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 that were begging to be explored.

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.

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 wandering around the immense property in a state of awe for several hours, 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

Abandoned Affluence in the Heartland

Deep in America's Heartland, grand historical structures stand vacant and neglected. Once stunning embodiments of affluence, their splendor has been worn away by the ravages of time.

Abandoned Israel Beetison Mansion in Ashland Nebraska

My journey to the Rust Belt took me through some incredible places, including awesome industrial ruins in Nebraska (be sure to check out my article about an abandoned tower in Omaha).
Before saying goodbye to Nebraska, I stopped to admire an abandoned mansion in Ashland, the Israel Beetison House.

Isreal Beetison, an English immigrant and farmer with a growing family, hired a team of men to build the house in 1874. Hand-chiseled limestone bricks were brought in from South Bend and Louisville to make the sturdy 18-inch thick walls. The cupola that crowns the mansion acted as a lookout for native tribes who occasionally came to trade.

Abandoned Israel Beetison Mansion in Ashland Nebraska

Four generations of the Beetison family lived in the magnificent house until it was sold to housing developers in 1999. The land around it was transformed and the grand old structure now sites boarded up in the middle of a golf course alongside an upscale housing development. For more information about the Israel Beetison house, visit the Ashland Historical Society.

The house is boarded up and off-limits, but I managed to get a photo of the front porch and a storage cellar.

Abandoned Israel Beetison Mansion in Ashland Nebraska

Abandoned Israel Beetison Mansion in Ashland Nebraska

As I crossed the border into Iowa, a thunderstorm rolled in. Strong winds and heavy rain made for a treacherous drive. Fortunately there weren't many other cars on the rural roads.

Farm fields stretched as far as the eye could see, punctuated by the occasional farmhouse. I pulled over to capture a few shots of a beautiful old abandoned homestead.

Abandoned House in rural Iowa

I was tempted to get a closer look, but the ground was soft and wet and the rain was coming down steadily enough that another minute outside would have soaked me to the bone.

Abandoned house in rural Iowa

The rain had begun to subside by the time I reached the town of Grand Junction, Iowa. As I drove down the quiet main street, I was surprised by the number of boarded up buildings.

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

Founded in 1873, Grand Junction was named for its location at the intersection of the Keokuk and Des Moines and the Chicago and Northwestern railroads.

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

The once thriving community was devastated by the opening of Highway 30 in 1958, which replaced the Lincoln Highway and Bypassed Grand Junction, depriving it of the traffic that had kept its businesses alive.

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

A well-preserved Mobilgas station stands as a monument to the past.

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

The population of Grand Junction was 824 as of the 2010 census, but and has fallen below 800 in recent years.

Mobilgas in Grand Junction Iowa

There is hope of economic recovery. Despite the rain, a carpenter was hard at work renovating one of the brick buildings on Main Street.

Abandoned Building in Grand Junction Iowa

Revitalization efforts have taken place since the time of my visit, including the opening of a new state of the art city hall and community center.

By the time I reached Fort Dodge, the storm had passed. In the remaining daylight, I explored the downtown area, which is home to the massive abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel.

Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa

Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa

Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa

Financed by Theodore Warden, an Ohio coal mining investor and designed by O. E. Damon, the Warden Plaza Hotel was built in 1925. The first and second floor contained small shops and businesses, while the upper floors contained ballrooms, suites, and luxury apartments.

Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa

In the late 1970s, the building was transformed into apartments for elderly and low-income individuals. It closed in 2005 and has stood vacant for about a decade.

The Fort Dodge city government assumed ownership of the property in June 2016 and is attempting to find a developer to give new purpose to the site.

The structure is sealed up and inaccessible, but I was able to capture a photo of a decaying hallway through one of the windows.

Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa

After the sun went down, I stopped at a great little restaurant called SmokeWorx, where I enjoyed a delicious BBQ pulled pork sandwich. With all my energy spent after a day on the road, I decided to call it a night. The next day had quite a bit of excitement in store, and I'd need plenty of rest.

Be sure to come back next week for my exploration of a breathtaking abandoned brick factory.

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Abandoned Warden Plaza Hotel in Fort Dodge Iowa