Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Richlands Brickyard

From the Town of Richlands photo tour website:

Although the coal industry was not the heart of Richlands, Richlands was certainly the heart of the coal industry. Local coal mining included operations at Big Creek, Seaboard, Hill Creek, Doran and Raven, as well as the Middle Creek and Indian Creek at Cedar Bluff, according to the Richlands New Press Centennial Edition.

Dependent on coal was the brick plant located off Kents Ridge Road. Dating to 1890 when the town had iron, ice and glass factories, the brick plant alone survived. Howard E. Steele in a news article in 1923 wrote that the brick plant was the "town's most important industry." During World War II the plant supplied 95 percent of its production to the war effort.

Richlands Brickyard Kilns; image courtesy of the Town of Richlands

In 1908 bankruptcy notices on the plant became payable. Mr. C. C. Hyatt purchased the business in 1911 and continued the plant until ill health led him to lease the plant to General Shale Corp. A. H. Kelly assumed management until his retirement in 1964. In that year production numbers listed 80,000 bricks made daily with plans of doubling that with future installation of four new kilns. Using as much as 30 tons of coal per day, the plant remained for a long time a major purchaser of coal. However, by 1973, General Shale had converted all but one of its Richlands coal-burning plants to gas operation.

In 1982 the business begun in the 1890s closed. Of the operation that once extended from the shale pits located on the east and west ends of town to the massive plant on Kent's Ridge, there remains a shopping center and a parking lot. Perhaps Civil War chaplain, Abram Joseph Ryan, said it most appropriately, "A land without ruins is a land without memories -- a land without memories is a land without history."

'Richlands Brick Yard Kilns,' Town of Richlands
Town of Richlands,


  1. A. H. Kelly was my maternal grandfather. We all called him Dandy. He was patient, kind, loving, he had a great sense of humor and he loved to tell stories around the dinner table. I recall him telling a story about WWI. He was a soldier in France, and the Americans were retreating from the Germans, and they had to disable what they could not carry with them. He said that the cooks took all of their coffee supplies, dumped them into a large oil barrel that they had sanitized, and made a huge vat of black coffee over a bonfire to energize the troops as they broke camp. He said it was the strongest cup of coffee he had ever had. He said that coffee was "strong enough to make you fight your granny!" To this day, our family refers to strong coffee this way. A.H. Kelly was a good Christian man who loved his family and his country. I have many fond memories of him and my maternal grandmother, Amanda Torbert Kelly, whom we all called Mawmaw.

    1. Mr. Kelly sounds like a wonderful grandfather. Thank you for coffee story!