History of Our Athens Bricks

Athens Bicycle building and parking lot

Photo by Daniel Brown

When three run-down houses on the corner of Stimson and Cornwell streets went on on the market, Athens Bicycle owner Peter Kotses saw an opportunity to create a permanent home for his bike shop and also to preserve some important Athens history. 

Starting in 1890, Stimson Avenue was lined with these brick homes and other buildings that were part of the Athens Brick Company. The plant was located where the post office now stands, and Stimson Avenue was a hub of industrial activity.

However, over 100 years later, the brick company was long gone and the the homes were in disrepair. The corner was an eyesore. The house that would eventually be our new bike shop (4 W. Stimson) was vacant and often required visits from law enforcement to remove criminal trespassers, and the other two homes were barely up to code as rentals. 

As a native of Athens with a degree in history from Ohio University, Peter was excited at the thought of renovating these pieces of history into a new home for Athens Bicycle. 

The business had been located in a rental space just down the street from these homes since 1998, and we had been looking for property to buy for some time. “It took a long time to find the right place,” he says. “I really liked the idea of renovating these historic buildings so they could again come a vital part of this neighborhood.”

The three homes that were for sale represented some of the last remaining buildings from an incredibly important era in Athens:

 " … [The] Athens Brick Company first opened in 1890 on Stimson Avenue. The company shipped our special Athens Block bricks around the world, primarily for street paving. the City of Athens used these bricks extensively to pave our streets until paving methods transferred to asphalt during the first years of the 20th Century. Many Athens streets still feature these original Athens Block brick pavers on a large number of our main streets and back streets. For generations, locals, including Ohio University students, have fallen in love with these bricks as an important symbol of Athens."  --  excerpted from The Essence of Athens

We purchased the dilapidated properties in 2010, with a plan to renovate and repurpose 4 W. Stimson (the vacant house) as Athens Bicycle’s new home. Since then we have been working project-by-project to turn what was once a disheveled corner into a beautiful setting that reflects our love of Athens.

After endeavoring to highlight this historic corner through renovation, landscaping and public art, we were thrilled to see the City of Athens formally endorse this type of development with its Essence of Athens in 2014. 

The Essence of Athens is a strategic design plan for the city that calls on home-owners, business owners, real estate developers and city officials to include Athens-specific cultural themes into infrastructure improvements: “Ours is a community that is rich with history, culture, art, and soul, and our built environment should always reflect all of these things.”

The plan envisions locally-specific community design that creates spaces that are geographically specific, highlighting those very things that make us say, “oh, yes! that’s Athens!” 

The Essence of Athens sets forth a “Design DNA of Athens,” a family of components that residents are encouraged to incorporate into public and private designs. Those components include physical characteristics such as use of brick and prominent exterior paint colors, as well as intangibles such as originality and creative ingenuity.  

We feel that our continued improvements to Stimson Ave. truly exemplify the essence of Athens.

Our Building

Athens Bicycle before renovation

Overgrown with bushes and weeds and a regular problem for law enforcement because it attracted partiers and vagrants, 4 W. Stimson needed far more than a little TLC.

Historic Athens Bicycle after renovation

Architect David Moran of RVC Architects designed a site plan that allowed for renovation and new construction, creating an inviting space for the business without losing the character of the original structure.

Reclaimed brick wall inside Athens Bicycle

Moran’s plans included the construction of a beautiful half-wall between the upper and lower floors of the shop, replicating period brickwork. We hand-cleaned more than 5,000 reclaimed bricks that we removed from interior walls of the original structure so we could re-use them! 

Reclaimed bricks on Athens Bicycle front porch

The reclaimed bricks also are featured in the facade that wraps around the bottom half of the building, tying in with the original front wall on the front porch. We re-used century-old construction materials everywhere we could, tying together old and new.

Athens Bicycle Athens brick parking lot

The Parking Lot

Our parking lot, accessible via Cornwell Street, features approximately 10,000 bricks that were made in Southeast Ohio over 100 years ago.

Using bricks instead of concrete or asphalt was important to us for both ecological and aesthetic reasons. A permeable surface allows water to drain back into the land vs. shedding into the sanitary sewer system. We also think its much more pleasing to look at a brick parking lot vs. concrete or asphalt, and we like the idea of reusing material that has already been made vs. adding more "items" to the planet. Finally, since the houses on our corner were originally built to house people who worked at the brick factory that used to be across the street, we thought it was fitting to add more brick to the streetscape. 

About a third of the bricks came from an old brewery that was torn down in Nelsonville, another third came from Glouster city streets, and the final third came from our friends Mac and Becky McCutcheon, who salvaged them from a former drugstore they tore down years ago in downtown Albany. 

Athens Bicycle mural

The Mural

Next door to the bike shop is a small house with a big, bright mural featuring a bicyclist. From the time we bought the properties, we hoped to add a mural to add color and a sense of place to the properties. After giving the little house its first new paint job in over 40 years, we worked with Ohio University College of Fine Arts Professor John Sabraw to design a mural for the home.

Sabraw, a painting professor who enjoys putting art in public places, selected two students for the project. Undergraduate fine arts majors Sam Slone and Tiffany Roenigk developed the design, sought feedback from us, and finalized a plan that not only gives a nod to the property's history but also highlights its current use as a center of the cycling community.

The mural wraps around two sides of the house. The back features a painting of train tracks disappearing into rolling Appalachian hills, a reference to the rail line that once ran up and down Stimson Avenue. The railway serviced the Athens Brick Company, which dominated the street at the start of the 20th century. The side of the building features a female cyclist on a mountain bike, along with bold, colorful stripes. The mural has become a bright addition to our corner of Stimson Ave.

Athens Bicycle patio

Ongoing Work

Other recent improvements are the construction of a patio behind the bike shop that features historic local bricks and the installation of two stone benches. The top of one of the benches came from a renovation of the Athena Cinema, which turned 100 years old in 2015. We think it's cool that the stone was here in town at the same time these houses were built. The other bench is topped with a piece of stone that came from the renovation of a building on the Ohio University campus.

Landscaping around all three of the homes has greatly improved the look of the corner of Stimson and Cornwell. A planting of serviceberry trees brightens the corner with stunning red berries during the cold months, and the addition of iris, redbuds and other flowering plants provide constant color during the warm months.