Southeastern Ohio's clay can be found in German Village's bricks..

Somewhere in German Village I recently saw a nice-looking sidewalk brick that had two star designs on it. Is that a local product?

It’s a good bet that was a Nelsonville Star Brick. Nelsonville (population around 9,500) in Athens County was long known as the center of the Hocking coal region, but that part of Ohio also has abundant clay deposits.

Historically, the clay found there produced an enormous number of bricks for street and road paving. In addition, the clay was used in art pottery, kitchen- and tableware, building bricks, field tiles, sewer pipes, roofing tiles and more. In fact, Ohio was once home to 2,000 of the 5,000 brick plants in the country, and even today the state still has several producers of various clay products.

Nelsonville hosted five different companies around the turn of the 20th century, and Star Brick made the city famous—in 1904 the Nelsonville Block, as it was then called, won first prize at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Among the brick designs were the “flower with eight-point star,” the “six-point star brick,” the “snowflake and Celtic cross” and the “bullseye with circle cube.” All are quite collectible today among brick hobbyists.

Paving bricks had incised, or raised, surfaces to provide traction for horses and rubber tires. Many other towns in the region also had brick plants. Haydenville, a former mining company town, was probably the best known. Surviving firms include Logan Clay Products LLC in Hocking County, which produces clay pipes and building products; Ludowici in Perry County, which produces roofing tiles and Belden Brick Co. in Stark County. You can see traditional beehive kilns in Logan and at Brick Park outside Nelsonville on Ohio Route 278.

I’ve heard that somewhere in Columbus is a company that makes whistles for sports referees and police. Is this true?

The American Whistle Corp. is the nation’s sole manufacturer of metal whistles. It’s on Huntley Road, on the north side of town, and has nine employees churning out more than 1 million whistles a year.

Started under another name in 1956, the company uses only brass for its whistles, for the same reason you don’t see plastic or aluminum trumpets. Brass is best for resonance and sound quality. The whistles have a shiny nickel finish and can be customized. Columbus police officers’ whistles, for example, have a badge icon. Gold-plating is also available.

Other police departments use whistles from American Whistle, as does the NFL, and many of the firm’s whistles are sold for security uses. The company offers tours for a small fee, and visitors get a whistle as part of the fee.

A whistle’s “warbling” comes from the motion of the ball or “pea” inside, which oscillates when the whistle is blown. Traditionally, these internal balls were made of cork but would dry out. (Also, there are occasional cork shortages.) So, American Whistle uses a synthetic cork, instead.

How do they get the ball into the whistle? You’ll have to take the tour to find out. If you’re wondering how loud such a whistle might be, here’s a comparison. A vacuum cleaner puts out about 70 decibels. An American Whistle goes to over 120 decibels, 32 times the sound energy of 70. An aircraft carrier flight deck goes up to 140. Eardrums rupture at 150.


Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.