California brick

Milton R. Elstner


Milton R. Elstner was born in Ohio in 1823. He married and came to Placerville, California, in 1849. In 1850, he built and conducted first hotel known as the El Dorado House in Placerville. In the spring of 1852, Elstner found a deposit of red-burning clay on Coloma Road (Highway 49) at Jane Drive, about a mile north of Placerville. Here he established the first brickyard in Placerville. There is no description of the brickyard. But from the existing bricks, we can tell that Elstner used the soft-mud process for making his bricks. The material was not screened, but crushed and dumped into a pugmill and mixed with water. The clasty mud was thrown into wooden molds to form bricks. Firing was probably done in field kilns fueled by wood. The bricks were sold at the yard and probably transported to the nearby towns by wagon. An advertisement in the Mountain Democrat reveals that he made deliveries to the building site and even laid the brick in the wall. Elstner made bricks from 1852 to about 1857.

Elstner brick ad
The bricks were sold and used mainly in the Placerville area. Some may have been shipped to neighboring towns such as Coloma. Most of the earlier brick buildings in Placerville were built of Elstner's brick. One such building was the Douglass-Hines Building built in 1856 at 312 Main Street in Placerville. This building was demolished in 1982, but fortunately the bricks were salvaged and reused in the facade of the public restroom next to the city hall at 847 Main Street. These bricks were probably the last of the bricks made by Elstner before he quit the brick business about 1857. The brickyard site is now covered by homes.

Elstner also operated the first hay yard in town. He was elected one of the Aldermen in the first municipal election held at Placerville on June 5, 1854, and served on many committees. In 1856, he was listed as a member of E Clampus Vitus in Coloma. He was elected the county tax collector from 1857 to 1859, and during this time he was secretary of a telegraph company. By 1860, he and his wife had two sons and a daughter. About 1865, Elstner moved his family to Virginia City, Nevada, where they had another son and daughter born. In 1866, Elstner was the superintendent of the Empire mine at Bodie. By 1870, they were in Nevada County, California, where Elstner was superintendent of a quartz mill. In the 1870s and 1880s, he was superintendent of a quartz mill on the Carson River. In 1890, he was listed as a member of the Virginia City Pioneer Association, Nevada. Elstner retired in Carson City, Nevada, where he passed away on June 28, 1896 at the age of 73 years.

Elstner Brick

Common brick is in various shades of pale red, orange-red, and orange. The mottled color gives the brick a pinkish hue in bright lights. The surface is sand struck and often pitted and protruded by large chunks of white quartz. The form is irregular and the edges and corners are dull. The brick is hard with rarely any cracks. The top face has strong longitudinal strike marks and is pitted. The bottom face is smooth, and no maker's mark was seen and none are known to exist. The sides are smooth with faint transverse striations and, on some, a lip up to 1/4 inch thick around the top edges. The interior clay body contains up to 25 percent subangular white and iron-stained quartz ranging up to 1/2 inch across. Included also are angular fine-grained metamorphic rocks, black slate, and aggregates or clusters of black iron grains, all less than 1/4 inch across. This brick was made with the soft-mud process by wooden molds in 1856. Length 8 1/4 - 8 1/2, width 3 1/2 - 3 3/4, height 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 inches.

Elstner brick
View of the sides of the Elstner brick.

Elstner brick
View of the sides of the Elstner brick displaying pits and large white quartz clasts.
Note the pinkish hue and mottled colors characteristic of this brick.

Elstner brick
View of the top face (left and right) and bottom face (center) of the Elstner brick.

Elstner brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Elstner brick showing the high clast content and large pits.


Federal Census Records, 1860.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Haskins, C.W., The Argonauts of California, Fords, Howard & Hulbert, New York, 1890.

Heritage Association of El Dorado County, Douglass-Hines Building Bricks, Plaque, 1998.

Mountain Democrat, Placerville, March 4, 1854.

Mountain Democrat, Placerville, April 16, 1910.

Sacramento Daily Union, May 22, 1866.

San Francisco Call, June 28, 1896.

Schlappi, Jane, and Ferguson, Marilyn, A Walking Tour of Historic Placerville 1848-1874, The Heritage Association of El Dorado, Placerville, California, 1973.

Sioli, Paolo, Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Oakland, 1883.

Weber, Helen, written communications on Veridian (thanks Helen!), 2010.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

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