The Trustees of Reservations have taken ownership of the old Chilmark Brickyard on the north shore, Vineyard superintendent Christopher Kennedy announced Monday.
The Trustees have held a conservation restriction for the 18-acre property since 1990, but the property was gifted in full to the Trustees this summer.
The conservation group plans to open the property to the public in 2015.
Wooded and overgrown with brush, the property lies between Menemsha Hills and Great Rock Bight and in the 19th century was the site of a clay mining operation called Chilmark Brick and Tile Works, which was operated by the Harris family. The late Flora Harris Epstein, whose grandfather Nathaniel Harris owned the brickyard when it was operational, granted the property to the Trustees in her will.
“Like other Islanders, my family has always acknowledged the importance of the site,” Mrs. Epstein told the Gazette in 1991. “My grandfather bought the brickworks, in part, because he realized the impact of this industrial facility on Chilmark’s economy. The importance has not diminished, only changed. Culturally and historically, this site represents something special.”
In 1869, the Harris brickyard produced some 800,000 bricks a year and employed 75 workers, according to Gazette archives. The bricks were shipped by schooner to Boston, Providence and Fall River.
Remnants of the brick industry include a 35-foot tall chimney, a water pit, and ruins of gearing and machinery, which are currently hidden under many feet of brush.
The Roaring Brook weaves its way through the property. The chimney is now host to an osprey nest and surrounded by lush meadowlands. The beach alongside Vineyard Sound is rocky, with granite stones strewn about. Pieces of brick are still scattered around the property and commonly found up and down the north shore, worn smooth by the sea over the years.
Mr. Kennedy said the brickworks would throw imperfect bricks at the shoreline of the brickyard, using them as fill.
The Trustees, a statewide conservation organization that owns a number of key properties on the Vineyard, secured easement rights as well as rights to the clay deposits on the property in June and July of this year.
To open it to the public, the Trustees will clear brush and put up fencing around the hazardous parts of the property, Mr. Kennedy said. The property will not likely have vehicular access; instead walkers will approach it from a trail at Menemsha Hills, a 211-acre preserve popular for its long hiking trails. The majority of the Menemsha Hills property was also a gift from the Harris family. Visitors to the brickyard property will also have the opportunity of accessing it from the beach at Great Rock Bight Preserve, a 28.5-acre property managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, Mr. Kennedy said.
The Trustees will also interpret the natural history of the brickyard for the public, educating visitors about the history of the clay mining operation as well as the geological history of the area.
“It’s a fascinating place,” Mr. Kennedy said.