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Clay pavers commemorate brick industry in New Jersey park

December 19, 2016

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In between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Trenton, New Jersey is Crystal Lake Park, an oasis of 370 acres built for hikers, fishermen, bird watchers and horseback riders. It’s an area where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see 75-foot cliffs.

“We opted to use the Pine Hall Brick pavers to reflect the site’s history with the brick industry. We wanted a nicer paving material so we went with the red pavers.”—Steve Lennon, senior project manager with Taylor Design Group

But you do, because they used to dig into the clay-rich soil of southern New Jersey and make clay bricks, leaving hilly areas where there weren’t any before.  Church Brick, which has been in business for 100 years and is across the road from the park, mined clay from the land and made bricks from it until 1970.

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Steven Lennon, LLA, ASLA and a senior project manager with Taylor Design Group of Marlton, NJ, which specializes in landscape architecture and park planning and design, wanted to call attention to the brickmaking heritage of the area, so Pine Hall Brick Full Range Red Rumbled clay pavers were specified. (Rumbled pavers are tumbled after firing, which makes them look older than they are.)

Lennon said that the site remains rural in nature and represents an effort on the part of the Burlington County government to preserve a farm belt across the county, by purchasing development rights to farms or buying the land outright. And that’s a significant amount of land, because Burlington County itself goes across the entire state of New Jersey. For its part, Crystal Lake Park is still worked a farmer who rents the land and visitors are urged to stay away from ongoing agricultural operations.

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Lennon anticipates one question. Farmland? In New Jersey?

“People don’t think that about New Jersey because it is so influenced by New York,” says Lennon. “But we are similar to North Carolina. We have the same pine woods. And Burlington County is part of the beaches, as well.”

There are, indeed, several similarities. Mansfield Township was once a booming clay mining area. During construction, workers found old bricks that had been used as backfill on the land. Church Brick once had a rail line that ran from its property across the road into what’s now Crystal Lake Park and workers during construction found brick fragments and clinkers, presumably used as backfill during mining operations.

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Church Brick is still supplying brick, made by other manufacturers and supplied the clay pavers used at the Crystal Lake Park property.  It is a top 10 dealer for Pine Hall Brick Company’s clay pavers and the two firms do share some similarities. Both companies have been around a long time, as Church Brick began in 1916 and Pine Hall Brick began in 1922. And both are still owned by the same families that began them.

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At Crystal Lake Park these days, visitors find turf trails for horses and hiking trails, stabilized with gravel, along with dirt trails. Bird watchers, hikers and fishermen are regular visitors to the park. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a $2.6 million development project added about four miles of trails to the park, with special emphasis on leaving the park, as close as possible, to its natural state. Part of the project was to add picnic tables, barbecue grills and restrooms. Another new feature was to add a special horse mounting area to accommodate riders who use wheelchairs.

The newspaper also reported that future plans are to add features that will allow on-road bicyclists, roller-bladers and walkers to use the park. Plans are to pave a 10-foot-wide flat section of a trail, eventually linking it to the 60-mile Delaware River Heritage Trail, which will eventually link 24 towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

When the changes do come, the area’s heritage will be remembered in a red-clay reminder.

Photo credits: Taylor Design Group.

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