The colorful history of Granger brickyard did not end when the five beehive kilns cooled for the last time in the early 1960s.
GRANGER, Yakima County — Not much remains today. A few deteriorating buildings, a scattering of bricks and the foundations that supported kilns that once burned white hot.
But for more than a half-century, this site southeast of town was the center of brick production for much of the state.
Started in 1903, Granger Clay Products operated until the early 1960s before abruptly closing, leaving behind pallets of bricks, both fired and unfired.
Still, its legacy lives on in countless brick buildings in Yakima and elsewhere across the Northwest, and in the tiles it made for drainage facilities on the massive Columbia Basin Project.
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At its peak, the plant was churning out up to 7,000 bricks per day, according to Dennis Harris, a Granger former mayor and lifelong resident who has owned the property off Emerald Road for about 20 years.
Its last bricks were used in constructing Granger High School’s gymnasium, he said.
“When it stopped, it’s like they turned the lights off and walked away,” he said.
One reason: The necessary clay, dug from pits on the south side of Cherry Hill, played out. Bringing clay from elsewhere proved uneconomical.
The round beehive kilns where the bricks were fired have been torn down. But Harris marvels at their construction, which included 4-foot-thick walls at the base. No mortar was used. Instead, each brick was wedged into place.
Tunnels connecting the kilns to the drying shed provided heat to help dry formed bricks before they were placed in the kilns, where temperatures reached 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Originally heated by coal, the kilns later were modified to use natural gas.
“You could peek into the kilns. The bricks were almost transparent as they were cooking,” recalls Walt Sayer.
Now 90, Sayer still lives in Granger and was the plant mechanic for eight or nine years.
The wheeled carts were moved on small railroad tracks from the drying building, called a pre-kiln, to the kilns. Some of the track can still be seen.
“It was really an engineering feat,” Harris said. “They were really ahead of their time as far as engineering goes.”
Harris said bricks were made during the winter and were marketed during the summer. The schedule allowed area farmers an opportunity to make extra money during the winter, he said.
Sayer said eight to 10 workers were employed at the brick yard during his time there.
“It was very pleasant to work there. We worked five days a week,” Sayer said, adding the work schedule left the weekends open for fishing.
Clay mined from Cherry Hill would be brought to the yard where it was dried in the open air and mixed with dirt before firing.
“We did a huge business with tile. We would run bricks up through Othello and into the fields,” Sayer recalled. “We sold brick in Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Tri-Cities and Walla Walla. That was our territory.”
The property’s colorful history did not end when the five beehive kilns cooled for the last time.
During three ownerships before the Harris family bought the property, plans were tossed about to turn the kilns into apartments along with a mobile-home park. The Love Israel family, a Seattle-based commune, also owned the property in the 1980s and had plans to create a winery on the site.
The counterculture group, created by a former television salesman who called himself Love Israel, eventually collapsed in internal disputes and a lawsuit filed by a family member.
That member, an heir to the DuPont fortune, wanted back the property that he had turned over to the commune.
Harris said he remembers the morning two men, a family member and an attorney, pulled up in his driveway in a black Porsche, offering to sell him the property.
Harris hopes one day to clear the land and build houses on the site.