Brickmaking was a lucrative business in Haverstraw, but more than 100 years ago, it led to tragedy.
The banks of the Hudson River at Haverstraw, in Rockland County, rise imposingly from the shoreline. In the mid-19th century, those banks were filled with mason’s gold — thick stores of blue clay, prized for making the strongest bricks.
Industrialists pounced on the opportunity to dig out that clay, and soon dozens of brickyards operated along the river, from Haverstraw north to Grassy Point. From the time of the Civil War through the 1920s, Haverstraw was known as the brickmaking capital, shipping out 350 million bricks a year: Some say that a lot of New York City’s buildings at the time were built with Haverstraw brick. As the clay was removed, tunnels were dug underneath the village streets in Haverstraw to access even more of it. That action proved deadly.
The winter of 1905–06 was bitter, with many rainstorms and snowstorms. In the evening on January 8, 1906, a crack widened along Rockland Street. By 11 p.m., the land under six square blocks of homes and businesses in the village started to give way in a massive slide.
Emergency response was quick from local fire companies and residents themselves, but 19 lives were lost. The collapse of the coal- and wood-heated homes generated a large fire that threatened much of the remaining village, until a snowstorm helped dampen the flames. In total, two avenues, five streets, and 21 buildings were swallowed into the resulting pit.
Despite the tragedy, Haverstraw brickmaking continued in full force until the 1920s, when concrete, aluminum, and steel became attractive alternatives and many of the brickyards closed.
Remnants of the 1906 landslide are still visible in the village, in a lagoon-like semicircle on the shores of the Hudson River.