Beautiful Abandonment: Nature Reclaims a Crumbling Iowa Brick Yard

Deep in rural Iowa, hidden by a lush green forest, a sprawling brickyard slowly crumbles as nature creeps in to reclaim it. 

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

I woke up early and drove into the town of Lehigh, Iowa as the sun peeked over the horizon. Ragged tatters of storm clouds receded overhead.

I'd been in Iowa for less than 24 hours, and already I'd fallen in love with the state. Wending my way along rural roads, stopping to admire the simple beauty of abandoned homesteads and the majesty of a vacant luxury hotel, it quickly became apparent that Iowa was home to many hidden gems.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Iowa Brick is one such gem. Closed several decades ago, the old brickyard is still largely intact. Vandals have left it alone for the most part, allowing nature to creep back in and slowly wear away at the structures and equipment that were left behind.

[**Note: This facility is located on private property and CANNOT be accessed without permission from the owner]

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

The ceiling of the old workshop has begun to collapse, allowing a bed of moss and small plants to take root.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

The place looks to have been abandoned very suddenly. Workbenches still line the walls...

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Forklifts and other equipment are still parked inside several of the old structures.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Stacks of brick wait patiently to be shipped out to customers.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Many of the rooms were flooded from the previous night's storm.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Located near the banks of Crooked Creek, I wouldn't be surprised if flooding was a common occurence in the old brick factory.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

It would explain why plants have flourished in just about every building.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Inside the main factory, eerie silence hangs in the air, interrupted only by the echoing sounds of dripping and my footfalls.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

It's strange to imagine that these places were once filled with workers' voices and the roar of industry.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Half a dozen chimneys keep vigil on the grounds of the old brickyard.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Piles of rubble at their bases mark the locations of smaller structures that collapsed long ago.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

An enormous dome-shaped kiln rusts among the thick vegetation.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Time and the elements have done incredible things to the brick walls and floor inside.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Lehigh, a small town in Webster County, Iowa, was built upon two major industries: coal mines and brickyards. Brickyards made clay from shale excavated at the local coal mines. Formed into bricks and drain tile, the clay was baked in kilns heated by coal from the same mines.

Coal mining declined in Webster County during the first half of the 20th century. The population of Lehigh has fallen steadily since then, from 1,004 in 1940 to about 400 nowadays.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Lehigh Brick and Tile company was established in the late 1800s as a producer of bricks and ceramic sewer and drain pipes.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

In 1896, the company won the contract to produce the paving brick for the city of Dubuque, Iowa. Then in 1897 a serious fire crippled the facility. Several other local brickyards rushed in to fill the void in production. By 1903, Lehigh Brick and Tile had fully recovered from the fire and was back in business.

Most of the structures that currently occupy the site were built in the 1950s and '60s, with the final additions made in the late '70s.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

At some point, the Lehigh Brick and Tile Company became Iowa Brick. It operated under that name until the facility closed in the 1980s.

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

After stopping in Lehigh, I hit the road again and headed off to check out the ruins of an old boarding school.

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Abandoned Brickyard in Lehigh Iowa Reclaimed By Nature

16 comments :

  1. Love it!
    I've added it to our itinerary. Did you come across anybody around there?

    Hubby and I watched a program once on Netflix about how nature "reclaims" things. Looks like it's moving along there. What a shame, and yet--how awesome is that!

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Jim. I've just placed an order for that book from the library. Always love getting ideas for good reads. I appreciate it. Have a terrific week

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    2. I think I may have seen the same program you saw. Was it called "Life After People"? There is also a really great book called "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman, which I highly recommend.

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  2. Please continue your postings Jim. We enjoy your research and pictures very much. This one was amazing showing the bricks and machinery as if he workers just left suddenly.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying it :) This was such a neat place to explore. I'd love to go back in a few years and see how much it's changed.

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  3. Another great post. I love your work and the efforts you put in to preserve a spot for the history of places like this. Keep up the good work.

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  4. Fantastic as always! Some of my favorite pictures thus far!

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    1. Thank you, my love! I couldn't have done it without you!

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  5. Jim the light colored bricks that say AP Green are from my home town Mexico, Missouri. At one point in time we were known as the fire brick capital of the world supplying the brick to anything from the the kilns used for steel production in Pittsburgh to the pad for Cape Canavarel. This plant too shut down in the mid 90's causing a loss of around 1500 jobs in a town of 12,000 people. If you are still in the Midwest the the campus is something to behold.

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    1. Thank you for the info and the recommendation! I thought it was strange that those bricks were so different from all the others.
      I'll have to make a trip out there some day to see the campus. It's a shame that so many people lost their jobs when it closed. It must have had a tremendously negative impact on the town.

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  6. i live in Lehigh where this Tile and clay company is located. i believe when it closed up it named Dickey Clay. My dad worked there through the 70's into the early 80's

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  7. My dad, Melvin Linn, worked most of his adult life at the Lehigh Sewer Pipe and Tile Company (later known as Dickey Tile Company). I took many of the same pictures you have shared during a walk-through last summer. I was fortunate to be there when a friend of the owner of the property was there with his girlfriend to capture some photos. I am curious, though. Did you have permission to be on the property? This is private property so people need to know that you can't just walk on site and go through the buildings and grounds. I was born in Webster County, grew up in Lehigh. In my teen years, I remember driving over to get my dad as there was a family emergency. You want to know about Lehigh, just ask me. My mother wrote many memories of the clay company and the people who worked and lived in the hills of Lehigh.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Sandi. Like so much of Iowa, Webster County is a beautiful area. I have added a note to the article, reminding readers that this location is on private property and cannot be accessed without permission.

      It is so neat that your mother wrote down stories of the people who worked here! Are they published or available to read anywhere online? I would love to read them. Personal histories are such an important and often overlooked part of our historical record.

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  8. I'm a history student at ISU taking summer classes and I was wondering if you could tell me the information of the owners. I have a paper about Iowa history that's due at the end of summer and I'd love to be able to write about this!

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  9. Do you have contact information for the owner? I would love to shoot a music video at this property. Thank you!

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