Medora Brick Plant restoration efforts moving forward



Pat Shelton of Seymour spent a lot of time at the Medora Brick Plant as a child.

Her father, Howard “Bus” Dixon, and her grandfather, Howard “Bee” Dixon, were both maintenance men at the brick plant.

“We would come out and visit Dad while he was working here,” Shelton said.

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Her father also allowed her and her brother to go with him to a shale pit on the north side of Medora and watch as clay was loaded up and taken back to the plant to be made into bricks.

“My dad was the one who stayed her and liquidated everything for the Hellers,” Shelton said in reference to the closing of the plant Nov. 25, 1990.

The Heller family was the last owners of the plant, which opened Aug. 2, 1904, as the Medora Shale Brick Co.

Shelton said it’s important to her that something good is being done with the brick plant because of its history and importance to the community.

“It furnished the brick for Purdue University and my house and homes all over,” she said. “You just don’t see this anymore. You would hate to see it go away.”

Shelton said she would like to see the plant restored enough that people could see how the 54,000 bricks were made at the plant each day.

On Monday, Shelton and more than 60 other people gathered at the site at 8202 W. County Road 425S for a celebration of the two years of work that have gone into restoring the plant that gave employment to many in the community.

Tim Reynolds, president of the Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites committee, said the event was planned with three objectives in mind.

The first was dedicating the brick plant to the community, and the second was to recognize and honor all those who worked there over the nearly 90 years it was open, he said.

“And third, of course, is we’re all doing this out of the love for our community and our neighbors,” Reynolds said.

The committee obtained the 6-acre site from Troy Darkis of Vallonia, who once worked at the plant, on Dec. 29, 2017.

Reynolds said Darkis, who lives in Washington County, deserves a lot of credit for making the restoration possible because he had purchased the property because he didn’t want to see the brick plant lost.

Darkis, who attended the event, took little credit for his role, but Greg Sekula, director of the Southern Regional Office of Indiana Landmarks, agreed with Reynolds.

Sekula said the property was first placed on the Indiana Landmarks 10 Most Endangered Sites list 14 years ago.

“He was very patient,” Sekula said.

The next step in the restoration process is raising money, he said.

“We’ve got to get the final vision for the park developed,” Sekula said. “We have had a consultant working with the group, Cindy Brubaker from Bloomington, and she’s kind of helping develop a detailed concept plan for the site.”

He said the eventual goal is to have the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the idea of going after larger grants.

Reynolds said the committee is going to try to tackle the site one project at a time.

“We want to start restoring one kiln at a time, one building at a time,” he said. “We want to start the process. Hopefully somewhere along the way, the big grant money will come.”

That would allow the committee to hire contractors to do some of the work.

“But we do have some local masons who have already volunteered their time,” Reynolds said. “We also have some local electricians who have offered to volunteer their time so we can get ready to get the power put in down here.”

He said the work to clear the property of weeds and other vegetation also is going to continue. A crew from Aisin USA Manufacturing Inc. came out on the Jackson County United Way Day of Caring on May 15 to help, and Jackson Jennings Community Corrections sometimes sends teams out to cut grass and weeds.

Sekula said he has no doubt once the plant is restored, it will be a major attraction for tourists.

He said while visiting the site three years ago with others involved in the project, they stumbled across an engineer from Germany who was in this country for work. That man said he had heard about the Medora Brick Plant and just had to visit the site.

“That just shows you the power that this plant has,” Sekula said. “Indiana Landmarks’ mission statement features three tenets: Revitalizing communities, reconnecting people with heritage and saving meaningful places, and I think all three of those tenets are applicable to this particular site.

“The site is a testimony to those who have gone before us and those who have built this place and produced bricks here that really built America. We live in a time when small towns and rural America is very much threatened and struggling, and it is really incumbent upon all of us to work to save these parts of our heritage, which I think are the future.”

Anyone wishing to help out can attend a committee meeting at 6 p.m. on the last Monday of each month at the Medora Senior Citizens Center. They also can follow the project on Facebook at Save the Medora Brick Plant. Contact information also is listed on that site.

During the celebration, Daryl Robinson of Bedford played a song, “50,000 Bricks,” that he wrote for the occasion.

He remembered spending time at the place with his uncle, Bernard Gray, when he was growing up. Gray, who still lives in Medora with his wife, Coleen Gray, was superintendent of the brick plant from 1968 to the time it was completely shuttered in 1992.

“I lived in Medora for the first two years of my life, but I’ve always had family here,” Robinson said. “My grandmother lived here. I would come and spend a week at a time, and Bernard and Coleen would babysit me.”

He said he was really happy to see that some effort was being made to restore the site.

Robert Shepard, 94, of Seymour also attended the event because he has an interest in seeing the site restored.

He worked at the plant for a while when he was young.

“Not very long because I got fired,” he said. “During his time there, he stacking green bricks on the cars, a process called hacking.”

Jackson County Commissioner Bob Gillaspy wrapped up the formal part of the ceremony by reading a proclamation celebrating the impact the plant had on the community over the years and honoring the people who worked there.

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