What You Must See Inside the Museum of Ancient Brick

What do Nebuchadnezzar, the Roman Colosseum, Great Wall of China, and the Mayflower have in common?  Only a handful of these museums exist, and one is in the Appalachian Highlands of Northeast Tennessee.

There is a museum in Johnson City dedicated to one of the oldest forms of building structures made from natural elements of the Earth. The General Shale Museum of Ancient Brick showcases 85 bricks from around the world, some dating back as far as 10,000 years ago. Located inside General Shale’s headquarters, one of North America’s top brick manufactures, the museum has seen visitors from as far away as Austria and England, and is also popular with folks in search of a unique exhibit that you can’t find just anywhere. Plus, who doesn’t want that perfect brick selfie?

The collection was curated by late General Shale employee Basil Shaffer. He spent decades on excursions in dozens of countries in search of rare and unique bricks before he died in 2011. “To me, these are not just bricks – they are pieces of history,” Shaffer said. “Here you can see bricks that have been exposed for centuries and yet show no sign of wear. These things have withstood the test of time.”

Our top five bricks you must see inside the General Shale Museum of Ancient Brick are:

1. 9,000-10,000 Years Old – Jericho

This handmade, sun-dried clay unity was found in the buried settlement beach the biblical city of Jericho and was possibly the first brick ever known to be made. Note the fingerprints found on the brick.

2. 1584 – Great Wall of China

This was the first brick to legally come out of China since the Communist takeover. The Great Wall is from the portion rebuilt by Emperor Wanli, whose 48-year rule was the longest in the Ming dynasty.

3. 1620 – The Mayflower

Placed in the bottom of the ship to keep the vessel steady, this brick was part of the ballast and was later used in the foundation of a Plymouth plantation home.

4. 70 A.D. – The Great Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy was built almost entirely of hard-burned brick. This one came from the highest gallery inside the Colloseeum.

Did you know that Northeast Tennessee is home to the Last Great Colosseum?

5. First Century – A.D. – Bath, England

Hypocaust tiles such as this were part of an ancient Roman heating system. Hallow tiles allowed heat to circulate beneath the floor, or in the walls of buildings.

The General Shale Ancient Brick Museum is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the General Shale headquarters located at 3015 Bristol Highway Johnson City, Tenn. 37601. For additional information call 423-282-4661 or visit generalshale.com.

If you like digging in the dirt and history, you’ll want to include a visit to the Gray Fossil Site Museum located inside the Hands On! Discovery Center.

Plan your trip now with our interactive map!