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Brick Industry


While bricks were made throughout West Virginia from the state’s plentiful clay deposits, the historic heart of the industry was in the Northern Panhandle near particularly fine clay deposits around New Cumberland, Hancock County. Several entrepreneurial families, including the Porters, Atkinsons, Ballantynes, and Mackeys, recognized the economic benefits of the abundant local resources and bought clay and shale properties and the materials for hardening bricks. Firewood, which was considered by early brick makers to make the finest bricks, was used until the supply was depleted; then gas, and later coal, were used to fire or harden the bricks. Successive generations of these families started companies that operated flatboats, then keel boats, then sternwheelers, and later towboats and barges to ship bricks down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and upstream to Pittsburgh and points east.

New Cumberland, located on a bend in the Ohio River that became known by rivermen as the Brickyard Bend, was the brick capital of the United States from about 1840 to 1910. In 1872, 11 million bricks were shipped via the Ohio River. After a railroad line was built through the area in 1886 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, 75 freight cars a day left New Cumberland loaded with brick and other clay products. While its arrival had been eagerly sought, the railroad with its increasingly high shipping costs played a role in the downfall of the local brick industry after World War I. As the clay deposits were mined out and synthetic paving and building materials replaced brick, West Virginia’s national role in the brick industry ended.

Written by Jeanne Grimm


  1. Hayes, E. L. Illustrated Atlas of the Upper Ohio River and Valley from Pittsburgh, PA. to Cincinnati, OH. Philadelphia: Titus, Simmons & Titus, 1877.

  2. McCue, John B., et al. Clays of West Virginia. Charleston: West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey, 1948.

  3. New Cumberland, West Virginia: People and Places, 150 Years, 1839-1989. New Cumberland: Hancock Courier Printing, 1989.

  4. Welch, Jack. History of Hancock County. Wheeling News Litho. Co., 1963.