For The Tribune
What used to be a busy and profitable brick plant could become a park or historical site.
A group of volunteers gathered Saturday morning to clear overgrown foliage around the old Medora brick plant to begin the process of restoring the 6-acre site just southwest of the small Jackson County town.
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Volunteers spent the morning and afternoon clearing the area around the plant, which is home to nine standing brick kilns, an office, a shipping area and storage. The site is being prepared for a survey to determine what kind of potential uses might be found.
Organizers have suggested, among other uses, turning the site into an educational park or general park.
Tim Reynolds of Medora helped organize 20 volunteers for the weekend. Greg Sekula with Indiana Landmarks Southeast Regional Office in Jeffersonville also helped out. Indiana Landmarks is a statewide organization that focuses on preserving historical properties.
“This is the first step in a process to help reclaim the old Medora brick plant, and what we’re hoping to do is build interest in the community with an effort to try to save this site and re-purpose it for potentially some sort of historical park,” Sekula said. “I think it could be a tremendous draw, especially with the bridge (Medora Covered Bridge) nearby, for the community and people outside Medora.”
‘Something that you wouldn’t see anywhere else’
Sekula said the site of the plant, which produced bricks from 1906 until 1991, could be something unique for the community.“This could really be something that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I see a lot of potential.”
If enough interest is built throughout the community, Indiana Landmarks will partner with a firm in Bloomington to develop a conceptual phase of ideas for the property, Sekula said.
Indiana Landmarks has monitored the plant for a number of years because of the historical value of the kilns where the bricks were made, he said.
“The kilns were listed on Indiana Landmarks’ most endangered list in 2005,” Sekula said. “It still remains on our watch list until it is essentially saved, and we continue to keep our eye on it.”
Troy Darkis owns the 6-acre property and has expressed interest in donating the property to a nonprofit, said Sekula, who also said that could be a major step and that he hopes an organization can be developed to further the cause.
“This really needs to be Jackson County’s project. It needs to be Medora’s project,” he said. “Right now, it is unknown whether or not we have that support, but we have to take these baby steps to help make it happen.”
He added that revitalization efforts generate positive effects on communities, particularly smaller communities like Medora.
“Communities that have a unique character and sense of place and celebrate their heritage have an asset that they can draw upon,” he said.
He added that Medora has potential to add to its historic sites in the community.
“This could be another piece in addition to the bridge and beautiful buildings downtown,” he said. “A lot of smaller towns are struggling because of population loss, and this type of project could really excite people and get them to rally behind a cause and could be an economic draw.”
Burst of energy and pride
Reynolds agreed and said communities need to focus on things they do have — like history and tradition — instead of things that they don’t have.Reynolds said Medora is one of those that has lost industry but could focus on its rich history.
“We have the Weddleville school and, of course, the bridge, but I feel like the brickyard is next,” he said. “I think the thing that we have going for us in this community is our historical sites and the beauty because it’s a really beautiful little town.”
Reynolds worked at the plant for three days when he was 18.
“I remember it was hot, and I was wheeling brick, and it was awful,” he said with a laugh, adding his work ethic at the time was a factor in his departure from the company. “But I do remember a lot of people working here and their grandpa working here or their great-grandpa working here, and it was really a centerpiece of the community.”
Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, was on-site to help with the clearing and said the idea of adding a park to the area would be important for the county’s tourism.
“One of the biggest things our county has is its rich history,” she said before pulling brush away from what used to be the office at the plant. “I think bringing something like this back is huge, and I’m always surprised about what we don’t know about our county.”
Banks said people who stop in at the visitor center are always looking for the history in the county to see what makes it unique.
“People want the history. They want to take the tour and see what we have,” she said. “They’ve been to the bridges and the barns, and this could be something that could be an incredible destination and site that would go right along with these other great sites that we have.”
Banks said it is important for the county’s youth to understand the livelihood of people before them and to see it firsthand.
“They need something they can see for themselves and feel,” she said. “I think it’s important for them to understand that.”
Banks said she would like to see the area become a park because of the bridge and other sites that can go with it. She said it would be a big draw because people already stop and look at the plant now as it stands with overgrown foliage.
“They stop at it now and look at it, but that’s it. There needs to be interaction,” she said. “I think this could be big for Medora.”
Reynolds said he and other organizers are going to plan another cleanup day at the end of August to help keep the ball rolling on the project.
“This really takes a grass-roots effort, and I’m really begging people to get involved with the brickyard,” he said. “I want to see more community involvement because I love this little town and a lot of people do, but a little bit of effort from everybody would really make a big impact.”