Athens’ Bricks Cement Special Memories For Residents, Students

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Walking down the streets of Athens, it is hard not to notice the brown, red, and orange bricks throughout the city emblazoned with the Athens Block logo.

For more than 12 years, Athens residents James Robinson and his wife, Erin, have worked brick-by-brick to keep the iconic tradition alive in the streets and hearts of community members.

“It’s a common thread that kind of bonds them all together,” said James Robinson. “They all have a brick story. There’s a little piece of brick history in all of us. Everybody has maybe made their brick garden, or they’ve tripped over a brick or sprained their ankle on a hole where a brick was supposed to be.”

Founded in 1891, Athens Block left a legacy of finely fired bricks that are noticeable across the hills and valleys of southeast Ohio’s landscape.

But the trying times of the Great Depression caused the original Athens Block to close their doors. In 2001, the Robinsons decided it was time to revive the iconic art form and begin an art gallery showcasing one of Athens’ most prized possessions.

The couple bought all of the patents from the original Athens Block Company and felt that it was time to bring back a historic emblem community members have grown to love.

Athens Block Collectibles sells everything from key chains to faux foam blocks and everything in-between, which allows Ohio University students and visitors a chance to take a little piece of Athens with them.

“The whole objective is to keep making it new and exciting for people,” said Robinson. “Every year we try and come out with three new objects for people to admire.” 

While it’s something the Robinsons cherish, students at Ohio University’s Athens campus also find the bricks to be part of the image of the university.

“It was something I remembered every time I thought of the school, as a high schooler,” said Ashley Williams, 19, an education major from Dayton. “While I was still in high school, I remember the university tours. I just couldn’t help myself staring at the ground. Just the beauty of the school and everything that goes with it helped me in my decision to apply to OU.”

James and Erin Robinson received their degrees from Ohio University: Erin a bachelor's in Art Education and James a bachelor's degree in Art and English Literature, along with a master's degree in Sculpting.

But along with his degrees, James says he was inspired to save and reconstruct the red and brown staples after working in a mixture of two separate fields.

“I was a bronze sculptor and made a brick wall in my backyard and installed some sculptures and also had to excavated 1,500 bricks and that was one of my first experiences I had in Athens.”

But while this Athens attraction catches the eyes of thousands of students every year, Ohio isn’t the only home to these memorable markers.

“I’m told there’s an entire city in South America in the Yucatán that’s like Athens, that’s covered in Athens Block. You can find them in Indiana and you hear stories, why their history is unique. It touches many people’s hearts,” said Robinson.

But while this eye-catching piece of art exists thousands of miles away, Robinson says the culture of the bricks come back to one place.

“When bricks get into your blood and into your veins, it’s just becomes part of the heart of Athens.”