Small, weighty, rectangular
clues to the Hudson River Valley's past are nestled along the banks
of the Hudson, quietly waiting for people like Andy van der Poel, of
Kingston, and Fred Rieck, of Elizaville, to retrieve and admire
The men are brick collectors, and they say the area is the
perfect place to pursue such a hobby because hundreds of
brick-making factories existed here from the late 1700s to the
1940s. Locally, the list is extensive, ranging far beyond one of the
best known companies, Hutton.
"If you look at photos from the early 1800s, it's just brickyards
and ice houses," Rieck said. "They were sort of symbiotic in their
"The clay deposits were here," van der Poel added, "and easy
access to New York City with the barges."
Van der Poel, a physics teacher at Saugerties High School, said
it's unlikely he would have taken up "bricking," as collectors call
it, in his 20s. But at 43, he said the historic aspect resonated
with him. He had procured a copy of "Within These Gates," by Daniel
de Noyelles, and discovered a chapter that lead to related
"I read a lot about the Hudson River," he said. "Then when I read
this book, that's what got me going, page 111, Ulster County. It
shows all the local brickyards. Upon reading this, I said (to my
daughter) 'Hey, let's go find some bricks,' and we did. Then I was
The first brick the duo discovered, he said, was from the N.E.
Turner company, but it simply says "Turner." That one was found at
Port Ewen Beach, and the next, from the former Hutton brickyard was
discovered across the way, along Rondout Creek. A third, labeled
"UF&JTW," they found along the Hudson River at the Robert Post
Park in the town of Ulster.
"It's kind of a treasure-hunt," said van der Poel's 12-year-old
daughter, Molly. "You don't know what you will find. You have a
goal.... Sometimes you find what you're looking for, and sometimes
"There's no age limit to this thing, believe me," said Rieck, a
67-year-old retired inspector from the state's office of general
His interest began even earlier than Molly's. As a youngster of
about first-grade level, he noticed the bricks on land near his home
and at his aunt's and their marked surfaces.
"I always wondered, 'What did these letters mean?'" he said.
Then, in the late 1950s, a job building a brick patio with a man
whose knowledge of local bricks was vast, renewed his interest.
Eventually Rieck ran out of experts and set about becoming one
himself. He poured over old city directories, microfilm and
microfiche, searching for names and locations of brickyards. His
quest worked. Today his collection of two decades includes about
They are stored in palettes in his basement, and two less-weighty
but thick photo albums contain images of each. Van der Poel, who has
accumulated about 200 bricks in close to two years, also stores his
collection in the basement of the family home. But instead of
palettes, wooden frames he built display them in tall columns of
relatively short rows. He can even tell visitors the best viewing
area, where sunlight hits the bricks just right to show off the
definition of their letters and individual earth tones.
"I have a friend who's an art teacher," van der Poel said. "He
said, 'Andy, You ought to paint this black. That would make the
bricks pop out even more.'"
A couple of van der Poel's neighbors, brothers who once lived in
Glasco, come by to admire the display now and then, he said. Another
gentleman who lives nearby also took great interest in his
collection. The man had worked at a brick yard at Dennings Point, in
Beacon, and he spied a representative brick from that location.
"He said, 'I could have made that brick,'" van der Poel recalled.
But not everyone finds such collections intriguing, at least not
at first, Rieck said.
"Yeah, but they get interested pretty quickly," he said, "except
The Web site www.brickcollecting.com says, "Some call it a crazy
hobby but to find, touch and own a piece of history can be very
rewarding ... and fun."
Van der Poel, and Rieck, whose comments about brick yards can be
found on the site, would agree about the latter part of the comment.
It's an activity in which they have participated together up to 10
times since they were introduced by the collecting site's web
master, Don Bayley, of Riverdale.
Brick-collecting doesn't rank, in numbers, with top hobbies like
reading, watching TV, spending time with family and gardening. If
every collector shows as much enthusiasm as Rieck and van der Poel,
its likely to grow in ranks. There already is an International Brick
Collectors Association, and it cites a membership of 1,000, half
Rieck and van der Poel definitely belong to the latter group. On
a trip together to George's Island in Westchester, in fact, van der
Poel found one of his favorite bricks, with the letters ESBCo, which
stand for the East Shore Brick Company.
"We nailed that one," Rieck said.
Others van der Poel gives high ranking are from the North River
Brick Company, found at Ulster Landing in the town of Ulster; the
Hudson River Brick Company, found in Haverstraw; and the Kingston
Brick and Ice Company, discovered south of St. George's Beach at the
Ulster County Park.
Among bricks of interest in Rieck's collection is one with "DK"
in the center flanked by a star on either side. He found it in a
Hudson brickyard, but he does not know the company who made it.
"This is a mystery brick," he said.
Another that appears less of a mystery, is nevertheless a point
of speculation. It says "blob L blob," Rieck said, referring to
letters that appear to have been shaved off on either side of the
"L." He speculates that bricks formerly labeled "GLT" for
manufacturer Greg L. Tobin, retained only the "L" after the company
was purchased by a man whose surname was Lane. Rieck figures the
brick mold was simply altered. A hint of the "T," however, remains
on the example he was describing.
Another brick, manufactured by a company that once ran yards in
Newton Hook, Albany and Cahoes, sports the letters "CARY," with a
central image that looks much like the end of a clothesline pulley,
a symbol for the Common Brick Manufacturer's Association. Much like
the reformulated "GLT" bricks, certain of these have a circular
raised area where the symbol once was.
"That's pretty cool. I wonder what prompted this," Rieck said.
"Maybe the company did not pay its dues, or maybe the association
went bust. It's (another) case of where they were re-treading the
The only downside to their hobby, the friends said, is the
prevalence of ticks in the areas they search for bricks. Three weeks
ago Rieck found one on himself and a friend, along on the trip,
Regarding legalities of brick-hunting, the men said they are
careful to follow the rules. They do not search on private land or
other places where collecting is unauthorized.
"As I understand it," van der Poel said, "the state owns to the
high-tide mark, and these are found in the tidal wash area. You go
at low tide so there is as much of that exposed as possible."
But their interest doesn't stop along Hudson's shore, a fact that
rattled a demolition contractor in charge of dealing with a
Schenectady home destroyed by fire. When Rieck, dressed in a
business suit, approached, the wary man immediately answered an
"He said, 'Yeah, I got all the permits.'
"I said, 'I just want to know what brand of brick was in the
Thanks to numerous brick-making companies of the past, Rieck, van
der Poel and anyone interested should have many years of fun taking
part in bricking or 'industrial archeology,' as Rieck puts it.
"In 1905, it seems like all hell broke out in this business,"
which van der Poel referred to as the IBM of the 1800s.
"Everybody thought they could make a buck from it," Rieck said,
"and they all got into it."