California Pressed Brick Company
In 1907, a large deposit of clay was discovered in the mouth of Niles Canyon while
making an excavation for the new Western Pacific Railway Company's line. This deposit
was located one mile east of Niles (now incorporated as the City of Fremont), on the
south side of Alameda Creek. Several businessmen in Niles quickly formed a company
to purchase the 53-acre tract, mine the clay, and build a brick-making plant. They
formed the California Pressed Brick Company, with a capital stock of $1,000,000, divided
into 1,000,000 shares. The first officers and directors of the company were Jackson Dennis as president,
J. J. Rutledge as vice-president, and F. A. Allardt, Clarence Crowell, and Paul Furst as directors.
The company headquarters was located at the Niles State Bank, Niles, California.
John S. Smith was hired as the ceramic engineer and who was responsible for the
building of the brick plant and kilns. He was a native of Durham, England, born on
December 31, 1845. He came to the United States in 1869, and first went to Jackson
County, Missouri, where he embarked in the trade of carriage maker. He then studied
ceramics and found a position with the C. W. Raymond Company, Dayton, Ohio, for
which he erected several brick plants in Minnesota and South Africa. Shortly after
returning from South Africa in 1905, he came to California and found employment
with the California Pressed Brick Company to design and build their brick plant.
Smith remained with this company until 1910, when illness forced him to resign.
He died on February 6, 1911, at his home in San Leandro.
View of the California Pressed Brick Company yard in Niles Canyon. From Brick, 1909.
View of the clay pit of the California Pressed Brick Company, showing mostly shale. From Brick, 1909.
The clay was 40 to 60 feet deep on the south bank of Alameda Creek. On the adjacent hillside
was a deposit of shale that was useful for mixing with the clay for making paving brick. The deposit
contained plastic clays, soft yellow and blue shales, surface clay mixed with disintegrated sandstone,
and soft sandstone. This clay was tested and suitable for pressed building brick and conduits for
electric wires. The company employed horse scrapers and a steam shovel of 300 tons daily capacity to
mine the materials. Clay was hauled from the pit to the granulator in 12 two-yard steel dump cars in
connection with an industrial track and a gear and friction hoist. The clay was stored in corrugated
iron sheds with a capacity of 2,800 yards of clay.
View of the Raymond "999" extruding machine. From Brick, 1909.
View of the column of clay and Raymond cutter. From Brick, 1909.
The clay was conveyed to the dry pans by a tram and hoist drums. There were two 9-ft. dry pans,
made by Raymond and American. From the dry pans the material was taken to screens by elevators
and after mixing, taken by a 30-inch belt conveyor to a 12-ft. Raymond pug mill, which discharged by
gravity into a Raymond auger brick machine. The Raymond machinery consisted of a No. 999 Special brick
machine and a No. 1 automatic rotary side-cut cutter, capable of cutting 1,000 to 15,000 per
hour. After passing the Raymond delivery and cutting tables, the bricks were carried away on 60 feet
of off-bearing belt. An elevator and overhead conveyor carried away the waste clay.
View of the discharge end of the 12-track drier. From Brick, 1909.
View of the 30-foot down-draft round kilns, one on the left is being built. From Brick, 1909.
View of the Youngren kiln, the large field kiln being constructed, oil reservoir, and gage house. From Brick, 1909.
The cut bricks were put on drying cars and conveyed to the 12-track concrete drying tunnels, which were
100 feet in length. The tunnels were 42 inches wide and 60 inches high. The drier could hold 336 cars,
with room for 96 car in the machine end of the drier and 48 cars in the discharge end. The dried bricks
were stacked in six round down-draft kilns, each with a capacity of 85,000 brick, one Youngren continuous
7-chambered gas-fired kiln, with a capacity of 65,000 brick to the chamber, and an oil-burning case kiln with
a capacity of 750,000 brick. The plant was powered by two large Atlas boilers and one small
one fitted for oil burning, the oil being delivered direct from cars into a pump, and a
large Bates-Corliss engine. The power plant also contained a Cookson feed-water heater. A Gardner
and a Worthington pump were required for the water supply. Two Worthington duplex pumps were used for pumping
View of the boilers where oil was burned through a retort. From Brick, 1909.
View of the Bates-Corliss engine. Manager Smith is next to the flywheel. From Brick, 1909.
Products from the Niles plant were common building brick and vitrified paver. The common building
brick, which was also used as face brick, was the first to be made in 1909. In June 1910, the Niles
paving brick was introduced, which was light-fired and embossed with large raised letters on the
face spelling "NILES". The paving brick, however, were not good enough for street use, but
San Francisco architects liked to use them for building bricks. These bricks were produced through
1911, and sold locally in the San Francisco Bay region. The first orders came from the Western Pacific
Railway Company for face brick to be used in their depots. In 1910, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company used
the Niles paving brick between their tracks in Alameda. Niles paving brick were also purchased by the
Standard Supply Company in San Francisco. Some paving brick were used in the chimneys at the nearby
Mission San Jose. The yard had shipped over 1 million paving bricks in 1910, at $32 per thousand.
