Saturday, January 24, 2009

Walking the Banks of the Little Miami River Turns into an Archeological Study

This morning, Matty and I decided to go to the Little Miami River at the Peters Cartridge Factory for a winter hike. It’s only about 10 minutes from our house, and we go birding there a lot. It was a bit cold at 28 degrees, but we had on down coats and pants and were very warm. The river, frozen at the edges, was incredibly beautiful.

Matt Riccetti takes a break during a winter hike along the Little Miami River (2009)
Matthew Riccetti along the Little Miami River
Kelly Riccetti at the Little Miami River (near the Peter's Cartridge Factory)...snow, snow snow!
Kelly Riccetti along the Little Miami River. The snow-covered trees and ice along the river were so pretty.
We heard a Pileated Woodpecker (we usually see him on the other side of the trail heading towards Morrow), cardinals, chickadees, Blue Jays, and at one point a very curious and friendly Carolina Wren kept us company. The highlight of our birding was a possible, but unconfirmed Golden-crowned Kinglet. Two tiny birds were chattering above us and hung around for about a minute, but they were constantly moving in and out of branches and we couldn’t get a clear look through the binocs. Their shape and sound was that of a kinglet…but we’re not listing it.

Over the years, we’ve hiked along the patch of the Little Miami River in front of the Peter’s Cartridge Factory looking for old railroad nails, discarded coal nuggets, and other rusty old things left over from the railway and munitions factory that used to run there, but this hike ended up being special because it turned into an archeological study of Ohio’s rich paving brick history, which flourished in Ohio from the 1880's until the 1930's. Here are a few of the bricks we stumbled upon.

Tiger Steel Brick
This was the first brick we saw. If you look closely, you can see "Tiger Steel" stamped into the brick. 

Tiger Steel Brick
We soon came to another. This one lodged in the silt. It was so weathered and chipped, we knew it was old. Matty admired the patina and the algae growing on it. 

We learned Tiger Steel bricks were made at a plant in Cincinnati and were used all over the United States and in Europe. They were made with Olive Hill Fire clay, which was famous for making premium refractory bricks able to withstand extremely high temps and therefore used in furnaces and steel plants, and in our case, in the huge furnace of the Peters Cartridge Factory. With a chimney this large, the fires must have been pretty hot.

The tile detailing on the smokestack at the Peter's Cartridge Factory
The huge smoke stack at the Peters Cartridge Factory is a work of art. The munitions manufacturer began operations around 1880 and produced shotgun shells and rifle and pistol cartridges.

After accidentally finding the first two bricks, we started looking closely and found more and more from many different manufacturers.

Metropolitan Canton, OH Block
It took us a while to figure out what this one said. We thought it was Metropolitan Cantono Block, but when we started to research, we realized it was Canton, O (for Canton, Ohio). 

We learned these were not refractory bricks, but paving bricks used to make roads. The Metropolitan Paving Brick Company began in 1890 as the Royal Brick Company and was critical in helping Canton, Ohio become the "paving brick capital of the world." In 1893 there were enough pavers produced annually to pave nearly 600 miles of road and were used to build the Lincoln Tunnel and the Queens midtown tunnel in New York City.

Brecon Brick
This brick reads Brecon. The only reference we could find to Brecon bricks was from the silica mines in Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. The bricks produced there were also refractory bricks made from pure silica that could stand the intense temperatures of industrial furnaces, so it makes sense they could have been  used at the cartridge factory. 

XX Crown brick from the H-W Crown Refractories
It took us quite a while to figure this one out, but finally, it was clear. This is an XX Crown brick from the H-W Crown Refractories. It is a refractory brick made of silica for the crowns of beehive ovens, again suitable as a liner for furnaces with very high temperatures. These bricks were manufactured in Pittsburgh, PA.

Trimble Block Brick
Next we found this Trimble Block brick. It was from the Trimble Brick company in Trimble, Ohio, and was a paver brick from around 1904. 

Carlyle Paving Brick
It looks like Oarlvle, but it actually spells Carlyle. The Carlyle Paving Brick company was in Portsmouth, Ohio. While researching Carlyle, we found a digitized online book on the clay-working industry in the US and read, in 1907 Ohio produced 264,571,000 brick valued at $2,672,600, being the leading State, and far outranking all others.

Corundite Refractories at Zoar, near the Great Dover Dam in Dover, Ohio
The last brick we came to was unreadable, but we decided to do a pencil rubbing on one of our journal pages and bring it home to study. After a lot of guesswork, it finally became clear...Corundites with a date that appears to be 1890.
Sure enough. We found reference to the Corundite Refractories at Zoar, near the Great Dover Dam in Dover, Ohio. Another brick used for intense heat in the huge furnaces at the powder factory. There is much too much to post in one blog entry, so as we learn more about the bricks and the companies that made them, we will post little stories. We also found a blue and white porcelain shard in a wild rose pattern. The porcelain mark is hand-stamped on the back with USA and what looks like Rose. It looks like a vintage pattern. Hopefully we’ll be able to solve that mystery too. Matty and I need to research the Peters Cartridge Factory to learn a little more about it, and maybe that will help us understand what was up with all the bricks on the bank of the Little Miami.


HebA said...
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nina said...

That's so rich with history.
The warehouse has housed many companies, even after the cartridge industry passed--vinyl records, I believe--and, unfortunately is the site of a superfund project for toxic cleanup.

It has always seemed so lovely--I wish someone would buy it and love it into an artists colony or something. But the toxic history will probably be its downfall.

We are so fortunate to have the bike trail for walking!

Kelly said...

Thanks, Nina...Matty and I were saying the same thing. The tile work on the building is beautiful, especially the bright turquoise tiles. It could be turned into beautiful condos or apartments too. It the 90s they started a massive cleanup of all the barrels that had been dumped and buried on the grounds because it's above an aquafer that supplies the region with drinking water. Last I heard, the site had been restored. Tens years ago I lived in Sunrise Landing about one minute from the place and they kept us up to date. I haven't heard anything knew since then, though.

Heather said...

Wow, that's really neat Kelly. Trimble is over in my neck of the woods! Too bad you didn't find any Athens or Nelsonville bricks in there (we have quite a collection of them at our house). BTW, does anyone know why they use the word "block" on the bricks instead of the more obvious "brick"?

Kelly said...

...we wondered the same thing. The only thing we found was the generic use of the term "block" instead of brick because some of the manufacturers made more than one size, referring to all their products as "blocks." (I just noticed in the post before yours I spelled "new" as "knew." I hate that! There doesn't seem to be a way to edit comments, so I guess it will just have to stay incorrect...and I wrote "Tens" instead of "ten"...rushing I guess.)

twisterjoe/threePillarsArts said...

I was raised in East Liverpool, Ohio, where the clay industry was for pottery. It had not crossed my mind that the kilning and earthen ware nature of the state would spread to bricks also. I love it that the tunnels in New York are bricks from Ohio! That is terrific!

Kelly said...

Hi Joe! While researching the bricks, we did read a lot about Ohio's pottery industry. Ohio has really nice clay apparently, and a lot of it. I know there's a lot in my backyard (which is just lovely for gardening). We read a little about East Liverpool as the Pottery Capital of the World. I guess with Roseville, Lotus Ware, and Rookwood, we're pretty lucky.