Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, July 10 newspaper on Page A1.
A mural being painted on Stimson Avenue in Athens gives a nod to the brick industry that operated in that area during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“The goal here was to celebrate the history of brickmaking in Athens and, in particular, on Stimson Avenue and in particular that spot, which legend has it was part of the original Athens Block brickmaking operation,” said Ric Wasserman, who commissioned the mural.
The mural by artist Keith Wilde is painted onto a retaining wall next to the building owned by Wasserman that houses Stimson Gardens apartments and the Bella Vino store.
“I like public art. I think public art is a really important thing in a town, and I have a giant canvas there,” said Wasserman, who is the county treasurer. “I’d wanted to do it for a long time. When I saw Keith Wilde doing the mural at the corner of Carpenter and State, I approached him about being the artist.”
Wilde said Wasserman first suggested a mural about diversity, then later suggested the brickmaking theme. Wilde said he went to the Southeast Ohio History Center to do research and learned that African-Americans were part of the brick industry’s workforce in Athens.
That allowed Wilde to bring the two ideas together — diversity and brickmaking — in his design of the mural.
“The two ideas just came together in a wonderful way,” Wilde said.
The mural depicts kilns and the bricks that were produced.
The Athens Brick Co. was formed in 1890 and operated until about 1917, according to the book “Getting to Know Athens County” by Marjorie Stone and Elizabeth Grover Beatty.
According to the book, the company made bricks primarily for paving and most carried the inscription “Athens Block.”
Wilde began the mural in May and is putting the finishing touches on it.
“If I had my wish I’d get it done this week — we’ll see,” Wilde said.
Those interested in seeing how the mural progressed can view pictures on Wilde’s Facebook page.
To make way for construction of Stimson Gardens, the building located on the site was demolished in 2013. It was torn down over the objections of Ron Luce, who was then director of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum. The Messenger reported at the time that Luce said the building was used by the Athens Brick Co. and had historical significance.
Beatty and Stone state in their book that the building was a stable for mules the brick company used to pull carts.
Wasserman said that based on how it was constructed, he believes it was a house and not a barn. However, Wasserman said that during excavation of the site for construction of the apartment building there was an indication the site was connected to the brick company.
“We found thousands of broken bricks,” he said, adding that it might have been a landfill site.
Wasserman noted that some of the bricks from the demolished building were saved and used for the façade of the Bella Vino store.