About 50 men were employed at the plant during this period. Because of the depressed price of building
bricks and low demand for paving brick, this company was not successful in selling its bricks. It was forced
to close the plant temporarily in August 1911.
View of the California Pressed Brick Company yard in Niles Canyon.
From Oakland Tribune Special Edition, January 1911.
Afterwards, the clay was tested for other products. A. L. Solon, a ceramic chemist from England, made
exhaustive tests of the Niles clay. He found that the clay was suited for the manufacture of
wall and floor tile, sewer pipe, conduit, roofing tile, terra cotta, and pottery. On that note,
the company planned to produce wall and floor tile, glazed brick, and vitrified pavers. In
May 1912, they hired L. H. Mueller, from the Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Company, Seattle,
Washington, to manage and reopen the plant. Edward A. Ellsworth was elected the new president and
William Curtner, secretary. Ellsworth had an insurance partnership with F. V. Jones in
Niles. It was during this period that the brick plant became locally known as the Ellsworth
and Jones brickyard. Mueller had experimented with vitrified paving brick, which continued to
be sold. Probably small quantities of the other mentioned products were produced. But by 1913, the
California Pressed Brick Company had failed to make mortgage payments and foreclosure proceeding were
filed by the Oakland Bank of Savings. Numerous litigations were filed against this company forcing
the closure of the plant and the company was dissolved. No bricks were produced here after 1913.
View of the plant when is was called the Mission Pottery, with
stacks of clay pipe in the yard. Note the plant and the two round
down draft kilns. The old brick plant was modified to manufacture
sewer pipe when this picture was taken in 1992.
In 1915, the California Pottery Company, based in Oakland, made an offer to purchase the
Niles plant and property for $60,000, for the purpose of expanding its sewer pipe operations.
In 1923, the California Pottery Company shipped clay from the Niles clay pit to the
its plant in Oakland. From 1929 to 1931, the California Pottery Company operated under name
of the Western Clay Products Company, which closed its Oakland plant in 1931 and moved it to
the Niles site to produce tile, terra cotta, flue linings, and sewer pipe. In 1960, Ben
Garrett of Mission Clay Products, based in Orange, California, purchased the sewer pipe plant
and continued the manufacture of sewer pipe and roofing tile. The plant was operated by
SRDC, Incorporated, when it closed in the late 1990s and has since been dismantled.
Niles Paving Brick
Paving brick is pale red to red, mostly uniform in color. Some surfaces may display some tiny pits, cracks, and clasts.
Sides and ends are smooth and show faint transverse extrusion striations. The sides show camphored repressed edges,
which are rounded, but not on the ends. Edges are straight and rounded smooth, except the longer
edges on the ends are sharp. The faces shows diagonal wire-cut marks. The bottom face is
overprinted with the brand name NILES in bold raised block letters centered on the face and
probably served as spacers. The letters span a length of 7 5/8 inches and stand 2 3/4 inches in height.
A slightly raised plate outline is 8 1/4 inches long by 3 inches high. The interior compact,
vitrified, dark orange-red clay body contains 8 percent white round to subrounded medium-grained
quartz-rich sandstone and rounded red to black shale, both as much as 1/8-inch across, translucent white quartz and
black iron oxide, both less than 1/32 inch in diameter.
The brick is heavy, hard, and well formed. This brick was made using the stiff-mud extruded process and repressed.
Length 9 1/2, width 4 1/8, height 2 3/4 inches.
View of the marked bottom face of the Niles paving brick. Donated by Mary Thrower.
View of the side of the Niles brick. Note the repressed marks around the edges.
View of the top face of the Niles brick.
View of the end of the Niles brick.
View of the interior clay body of the Niles brick.
White sandstone and red to black shale are visible.
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the
Niles brick. Large white sandstone appears at the
bottom. Tiny white quartz and brown iron oxide are
also visible (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
No examples of the Niles common brick is available to show and describe.
Brick, January 1910, p. 76.
Copyright © 2006 Dan Mosier
Brick, June 1910, p. 318.
Brick, May 1910, p. 245.
Brick, March 1910, p. 194.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 1, 1911, p. 85.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 2, 1911, p. 134.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 6, 1911, p. 345.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 8, 1911.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 39, no. 2, 1911, p. 74.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 40, no. 11, 1912, p. 517.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 41, no. 2, 1912, p. 157.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 43, no. 12, 1913, p. 1275.
Brick and Clay Record, v. 46, no. 6, 1915, p. 590.
Burda, Ron, All That Oozes Isn't Just Mud, San Jose Mercury News, The Weekly, January 16, 1985.
California Division of Mines, Mines and Mineral Producers Active In California 1997-1998, Special
Publication 103, 1999, p. 65.
California Pressed Brick Company, Brick, v. 30, no. 6, June 1909, p. 277-278.
Holmes, Phil, The Ellsworth Family, Tri-City Voice, January 20, 2004.
Livermore Echo, March 11, 1909, p. 1.
Livermore Herald, June 13, 1908, p. 7.
Niles Register, January 8, 1931.
Niles Register, July 30, 1931.
Niles Register, March 5, 1931.
Oakland Tribune, August 1, 1907.
Oakland Tribune, Special Edition, January 1911.