California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Thomas Biggins

History

Biggins brickyard site
View of the site of Biggins brickyard at McKegney Field.
The bank where the clay was mined is on the left center. The
kilns were on top of the low hill behind the trees in the center.

Thomas Biggins was an early brickmaker in Marin County, California. Little is known about him and his brick operations. He apparently operated several brickyards in the county: one near Ross Landing, one on the east side of the Tiburon Peninsula, and one at the present site of McKegney Field on Richardson Bay. The brickyard that will be mentioned here is the one at McKegney Field.

Thomas Biggins was a native of Ireland, born in 1829 or 1835 (age discrepancies from the Federal Census Records). He was married to Bridget, who was also born in Ireland about 1838. They had a daughter named Maggie and twin sons named John and Thomas, all native of California. In 1860, Thomas Biggins was working at the Bon's brickyard in San Francisco. He may have come to Marin County in June 1863, when he and other prospectors staked mining claims on a gold-quartz ledge near Sausalito.

Map of Biggins brickyard site
Map showing location of Biggin's brickyard at the current McKegney Field, Tiburon.
Blue water is Richardson Bay, dashed road is now Tiburon Blvd. From Plat Map of Austin, 1869.

It is not known when Biggins opened his brickyard on the shores of Richardson Bay. A map published in 1869 shows the brickyard (see the map above), so it was probably sometime between 1863 and 1869 when the brickyard opened. A clay bank along the bay shoreline provided the material for making bricks. There is no description of Biggins' brickyard. But, from the bricks found on the premises, we know that he used the soft-mud process, probably using wooden molds, to form his bricks. He probably used field kilns to fire the bricks. These bricks were probably sold locally and some may have been shipped to San Francisco by way of Brickyard Canal, shown on an 1892 county map.

The 1870 census record shows that Thomas Biggins was assisted by his brother Patrick Biggins and Thomas Gahegan in making the bricks. They also had 12 laborers and a cook employed at the yard. This brickyard was closed sometime between June 1870 and June 1871, when Biggins joined into a partnership with Mallon and Prunty for their new brickyard near Ross Landing. Thomas Biggins died in September 1879.

Biggins Brick

Biggins common brick is orange-red and uniform in color. Form is straight and even with dull edges and corners, often chipped. Bottom face is flat with minor pits. There is no maker's marks in the examples seen. Top face is pitted, rough, and displays clasts. Sides are flat with no marks. Interior clay body is orange clay with 5 percent pores up to a half inch in diameter, some very irregular in outline and deep. The variety of clasts constitutes about 10 to 15 percent of subrounded to angular milky quartz, yellow chert, granitic rocks, shale, mica schist, and serpentine, ranging in size up to 1/4 inch across. This brick was made by a hand-molded, sand-struck, soft-mud process. Length 8 3/8, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Biggins brick side
View of the side of the Biggins brick.

Biggins brick bottom face
View of the bottom face of the Biggins brick.

Biggins brick top face
View of the rough and pitted top face of the Biggins brick.

Biggins brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Biggins brick.

Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Biggins brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the
Biggins brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

References

Austin, H., Plat of the Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio, April 1869.

Daily Alta California, October 9, 1890.

Dodge, G.M., Official Map of Marin County, California, 1892.

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Marin County Deed Book J, Indenture, June 16, 1871, p. 182.

Marin County Deed Book D, Mining Claim Notice, June 5, 1863, p. 504.

San Francisco Call, May 8, 1892.

Sausalito News, February 21, 1890.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.