Tim Reynolds remembers one of the first cleanup days at the Medora Brick Plant site like it was yesterday.
Hot and sweaty from dragging brush, he was walking toward the office with fellow volunteer Lynn Cowles when they started talking about what a great music venue the site would be.
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“She’s like, ‘Man, yeah, gospel and bluegrass all day,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’” Reynolds said.
A couple of years later, the idea was brought up again and a name for an event was shared: KilnFest. That would pay tribute to the 11 dome-shaped kilns that once were used in the brick-making process that are still standing on the 6-acre property.
“I thought, ‘That’s catchy,’ and everybody grabbed onto that and was like, ‘Yeah, KilnFest,’” Reynolds said.
At the time, though, they were wrapped up in getting electric and water hooked up at the property and didn’t have a stage built yet.
Now, all of those things are in place, and KilnFest 2020 is set for Sept. 19 at the site, 8202 E. County Road 425S, Medora.
The event will feature music from noon to midnight, each act playing for two hours. They include Jerry and Amber Henson, Skyline Drive acoustic duo Joe Persinger and Mike Shelton, Forrest Turner, Hot Rod Heart and Kill’n Smalls. Plus, from 9 to 10 p.m., there will be an acoustic jam session by a bonfire where people can bring their instruments and play.
There also will be food, door prizes, raffles and live and silent auctions. Donations of raffle and auction items are being accepted.
A $20 VIP package including an access bracelet to the event, a KilnFest 2020 T-shirt and entry to the special VIP door prize is available through Sept. 1 at State Bank of Medora in Medora, CPC Printing and Family Drug in Brownstown and the Jackson County Visitor Center in Seymour. The brick plant office also is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays to buy tickets.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds said a limited number of tickets will be sold for the festival, and they will be following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state guidelines. That includes having hand sanitizer stations, disinfecting porta-potties and volunteers wearing face masks.
Proceeds from KilnFest will go toward the ongoing restoration project at the brick plant site. Money will be earmarked so Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc. can provide a match for large historical grants once it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We want it to be our big moneymaker annual event,” said Reynolds, president of Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc.
“We’ve been setting our goal at $5,000 a year,” he said of fundraising. “We’ve been trying to do bake sales, we go to all of the local festivals and set up and we’ve been selling T-shirts. We’ve not reached $5,000, but we’ve come close every year. We’ve had expenses (bills and insurance), so our bank account from year to year, that’s what this KilnFest is about so we can see it grow substantially year to year.”
KilnFest also is a chance for Reynolds and the rest of the committee to showcase the progress that has been made at the site since the nonprofit organization was formed in 2016.
Early that year, 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.
“This was all grown up,” Reynolds said of the site that includes 11 kilns and some smokestacks. “You couldn’t even see the kilns from the road, so he wanted a group that would show some effort as far as cleaning the place up, and that would show him we were serious.”
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 group became a 501(c)(3) organization and became known as Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc.
While a lot was accomplished in that first year, progress has continued since then.
Committee meetings and cleanup days are conducted on a monthly basis during the warm-weather months.
The brick plant office also 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. Reynolds said 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.
About a month ago, a stage was built through another $6,000 grant from the Owen-Carr Township Community Fund.
A current project includes preparing the maintenance building for a total restoration.
“Eventually, it may be a museum because of the cool shower house that’s attached there,” Reynolds 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.”
The organization also is having Fleeta Arthur help with the process of getting the brick plant on the National Register of Historic Places. Reynolds said it could take a year or two to get that completed.
The submission has to include the history and significance of the property. The brick plant opened in 1904 as the Medora Shale Brick Co. and closed in 1992. Bricks were used to build everything from people’s homes to buildings at Purdue University, Ball State University and Seagram.
Reynolds said the Seagram contract was big for the brick plant.
“Not too many brick companies made it through and out of the (Great) Depression,” he said. “We filed bankruptcy, and that (contract) brought us out of bankruptcy and out of the Depression.”
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.
“You can see that we’re staying busy. We move from one thing right to the next,” Reynolds said.
“We want it to be family-friendly, educational,” he 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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What: KilnFest 2020
When: Noon to midnight Sept. 19
Where: Medora Brick Plant, 8202 E. County Road 425S, Medora
Who: Jerry and Amber Henson from noon to 2 p.m.; Skyline Drive acoustic duo Joe Persinger and Mike Shelton from 2 to 4 p.m.; Forrest Turner from 4 to 6 p.m.; Hot Rod Heart from 7 to 9 p.m.; bonfire jam session from 9 to 10 p.m.; and Kill’n Smalls from 10 p.m. to midnight
Cost: $20 VIP package that includes an access bracelet to the event, a KilnFest 2020 T-shirt and entry to the special VIP door prize is available through Sept. 1 at State Bank of Medora in Medora, CPC Printing and Family Drug in Brownstown and the Jackson County Visitor Center in Seymour; the brick plant office also is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays to buy tickets; or you can mail a check or money order to P.O. Box 71, Medora, IN 47260
Details: There also will be food, desserts and drinks available for purchase, door prizes, raffles and live and silent auctions
Proceeds: The ongoing restoration project at the brick plant site