Athens bricks serve as reminders of the city’s history, as well as keepsakes for the people who call Athens home.
The bricks in Athens have history. Some were stolen during protests in the 1960s, while others are now sold as antiques.
“(The bricks are) what defines what Athens is: brick streets, brick buildings, brick college buildings, brick asylum,” Tom O’ Grady, director of the Southeast Ohio History Center, said.
The brick-making industry in southeast Ohio lasted from the late 1800s until the early 1930s. O’Grady moved to Athens in 1980. He became interested in the bricks when he worked cleaning roadside dumpsites. He found bricks with many different names on them.
The bricks have the names of where they were manufactured. Some of the bricks have letters that are backwards, which was used to keep track of production day-by-day. They also have lugs on them, which tells the day they were made. The lugs can be squares, circles, rectangles or diamonds.
There are about 25 different varieties of Athens blocks that have been identified, Newman said.
Bricks are usually stolen near the time of graduation as people are looking for souvenirs, Ohio University Police Department Lt. Tim Ryan said. Theft is a first-degree misdemeanor which could result in a maximum six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine.
The Ridges is one of the most popular spots for stealing the bricks because it is easy to get away with, O’Grady said.
East State Street used to be paved with bricks from Court Street to the Athens Mall. In the 1980s, the city tore up the bricks and moved them to a stockpile. Now, bricks can be found on hillsides and riverbanks, O’Grady said.
Instead of stealing the ones in the road or walkways, people salvage them from those spots. They are even used to build structures.
O’Grady used bricks found near the Ohio River to build a chimney and a sidewalk for his house, while Ed Newman, board president of the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, built his house out of Athens bricks he found.
“People don’t know exactly what makes (Athens) cool, but bricks are part of it,” O’Grady said.
Ellis Hall is one building on campus that is made out of paver bricks, which previously made up the streets.
“Most all bricks have names on them, but paver bricks are (the ones) on the sidewalks,” O’Grady said.
The Athens Brick Company was the primary brick industry in Athens, Newman said. The company closed in the 1920s.
During the height of the Athens Bricks Company, there were 120 to 150 people working at about 25 different kilns at once. They could produce about 80,000 to 120,000 bricks a day, Newman said.
The bricks would sell in large quantities, tens of thousands of bricks for roads. Those orders were about $120,000 in 1920, but with inflation, it would be approximately $1,517,310. For every mile of road, it took about 1.5 million bricks.
“Not every town in southeast Ohio made (bricks), but boy, many did,” O’Grady said.
There are some streets that used to have brick pavement, however, they have been covered by asphalt. When streets are redone, bricks can be found.
There are many different Athens blocks; there are Athens County blocks; Athens, Ohio, blocks and some that just say Athens. There are also many blocks that were made outside of Athens, such as in Nelsonville, Hocking, Trimble, Glouster and Marietta, O’ Grady said.