California brick

A. Bowman and Company


On the banks of Stevens Creek south of Louise Avenue (now Evelyn Avenue), Mountain View, was discovered a clay deposit by Albert Bowman and Company, of San Francisco, during the spring of 1875. Chinese laborers were hired to dig the clay and build the first field kiln, which burned wood for fuel. By November 1875, Bowman had 800,000 bricks of "superior" quality on hand. A railroad was laid to the yard to ship the bricks to San Francisco, where many of his early bricks were used.

Bowman's marked brick was first brought to my attention by James Freedner, who had found in San Francisco one of his red common bricks marked with a serif-style "B" on the face. Then David Garcia reported seeing the "B" marked bricks in Alviso. The bricks in Alviso were used in the remaining wall of the original J. E. Fisher Warehouse, which later became part of the Bayside Cannery plant. It appears that the wall contained a mixture of used brick, so it may have been erected at some time after the closing of Bowman's brickyard from recycled brick. The marked brick matches well with Bowman's bricks in the Frenchman's Tower in Palo Alto, so on that basis, I have tentatively assigned the "B" brick to Bowman's Mountain View yard. However, it is possible that Bowman's marked brick could have come from his other brickyard on Senter Road in San Jose during the late 1890s, from which I currently have no bricks to compare. This will become clearer with future discoveries of the B marked bricks or bricks from the Senter Road yard.

Bowman's brickyard at Mountain View closed about 1883. It reopened three years later as the Mountain View Brick Yard (see
Mountain View Brick Yard).

Albert G. Bowman was born in Mississippi about 1845. His wife's name was Eliza J. and they had two sons and a daughter. The Bowmans were residing in the Fremont Township of Santa Clara County in 1880. Bowman had opened a new brickyard in 1894 on Senter Road in San Jose. By 1900, he had moved to Los Angeles.

The Frenchman's Tower in Palo Alto
The Frenchman's Tower, 1875-1876, on Old Page Mill Road, Palo Alto,
is believed to be made of bricks from Bowman's brick yard.

Bowman Brick

Common brick is orange brown to orange red to red to pale red, mostly uniform in color with occasional yellow flashing displayed on sides in different orientations. Some are fired to yellowish brown. A fine sand coats the surface and contains subrounded white quartz, yellow chert, black iron oxide (magnetite), tan sandstone, and black, red, and brown unidentified grains of rocks. Small white specks of clay are visible on the surface. Weathered surfaces often display pits up to an inch across and expose internal clasts. The sides are even and display faint transverse striations and minor transverse cracks. Some have an irregular, uneven lip around the top face. Edges are dull and undulates. Corners are dull. The top face is highly pitted and displays a strong longitudinal strike and some clasts are exposed on the surface. Bottom face is smooth and even. The marked bottom face contains a serif-style letter "B" that is recessed at the center of the face. The letter stands 1 1/2 inches in height and is 1 1/2 inches in width. The interior contains about 3 to 5 percent rounded white, gray, and yellow clay, red pebbles of chert, sandstone, and white quartz, ranging from 1/8 to 1 inch in diameter, in a highly porous, sandy clay body. Some lamination was seen in the internal clay body. This brick was made using the hand-molded, sand struck, soft mud process. Length 8 1/4 - 8 1/2, width 3 7/8 - 4, height 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 inches.

Bowman brick in the Frenchman's Tower
Bowman brick in the Frenchman Tower displaying the range of colors
of kiln-fired bricks. The window is filled by more recent Port Costa brick.

Bowman brick
Bowman brick in the Frenchman Tower were hand-molded bricks.
Visitors have engraved their names into the face of the bricks.

Bowman brick
View of the side of the Bowman brick in the Frenchman Tower.

Bowman brick
Bowman brick in the Frenchman Tower displaying typical
clast-filled interior clay body on the broken surface.

Bowman brick
View of the interior clay body of the Bowman brick showing large
rounded white clay in a highly porous, orange-red, sandy clay body.

Bowman brick
View of the marked face of the Bowman brick. Collection of James Freedner.

Bowman brick
View of the side of the Bowman brick. Collection of James Freedner.

Bowman brick
View of the rough top face of the Bowman brick. Collection of James Freedner.

Bowman brick
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Bowman
brick, showing white quartz and iron-cemented sandstone in
an orange-red clay body (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).


Alviso, San Jose Mercury, June 24, 1894.

Bowman Family Tree,

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Freedner, James, personal communications, 2008.

Garcia, David, written communication, 2012.

Gullard, Pamela, and Nancy Lund, History of Palo Alto: The Early Years, Scottwall Associates, San Francisco, CA, 1989.

Kinchen, Barbara, Index card file, Mountain View Library.

Mountain View City Directory 1880-81.

San Jose City Directory, 1894.

San Jose Mercury News, 1875, 1886.

Santa Clara County Map Book G, Miramonte Subdivision, 1893, p. 14.

Copyright 2005 Dan Mosier

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