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NEWS | July 5, 2011

Brick by brick, uncovering history at JB CHS

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Pieces of Charleston history can be found nestled throughout Marrington Plantation on Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station, but if you don't know where to look, you might walk right past them.

Dating back more than 200 years, the people living in Charleston's surrounding area began the process of brick-making, using the firm clay and water from the Wando, Cooper and Ashley rivers, said Terrence Larimer, Natural Resources Manager for JB CHS.

The brick-making sites were set along the river, and approximately 20 different sites can be found scattered throughout the Weapons Station, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Larimer. The register is an official list of sites, buildings or objects the U.S. government has determined worthy of preservation.

The majority of the bricks were shipped by river to Charleston and used in the construction of government buildings and churches in the city. "The brick-making took place in the winter, when agriculture and farming chores slowed, enabling the slave labor to focus solely on the brick-making," Larimer said. "Very few, if any of the bricks, were shipped out of the Charleston area."

Today, individuals going to visit the almost forgotten sites can see remnants of thousands of bricks partially buried under hundreds of years of silt and top soil. Some of the brick mounds are very large, almost six feet high and 10 feet wide. The enormity of the mounds and clay pits where the clay was removed, often the size of a football field, are clear signs of the hard work done by generations of slave labor.

Near the sites, remnants of a barge docking site can be seen, with sharp rectangular angles formed in the dirt next to the marshes. These areas were where the barges pulled up to the shore, to be loaded with bricks before taking them into the city.

Because they are on the national register for protected sites, the only maintenance done to the brick-making sites is controlled burning to ensure the area remains clear and free of forest fires.

These old brick-making sites are not the only treasures that can be found buried within the confines of JB CHS; there are also a number of Indian sites dating back to 500 B.C., gravesites, plantation remnants and an old Indigo vat, where remains of brick structures for Indigo (a blue dye) production still stand.

All of these are pieces of history that are protected within JB CHS's wooded areas, but are open to any and all that wish to visit them and remember a bit of the past.