As an employee of the government, I look forward to and enjoy the three-day weekends that Federal holidays often provide. I like to take advantage of these long weekends by venturing out from the city and visiting some of the places in the D.C. metro area which are not as easily travelled to during a short workday lunchtime bike ride. And even though today’s holiday comes during the middle of the week, it still provided a chance to go riding in a place different than the norm. So for this morning’s ride, I went back to Occoquan Regional Park, located at 9751 Ox Road in Lorton, Virginia (MAP), to check out an area of the park that I saw but did not have time to explore in depth during the last time I visited there.
During this ride I stopped to see and learn more about the old round brick building with an adjacent brick smokestack chimney that is located up the road from the park’s administrative offices, near the soccer fields. It is known as the Lorton Correctional Facility Beehive Brick Kiln. Fortunately, I found a plaque on the side of it that identified what it is, and explains its purpose and history. It reads, “From the turn of the century until the late 1960’s nine kilns on this site were operated by inmates of the Lorton correctional facility.
The bricks stacked inside this kiln are ready to be baked. For 4 to 5 days coal fires in each of the hearths were stoked around the clock. Hot air rose along the inside of the vaulted walls but did not escape through the hole in the ceiling. Heat was sucked down through the bricks, between louvers in the floor, across the underground flue, and up the tall chimney which stands beside the kiln.
These kilns were a primary local source of the red brick used in constructing the historic durable buildings now seen throughout Northern Virginia. Today beehive kilns are little used.”
The nine brick kilns each had a capacity of about 12,000 bricks for each firing. A batch of bricks would took approximately fourteen days from start to finish. It would take a couple of days for loading or setting the green bricks, and then three days for curing. Then two more days were required for heating the interior of the kiln to full temperature. Each batch would then spend a day in the kiln at full heat. The bricks and kiln then needed another three or four days at the end to cool down. And lastly, it would take another day to unload or draw the finished bricks.
The sole remaining brick kiln is the oldest remaining building of the former Lorton Correctional Facility. In fact, it not only predates the other buildings, it was utilized in the production of the bricks that were used to construct the facility’s other buildings.
The now-closed Lorton Correctional Facility used to be the prison for D.C., and was considered quite innovative when it first opened. The prison was funded by Congress in 1910 and initially had no bars, fences or walls. People at the time described it as being like a college campus. The reason for this is that it started off as a new approach to incarceration, with the intention of reforming and rehabilitating prisoners by teaching them vocational skills. It was also meant to be totally self sufficient through income generated by the vocational programs, like the brick kilns. Unfortunately, it failed to achieve the goals that were set for it and the prison closed in 2001 having become, much like the kilns, outdated and obsolete.