The Brickyard was, well, an operation brickyard on the north shore of Chilmark in Martha’s Vineyard. Established in 1642, the Brickyard was the first of its kind in New England, and passed through multiple owners until it was decommissioned in the late 19th century.
Today, the historic site is but a derelict 35-foot chimney and bits of rusted machinery in a coastal field that has since been reclaimed by nature. But back in the day, the Chilmark coastline was a bustling industrial hotspot where cargo ships lined up to bus raw clay, bricks, paint, and iron back to mainland Massachusetts and beyond.
The Brickyard was built amid rare ancient clay deposits dating back 140 million years (by comparison, 99 percent of the topsoil on Martha’s Vineyard isn’t even 10,000 years old), which were mined to forge many of the period structures found throughout major northeastern cities such as Boston and New York. In 1869, the Brickyard was purchased by the Boston-based banker Nathaniel Harris, who employed over 70 laborers to manufacture an estimated 800,000 bricks per year.
Eventually, the brick-making industry declined and the manufacturing companies that oversaw local production moved out. The historic Brickyard property remained in Nathaniel Harris’ family, and in 1990, his granddaughter, Flora Harris Epstein, granted a conservation restriction to The Trustees—the oldest conservation organization in the United States—for the preservation of the brickworks’ remnants.
Epstein died in 2010, and in 2014, The Trustees announced their full acquisition of the 18-acre swath of land. The Brickyard is located just north of the Menemsha Hills Reservation, another Trustee-owned property.
Know Before You Go
The Brickyard’s chimney is an unstable structure, so The Trustees have created designated footpaths to ensure visitor safety.