Sunday, April 26, 2009
Hammond, WV Part II
As we walked down the path, Aaron gave me a brief history of Hammond and what laid before us.
Hammond was established in 1802 and was originally named Nuzum's Mill after Richard Nuzum who settled the area. At the time that Nuzum had bought the land, he had no idea that the area had rich natural resources and over time it would become a rather lucrative, bustling town.
In 1865, Nuzum sold 370 acres of his property, mineral rights included, to James O. Watson. Watson immediately took advantage of what the land had to offer. He built a brick factory and used the clay along the banks of the river to make the bricks. The brick company exchanged hands several times, including through the worst flood the Tygart Valley has ever seen. It never became fully successful until 1899 when the Hammond Fire Brick Company took over. At this point the property was renamed Hammond and had grown to 410 acres. The Hammond Fire Brick company took full advantage of the rich 2' thick clay seam that ran 100' below the coal seam. Both seams of coal and clay were being extracted from the earth to form a sort of co gen operation which made Hammond very successful, very quickly.
By 1903, new round kilns were built along with housing for the brick workers. By 1910, the company was making 50,000 brick a day. By 1945, it grew to 100,000 brick a day and WV became famous for its Hammond bricks. The Hammond bricks were in high demand all over the country and were bought for such structures as the Empire State Building in New York and the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit. Samples of the Hammond fire brick were taken all the way to the World's Fair in Chicago and judged the best clay fire brick in the United States. Hammond had figured out how to best use the three different clays the earth had to offer and had created not only a strong, durable brick but a small empire in West Virginia. The town of Hammond quickly grew larger than the University town I currently live in.
Unfortunately, this all changed in 1952 when a major fire destroyed the brickyards. However, a few years prior the Hammond Fire Brick Company had once again exchanged hands following Hammond's death. The new owner did not have the talents Hammond had when it came to creating brick and his were not as durable. One has to wonder if the main failure of the town was due to the fire or the ineptness of the new owner. In any case, the town never recovered and in 5 years had become a ghost town. In 1965, the Southern Ohio Coal Company burnt what was left when they took over the land. This was to keep trespassers from harming themselves. And up until the 1990's Hammond continued to be the dumping ground for garbage and trash. So what fascinates me the most about what's left? Lets take a look.
Apparently its takes more than flooding, fire, and the forces of the earth to completely destroy a double or triple bricked structure. This may say a lot for the Hammond fire bricks that were voted most durable at the Chicago World's Fair. Eventually these brick ruins may return to the earth but for the time being there is still a lot left to explore. Upon entering we found a lot of different brick that were stamped with town names such as Fairmont and Hammond. James was ready to pack them all out and home till he found out that they weigh approximately 15 lbs a piece.
Many walls, foundations and basements are still intact. James and I loved to run along the ruins and peek inside. Of course, Aaron reminded us that in a few more months as it gets warmer this becomes snake heaven. I can see why. I'd be a happy little snake amongst all that warm brick as well. Where one building ended another began. This was truly a brick city.
Amongst the structures, we found a beautiful arched bridge as well as a bricked street still intact.
Perhaps what was most fascinating for me was seeing where the old housing once existed for the workers. The housing had smaller foundations here and there that definitely set them apart from the large brick factory buildings. But what made them homes? ...the daffodil plants set around them. I tried to imagine the woman who had once planted her flowers, what she was thinking, and if she had thought this brick city and little bit of nature was as pretty as I did. When I return, I will be packing a small spade and a plastic bag. I want to bring some of those plants and some of that history home with me.
Our final destination on this journey ended at another breath taking beach. We took a few moments to breath in the fresh air, listen to the rushing water, and take a few more pictures.
There is still a lot more to explore but having a seven year old with us I worried about how much longer he could endure and this happening