The future for a rare surviving example of a type of industrial operation once common along the Hudson River is in question pending the outcome of development plans for the site. The surviving structures of the Hutton Company Brick Works in Kingston, NY which include rare surviving kiln sheds, currently face the threat of demolition.
The Hutton brickyard operated near Kingston Point from 1865 until 1980, according to George V. Hutton who wrote about the operation in his book The Great Hudson River Brick Industry. The Hutton Company was founded as Cordts & Hutton by Prussian emigre John H. Cordts and William Hutton. Cordts’ mansion, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, still stands above the brickyard. Its location symbolized Cordts’ role as the hands-on owner of the brickyard; Hutton was ten years younger than Cordts and was a resident of nearby Rondout where he tended to his lumber business.
Cordts retired from the partnership in 1887 and three years later the company assumed the Hutton name solely. For more than a half-century the Hutton Company persevered through market instability, consolidations, and changing technology. The Hutton yard supplied brick throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City and to many large projects including Yankee Stadium. Bricks marked “HUTTON” are frequently encountered during New York renovation and demolition projects today.
The Hutton Company was one of a dozen to resume production following World War II, during which regional brick works temporarily ceased operations. Although Hutton’s business prospered in the post-war years, a number of factors including loss of key personnel and the need for drastic modernization of machinery led to the family’s decision to exit the industry in the 1960s.
The Jova Company of Roseton (downriver near Newburgh, NY) acquired the Hutton yard in 1965, ending at 100 years the longest term of continuous ownership for a single yard on the Hudson River. Terry Staples, whose family’s yard upriver in Malden closed in 1958, acquired the Hutton site in 1970 – perhaps more as a sentimental gesture than as a sound business decision, according to George Hutton. In 1979, a new environmental regulation enacted by the New York State Department of Conservation required Hutton to replace its antiquated scove kilns, a source of air pollution, with modern, expensive, tunnel kilns. Unable to afford the upgrade, the Hutton Company Brick Works closed instead.
The Hutton Company yard also includes three connected steel frame kiln sheds originally erected in 1928 at the Excelsior brickyard in Haverstraw, NY and moved to Hutton in 1940. Not only are the Hutton kiln sheds an iconic example of Hudson River industrial architecture, they are significant in their rarity in the region. Below Albany, at Coeymans, the Powell and Minnock Brick Company was the last manufacturer of Hudson River brick until it closed in 2001. A marine salvage terminal opened at the P&M site but the new company demolished the kiln sheds c. 2007-8, leaving the Hutton sheds as the only surviving examples of their type in the Hudson Valley region. The Hutton sheds also include rare remains of “scove” type kilns used to fire the brick; the only other known Hudson Valley scove kiln ruins stand at the Empire Brickyard in Stockport, NY.
Today boaters on the Hudson River and curiosity-seekers on foot may find a few occasional standing relics of the brick industry, primarily in Ulster County and north, although discarded brick itself can be found on the shores as far south as Croton and Haverstraw. Chimneys still mark the sites of the Shultz and Terry yards, just north of Hutton, and at Malden the ruins of several buildings remain from the Staples yard. Two brick buildings at Glasco, near Saugerties, attest to the Washburn yard. At Coeymans a brick building for coal storage was renovated by the new owners of the Powell and Minnock yard; a structure similar in appearance believed to have been a mule barn remains abandoned at the East Kingston Shultz yard. The Rivers and Estuaries Center at Dennings Point in Beacon incorporates former brickyard structures, although at least one brick building was demolished in that recent redevelopment project. A narrow-gauge claypit railroad bridge still spans the Metro-North Railroad tracks at the Brockway brickyard site in Fishkill, NY.
Arthur Green operated a restaurant at the Hutton brickyard through the early 1990s. The buildings were abandoned subsequent to the restaurant’s closing, and in 2002 the property sold at a city auction for 2.5 million dollars. Two years later the new owners announced plans for a 363-unit housing project to be known as “Sailor’s Cove.” A realty office was established in a small brick building at the entrance to the property, and tours of the site were given to promote the proposed development. The City of Kingston Planning Board halted review of the site in 2010, but in September 2012, 771 Polaris, Ltd, the property owner, presented an updated plan to the Planning Board. The plan now calls for 383 housing units, and the complete removal of the kiln sheds. Additionally endangered is a Lidgerwood crane, also the last such brickyard relic of its type on the Hudson River following the New York State-sponsored removal of a gantry crane at the Staples yard in Malden ca. 2004-2005.
According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, the Hutton property has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (pages 11-13) as an industrial archaeological district by the NY State Historic Preservation Office.
The Hutton Company Brick Works remains the last nearly-intact assemblage of buildings from the Hudson River brick manufacturing industry, a prominent presence on the river for 350 years but now extinct. Although no machinery survives, the Hutton landscape and buildings still clearly express the brick making process from the clay pits, through the plant and kilns to the riverside crane and transport barges. The Hutton site presents the last chance to study and interpret an industry integral to the Hudson River Valley and is worthy of HAER-level documentation. The chance to preserve the Hutton site’s kiln sheds, gantry crane and associated brick buildings and integrate them into waterfront development is a unique opportunity that the City of Kingston and proponents and supporters of Hudson River Valley heritage should embrace.
– Thanks to Matt Kierstead for orchestrating the SIA Newsletter publication, and thanks to Fred Rieck for the boat tour of the Hudson River at Hutton’s.
– Information sourced from Hutton, George V. The Great Hudson River Brick Industry: Commemorating Three and a Half Centuries of Brickmaking. Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press. 2003.