The 11 dome-shaped kilns and the smokestacks on the Medora Brick Plant property need some tender, loving care.
While a lot of work has been put in to clean up the 6-acre site at 8202 E. County Road 425S, the kilns need attention on the interior and exterior, and the smokestacks are in a crumbling state.
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KilnFest 2020 that was conducted Sept. 19 brought in more than $3,000, and that money will be earmarked for the restoration of the kilns.
The Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc. committee continues to accept donations to help with that effort and would like to see a masonry union or school assist. Plus, work is underway on getting the site on the National Register of Historic Places.
“What would be our ultimate goal would be to build this bank account up, get on the registry, get a matching grant and it would be awesome for us to marry with a masonry school or union,” committee President Tim Reynolds said.
“We’re now where we can get serious,” he said. “We just got water less than a year ago. You’ve got to have water to make mud. We’ve got water and electricity out here now. We’re starting to build this fund. We’re getting on the registry. All of this needs to culminate with getting some people out here and starting to work on these kilns, so I want to put a plea out there for that.”
The inaugural KilnFest featured 12 hours of live music from five acts, an acoustic jam session by a bonfire where people could bring their instruments and play, food, door prizes, raffles and live and silent auctions.
Organizers followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic and had more than 200 people attend.
Considering the ongoing pandemic, Reynolds thought the event was a success.
“We thought if we made over $2,000 that we would be doing pretty good, that it would have been worth it,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to be a little over $3,000, I think $3,200. That’s really good for the first year. We’re really happy with that the first year. Everything went off without a hitch. Our auction raised almost $1,000.”
Since the cost of restoring the kilns is expensive, Reynolds hopes to find people willing to volunteer their time.
“Eventually, I’d like to tip the scales to where we get a matching grant and we get the union or a school or something out here or get enough money where we can pay a contractor to come out here,” he said. “You’d probably even find one that has done historic stuff, restorations maybe even of this kind, a specialist if you will, and that can take some money.”
That’s why the committee would like to see KilnFest become an annual event and the site be added to the national registry.
“That registry frees up a lot of matching grants,” Reynolds said.
The brick plant opened in 1904 as the Medora Shale Brick Co. and closed in 1992. Bricks were used to build homes, buildings at Purdue University, Ball State University, Hanover College, University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Seagram and a walkway between West Baden and French Lick.
“Purdue’s brick was different than everybody else,” said Marvin Reynolds, who worked at the brick plant. “We made bricks special for Purdue. Plus, we made different shapes of brick that connect the buildings together up there.”
In 2016, a coalition between the Jackson County Visitor Center, Indiana Landmarks and what was then called Save the Medora Brick Plant was formed. Troy Darkis, who used to work at the plant, was interested in giving the property to a local nonprofit historical group.
Tim Reynolds said the site was all grown up and the kilns couldn’t be seen from the road.
Save the Medora Brick Plant met monthly and had regular cleanup days. The group had an Environmental Protection Agency study done and had the property appraised, which came in at $350,000.
Also in 2016, a group of students from the Ball State University landscape architecture program presented several concept plans for the property’s use. That included securing and renovating all of the buildings, including the kilns, and making the experience of visiting the site interactive and visitor-friendly while maintaining its historical integrity.
In late 2016, the Medora group became a 501(c)(3) organization and became known as Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc.
Since then, the brick plant office has been restored, including a new floor installed by a crew on Jackson County United Way’s annual Day of Caring. A $6,000 grant from the Owen-Carr Township Community Fund through the Community Foundation of Jackson County helped pay for that work.
Water and electricity have been hooked up, too. Local business Pete’s Trenching donated the labor and materials for the water, while electricity was restored with support from a $5,000 Impact grant from RAB Lighting thanks to All Phase Electric Supply Co. in Seymour.
Earlier this year, a stage was built through another $6,000 grant from the Owen-Carr Township Community Fund, and that was used by the musicians at KilnFest.
Currently, the maintenance building is being restored.
“Eventually, it may be a museum because of the cool shower house that’s attached there,” Tim said. “We won’t be using that as far as maintenance. We’re going to restore that. It’s got the old lockers in there and everything.”
Also, Fleeta Arthur of Freetown is in the process of gathering information for getting the brick plant on the National Register of Historic Places. The submission has to include the history and significance of the property.
She started that work when the pandemic began. At the time, she was working on getting an iron bridge in Vallonia on the registry, but she switched gears to help the Medora committee because the process could take a couple of years to complete.
“I could do it in eight to 10 pages, but I’m wordy, and I tend to want to learn,” Arthur said. “I have no knowledge about brick. It’s a learning curve. I’m still learning. If you’re going to interpret this site, if that’s the point, then the more that you learn, the better off you’re going to be.”
Arthur said she would like to see the colleges that have buildings made of Medora brick get involved with the restoration project.
“I would like to see them step forward, some of their students that could do fundraising opportunities, to come up with something fun to try to help restore,” she said.
Looking forward, the committee hopes to restore a third building on the property and make it a small gathering place, and the major goal remains to restore the kilns and smokestacks to make the site a destination.
“We want it to be family-friendly, educational,” Tim said. “We want to have a local museum that not only highlights the brick-making process and the history of the brick plant but also the rich history of Carr Township. That is our ultimate goal along with the music venue/park with a museum onsite.”
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Donations for the restoration of the Medora Brick Plant site may be made at State Bank of Medora, 24 E. Main St., or mailed to P.O. Box 71, Medora, IN 47260.
For information, join the Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc. page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/2443069676014999.