California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Benicia Fire Brick Company

Letterhead of the Benicia Fire Brick Co.
Letterhead of the Benicia Fire Brick Company. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

History


Dave Garcia brought the Benicia Fire Brick Company's firebrick to my attention after finding it in Benicia, Solano County, California. Information on the brick itself provided the clue that it was manufactured in Benicia by the Benicia Fire Brick Company. On the letterhead shown above, Simon Johnston was listed as manager.

Simon Johnston, a coal merchant in Benicia, was supposedly the owner and manager of the old Benicia Pottery at East 5th and East G streets in Benicia. He was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1847, and became a U.S. Citizen in 1870. In 1878 he married his wife Marie, also a native of Canada, and they raised four children. They came to Rio Vista, Solano County, California in 1878, and later moved to Benicia. In 1909, Johnston built the two-story stone building known as the Royal Bakery, still standing at 718 First Street across the street from the old State Capitol in Benicia.

The Benicia Pottery was built about 1887. The San Francisco Business Directory for 1887 shows the proprietor as W.S. Ray and Company of 12-14 Market Street in San Francisco. According to the California State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1888, John L. Ballagh was the proprietor. Little information was found about this early pottery.

Johnston was in Benicia as early as 1883, when he began purchasing lots. Although a newspaper article stated that Johnston owned the pottery, I could not find the transaction of Johnston acquiring the property. The only evidence that the Benicia Fire Brick Company was operating at this pottery is from the letterhead shown above and that was during the 1890s. We know that the pottery was operated by McKenzie and Reid from 1894 to 1896 and that the pottery was idle after that until it was destroyed by fire in 1900. So, therefore, that would bracket the operating years for the Benicia Fire Brick Company from 1890 to 1894. No description of the pottery was found. We know from the letterhead that the company manufactured firebrick, stove lining, and tile. A photograph of their stove lining is shown in the letterhead. The source of the fire clay for the firebrick appears to be from Ione, Amador County. In September 1895, the company applied to the Superior Court for an order dissolving the corporation.

For the continuation of the history of the Benicia Pottery, see
McKenzie and Reid.

Benicia Fire Brick Company Brick

Firebrick is buff and mottled. The surface is smooth with minor pits, crackle, and spalling. Some round brown iron oxide spots are visible. Edges are straight and sharp. Corners are broken, but may have been originally sharp. On the marked face is a large rectangular name plate faintly visible, that is 7 7/8 inches in length and 3 1/2 inches in width. Inside are the centered markings, which are in recessed block letters. On the first line is BENICIA, that spans 4 1/4 inches and stands 5/8 inch in height. The letter "N" is backwards in the sample. The second line spans 2 3/4 inches and stands 5/8 inch in height. The third line spans 4 5/8 inches and stands 5/8 inch in height, except the "o" stands 1/2 inch in height. There is a square period after BRICK, but none after Co. The interior consists of 5 percent clear subangular quartz, less than 1/8 inch in diameter, 8 percent round brown iron oxide spots, less than 1/4 inch in diameter, 2 percent subrounded granitic rocks, less than 1/4 inch in diameter, and fused cream alumina. This brick was made using the pressed process. Length 8 3/4, width 4 3/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

View of the marked face of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.
View of the marked face of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick. Donated by David Garcia.

View of the side of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.
View of the side of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.

View of the unmarked face of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.
View of the unmarked face of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.

View of the interior of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.
View of the interior of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick.

Microscopic view of the interior of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior of the Benicia Fire Brick Company firebrick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

References

Benicia Chamber of Commerce, Historic Downtown Benicia Walking Tour, brochure, no date.

Benicia Herald, A Destructive Fire, August 4, 1900.

Benicia Historical Museum, Benicia Fire Brick Company, Letterhead, Benicia, California.

Bradley, W.W., Mines and Mineral Resources of Portions of California, Part 2: The Counties of Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Yolo, California State Mining Bureau 14th Report of the State Mineralogist, for the Biennial Period 1913-1914, 1916, p. 244-247.

Bruegmann, Robert, Benicia, Portrait of an Early California Town, James Stevenson Publishers, Fairfield, CA, 1980.

Clay Record, v. 7, no. 6, September 26, 1895, p. 29.

Crawford, J.J., Structural Materials, California State Mining Bureau 13th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1896, p. 612-641.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Garcia, David, personal communications, 2014.

Illustrated Glass and Pottery World, Benicia's Pottery--California, v. 4, no. 8, August 1896, p. 26.

Niles-Rentschler Directory Co., San Francisco Business Directory 1887, in Northern Pacific Coast Directory, 1888-89, San Francisco, CA, May 1888.

Phelan, Beverly, Curator, Benicia Historical Museum, Benicia, written communications, 2014.

Polk, R.L. & Co., California State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1888, v. 1, San Francisco, CA, 1888.

Solano County Deeds, L.B. Mizner to Simon Johnston, 1883, Book 84, p. 398.

Solano County Deeds, T. and M. Morris to Simon Johnston, 1878, Book 70, p. 87.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.