A visit to The Brickyard offers an interesting juxtaposition of vital natural habitats and the crumbling remains of a former industrial site. While it might seem odd today, this section of the island’s northern shore was once a bustling brick-making operation that churned out 800,000 bricks per year. Workers fired the bricks on site and then loaded the finished product onto ships from a pier that jutted from shore. Much of what was produced here helped to build Boston.
Today, grass and shrubs are slowly reclaiming the brickyard. The foundations of former mill buildings and stone retaining walls still stand, as does the iconic 45-foot chimney made of red bricks. A few rusting mill parts sit nearby, partially obscured by grass. Down by the rocky shore, a few granite blocks scattered on the beach are all that remain of the pier that was once used for loading ships.
The natural landscape remains fresh, however. The former industrial site sits in a narrow valley with Roaring Brook gurgling as it heads easterly toward Vineyard Sound. The property widens as it slopes toward the water, the view of the Sound and the Elizabeth Islands framed by sandy bluffs. It is a striking place to contemplate the enduring power of nature as well as the transitory impact of human development.
The 1.6-mile trail to The Brickyard, which begins at the Menemsha Hills trailhead, is a beautiful but rugged walk (download trail map). Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, bring water, and allow several hours for the journey, which begins with a climb up and over Prospect Hill, the second-highest point on the island. A quick side-trip to the lookout at the top of the hill is well worth the time and extra effort for the sweeping views of Vineyard Sound that it offers.
After Prospect Hill, the trail dips down and up smaller grades before reaching the intersection with paths to the beach and the Nashawahkamuk loop. The Brickyard trail turns to the right, traversing small hills. It also passes an inland marsh and off in the distance, a high, sandy bluff overlooking the ocean.
A sharp left turn leads onto a wider, rocky roadway that descends into the former brickworks, past cut-stone walls and glimpses of Roaring Brook, to the right. A small loop trail to the east travels past the remains of a mill building, offering another perspective on the historic site as well as a path to the rocky beach just beyond.
Habitats & Wildlife
The trail starts among woodland groves and passes through a mix of forest and wetland. In the spring and summer, listen here for the knocking of woodpeckers and the call of other woodland birds flitting among the oak, maple, and beech trees. Nearer to the ocean, the forest gives way to scrubby pitch pines, blueberry, bayberry, and huckleberry shrubs.
The Trustees preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts.