 bricks were made each day. The ruins of the large Cary brick works at Newton Hook are still visible today.
Bricks were made in the area that became the city of Hudson long before the Proprietors arrived. A kiln was operated on the southeast of Ferry and Water streets, and clay pits were located on the north side of the "old waggon way" [what is now Partition Street] and on lower Columbia Street.
The clay banks of the North Bay had several brick-makers in operation from the beginning of the nineteenth century though the 1930s. Arkison, Bryne, Bogardus, Bartlett, Bruso, Miller and Colarusso are just a few of the names connected to the brick works in the vicinity of Mill Street and the North Bay section. The Greenport Brick Corporation operated on what was referrred to as Second Street Extension, just over the city line in the Town of Greenport.
The depletion of the best of the blue clay and the Depression spelled the end of the brick making in the area. The Walsh Brickyards continued operation into the 1940s.
Collapsing Walls
How many workers in the clay pits were killed and injured by the clay walls collapsing on them will never be known, but such accidents were inevitable. 
The landscape in the region of the clay pits was changed radically. A whole area of northwest Hudson was "dug-out"--the name of a road there [today it's called the "Dugway"]--by over 100 years of removing the clay to make bricks. Unfortunately, not all the clay was removed. Dangerous slippage still occurs in the vicinity of the clay pits. 
The manufacture of Portland cement requires not only lime from limestone but also Lake Albany clay, which contains the silica, iron and alumina to produce a cement that hardens under water.
Clay Pit
At the Lone Star Cement Plant, formerly the Knickerbocker Cement Plant [now ADM], the clay was dug from a deep deposit just northeast of the plant. It is now a large body of water, but still referred to as "the clay pit." Clay was hauled from this clay quarry to a wash mill by a narrow-gauge, gasoline railroad.
No one realized in 1915 that this same bed of clay which provided the necessary ingredient for cement would be the major factor leading to the collapse of the power plant and other buildings that year.

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