CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Pleasanton Brick Company (Merrill and Black)

Cory and Black

History

On the north bank of Arroyo del Valle, on the property of Joseph F. Black, one mile east of Pleasanton, was found a surficial clay deposit suitable for making bricks. In March 1875, William B. Merrill, a native of Connecticutt, leased the clay bank from Joseph Black to establish the Pleasanton Brick Company. Newspapers of the day referred to this operation as "Morrell Bros." or "Morrell and Black". Merrill's brother was Marcus H. Merrill, who had a brickyard in Stockton, where the brothers formerly worked in a partnership. William had a son, George H. Merrill, who was a clerk with the company. The Pleasanton Brick Company set up its office and distribution yard at the foot of Brush Street in Oakland, near the residence of William Merrill.

By April 3, 1875, the Pleasanton Brick Company began to fire 200,000 bricks in a field kiln as a test and found them to be equal to the best in the state. The equipment included over 20 pugmill drums, six or seven field kilns, and a Standard brick machine. The soft-mud process was used to make common, red, sanded, hand-molded bricks. The Southern Pacific Railroad ran a spur line into the yard. Over one million bricks were shipped to San Francisco annually. About 20 men were employed.

As most of these bricks were shipped out, some were used in the Livermore Valley. Pleasanton bricks were donated for the foundation of the first church in Pleasanton in 1876. In 1877, 4,500 bricks stamped "CH" were shipped to the San Francisco City Hall, and some were rejected and returned to the yard. At this time, it is believed that the company stamped its bricks with the serif letter "P" probably to distinguish them from the "CH" bricks. Other pre-1881 building foundations and chimneys in Pleasanton may have also used Pleasanton brick. In February 1882, bricks were shipped to Livermore for the McLeod Building.

Merrill left the company in May 1880 and he died in Oakland on July 12, 1903. The plant was leased by J.H. Cory in May 1880 and he continued producing brick with 48 Chinese brickmakers and a steam-brickmaking machine at a rate of 22,000 bricks per day. By May 1881, they had increased the production rate to 32,000 bricks per day. In September 1881, they were supplying bricks for the Spreckles sugar factory in San Francisco. Six carloads of brick per day were shipped. By October 1881, brick demand fell and the brickyard was quiet. About March 1882, the property was purchased by the Remillard Brothers. See
Remillard Brick Company for the continued story of the Pleasanton brick yard.

J.H. Cory was a native of Vermont and came to California in 1857 to work as a contractor and builder. He was residing in Alameda when he died on January 1, 1912 at the age of 77 years.

Pleasanton Brick

Common brick is dark red to pale red, with a rough sanded surface. Sides display rounded red pebbles up to an inch across and large pits and cracks of equal size. The edges are uneven and often broken or chipped. Irregular, discontinuous lip is present along the top edges of some bricks, but most show no lip. Bottom face is even with some pits and visible clasts of red chert, sandstone, and siltstone. Top face is uneven with large pits, but no apparent strike marks. This brick was made using a machine-molded, soft mud process in 1876. Length 8 1/4 - 8 5/8, width 4 1/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

View of Pleasanton brick in the foundations of the Lighthouse Baptist Church
The bricks in the foundation of the Lighthouse Baptist Church, Neal St., Pleasanton,
built in 1876, are examples made by the Pleasanton Brick Company.

View of Pleasanton brick in the foundations of the Lighthouse Baptist Church
Note the large round pebbly clasts protruding from the sides of the Pleasanton brick.

The common brick marked "P" is similar to the brick described above. The form is good with straight dull edges and dull corners. The surface is coated with orange stained subangular to subrounded quartz and black magnetite. The sides display pits and cracks. The top face is rough and pitted with a longitudinal strike. The bottom face is smooth and flat with minor pits. Centered on the face is the recessed serif letter "P" that is 1 3/8 inches wide and 1 3/4 inches tall. The interior consists of subangular white quartz, red and yellow chert, subrounded siltstone, shale, white clay, and black iron oxides, ranging from 1/8 to 1 inch in diameter, in a porous sandy clay body. The clast content varied widely in several samples from 5 to 15 percent. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Length 8 3/8, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

View of the marked face of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the marked face of the Pleasanton brick.

View of the side of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the side of the Pleasanton brick.

View of the rough top face of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the rough top face of the Pleasanton brick.

View of the end of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the end of the Pleasanton brick.

View of the interior of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the interior of the Pleasanton brick.

View of the marked face of the Pleasanton brick.
View of the marked face of the Pleasanton brick imprinted with "CH" meant for the San Francisco City Hall.


A brick bat from the McLeod Building in Livermore, donated by Gary Drummond, provides a description of the brick when Cory ran the brickyard in early 1882. The brick is orange with a coating of sand. The sand is composed mostly of clear subangular quartz, some of which are iron-stained, minor round black magnetite and subangular hornblende. The form is good, with dull edges and corners. An irregular lip is present around the top edges. The bottom face is even with a thick coat of sand. The top face is pitted with longitudinal strike marks and no sand. The interior contains less than 5 percent white subangular quartz and rounded white sandstone, less than 1/16 inch across, and vesicles up to 1/2 inch across, in a fine sandy orange clay body. The brick is soft and this example was underfired. This brick was made using soft-mud process in 1882. Length is unknown, width 4, height 2 3/8 inches.

View of the bottom face of the Cory and Black brick.
View of the bottom face of the Cory and Black brick.

View of the side of the Cory and Black brick.
View of the side of the Cory and Black brick.


View of the end of the Cory and Black brick.
View of the end of the Cory and Black brick.


View of the top face of the Cory and Black brick.
View of the top face of the Cory and Black brick.


View of the interior of the Cory and Black brick.
View of the interior of the Cory and Black brick.

References

Clay-Worker, v. 57, no. 1, 1912, p. 82.

Livermore Enterprise, 1875-1876.

Livermore Herald, May 13, 1880.

Livermore Herald, May 26, 1881.

Livermore Herald, September 8, 1881.

Livermore Herald, September 29, 1881.

Oakland City Directories, 1875-1904.

Oakland Tribune, 1875-1881, 1903.

Parke, John, written communications, 2016.

San Francisco Municipal Report, 1877.

Copyright 2005, 2016, Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.