history

Keystone Brick Manufacturing

Early brick production in the Grand Traverse Region seems to have been a matter of good fortune on the part of the homesteaders.

When a farmer was lucky enough to discover a deposit of the right kind of clay on his land, he had a wind-fall source of potential income. Whether the windfall became a short-term cottage industry or full-scale brick factory depended on the size and quality of the deposit. The earliest known local bricks came from the Whipple farm out on the Peninsula in 1867 where for a short time, 15,000 bricks per day were produced.

Then, in about 1872, a large deposit of high-quality clay was discovered about five miles south of Traverse City on Hoch Road, just east of Keystone Road. A small brick factory was built by a Major Newcomb near the newly laid railroad tracks and the Keystone Brick Company became the first local large scale brick producer. Keystone bricks were considered top quality and were used in some of the homes along Washington Street as early as 1874. As Traverse City grew, the business thrived and a boarding and eating house was added to accommodate the workers. Twenty years later, in about 1894, as the source of clay appeared to dwindle, increasing the costs of extraction, and eventually the operation was closed down.

In 1904, the old brick factory reopened under new management and was renamed the Traverse City Brick Company. New technology was introduced that was able to economically extract the clay and once again the Keystone area became an important source of bricks. A rail siding was laid, new drying sheds built, and a large steam boiler added. In 1906, the Keystone factory employed 42 Workers and produced 4,000,000 bricks. Three million remained in Traverse City and used in various construction projects. The following year, production once again began to fall off and eventually, the dwindling supply of clay along with competition from southern Michigan resulted in the final closure of the Traverse City Brick Company. Today nothing of the old factory remains visible from Hoch Rd. Perhaps an alert hiker exploring the tree-covered clay hills to the north of the road might discover some old foundations and cuts into the hills that would reveal the location of the brick factory.