California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Patrick Dillon

History


The Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barn in Benicia fortunately has on display a brick from Patrick Dillon's brickyard. Reggie Page, curator on duty, kindly allowed me to photograph and study the brick, and Curator Beverly Phelan gave permission to display the brick on this web page. It is important that such historical museums preserve their locally made brick as they would other manmade objects for future study. Archaeologists working in the Benicia area should visit the museum for a closer examination of Dillon's brick. Other bricks on display at this museum were made by other brickmakers found on these web pages.

View of Dillon's brick as displayed in the Benicia Historical Museum. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of Dillon's brick as displayed in the Benicia Historical Museum. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.


Patrick Dillon's brickyard was located on his ranch about 2.5 miles west of Benicia, near Dillon Point, which is now owned by the Benicia State Recreation Area. Patrick W. Dillon was a native of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland. After prospecting for gold in the Mother Lode, he came to Benicia in 1851 to work as a stone cutter at the Rocky Point quarry, which he and two other partners had leased from M.G. Vallejo.

According to Richard Dillon, in 1852, Patrick Dillon started a brickyard, where he manufactured common brick. As he did not yet own any property at that time, the brickyard was probably also leased from landowner M.G. Vallejo. Dillon may have entered the brick market when he witnessed the building of the Capitol brick building in Benicia that year, although his bricks were not used in that building. The sandstone foundation, however, might have come from Dillon's quarry. Benicia apparently had erected additional brick buildings for the State and it is possible that these may have been built of Dillon's brick. In 1858, Dillon purchased 462 acres of land on the west side of Southampton Bay from J.B. Frisbie. This was the land that contained the brickyard and his ranch. He built a two-story house, c. 1858, made of quarried sandstone blocks on the first story and wood on the second story. This house survived as late as 1967, when the property became the Benicia State Recreation Area, however the dilapidated house was eventually demolished.

No description of Dillon's brickyard could be found, but from a known surviving brick, we can tell he used the soft-mud process, probably formed in wooden molds. The material used was sandy loam soil. The bricks were probably fired in field kilns using wood as fuel. It is not known the size of his operation or when he ceased making bricks. It appears doubtful that he operated his brickyard after 1860. His occupation was listed as a stone cutter in the 1860 census, and he was farming in 1870 and 1880. Dillon's brick was probably used locally in the Benicia area and very likely may be found in some of the 1850s brick foundations and chimneys.

Dillon's closed brickyard was cited several times in the Vallejo newspapers during the 1890s with hopes of it reopening. In April 1891, there was an attempt to start up his old brickyard, but the yard closed the following month without explanation. Dillon moved into town in 1893 and divorced his wife Louise. He then moved to Oakland and soon returned to Benicia to live with a cousin. He died in 1896 at the age of 76 years and was buried in St. Dominic's Cemetery in Benicia.

Dillon Brick

The common brick is orange-red and mostly uniform in color. The surface has a light coating of quartz sand, which is subrounded and orange-stained. Round pits up to 1/4 inch in diameter are found on the surface. The form is irregular with dull edges and corners. The bottom face is flat and even with no marks. The top face is rough and highly pitted with no apparent strike. No lip was seen around the top edges. The interior consists of 10 percent subangular clear quartz, 5 percent blocky to well-rounded reddish sandstone pebbles, clots of yellow and white clay, and black iron oxide, all less than 1/2 inch across, in a porous, orange-red, sandy clay body. The pores are less than 1/8 inch in diameter and comprise about 5 percent in volume. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Length 8 3/8, width 3 7/8, height 2 1/2 inches.

View of the side of Dillon's brick, which is painted white. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of the side of Dillon's brick, with a coat of white paint. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

View of the bottom face of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of the bottom face of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

View of the rough top face of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of the rough top face of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

View of the end of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of the end of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

View of the interior clay body of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.
View of the interior clay body of Dillon's brick. Courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museum.

References

Death of P. Dillon, Vallejo Chronicle, April 21, 1896.

Dillon, Richard, Great Expectations, The Story of Benicia, California, Benicia Heritage Book, Inc., 1980.

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Letter From the Capital, Daily Alta California, February 10, 1853.

Page, Reggie, Benicia Historical Museum, Benicia, pers. comm., 2014.

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

San Francisco Call, April 21, 1896.

Solano County Agreement, M.G. Vallejo to Patrick W. Dillon etal., 1852, Book F, p. 282.

Solano County Agreement, M.G. Vallejo to Patrick W. Dillon etal., 1852, Book F, p. 483.

Solano County Deeds, J.B. Frisbie to Patrick W. Dillon, 1858, Book M, p. 15.

Solano County Deeds, J.B. Frisbie to Patrick W. Dillon, 1858, Book M, p. 468.

Vallejo Chronicle, April 24, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, May 2, 1891.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.