Clay deposits on the shore of the Potomac supported a considerable brick making industry in Arlington until well into the 20th Century.
In 1905, there were 10 plants using local clays to produce brick for sale in Washington, chiefly a red brick but some a buff color. In his 1907 Brief History of Alexandria County, Virginia , Crandal Mackey states, that Alexandria County (the former name for Arlington) “manufactures more brick than any county in the United States.”
One of the largest plants was West Brothers Brick Company. Founded shortly after the Civil War, it remained in operation until the land was taken over by the federal government in 1942 to build the Pentagon. Brick manufacturing eventually ceased in the area with the construction of Shirley Highway and the Pentagon.
During the great flu epidemic of 1918, Perry West, grandson of the founder of West Brothers, noticed that the men who got the flu seemed to be those who never touched alcohol…so, as a preventative measure, he arranged for his workers to start the day with a dosage of 2 ounces of whiskey followed by 5 grains of quinine, with an additional dose at the end of the work day!
What About You?
Do you remember the clay pits or brick works along the Potomac? Let us know!