California brick

Orville Bruce Herrick


Herrick Building at Placerville
View of the Herrick Building at 301 Main Street, Placerville, built of Herrick brick. Photo by Dan Mosier, 2010.

Herrick's brick was first brought to my attention by Marilyn Ferguson at the Placerville Historical Museum in 2010. She said that his brickyard was in Oregon Ravine and that his bricks can be seen in the "Hangtree" Inn at 301 Main Street in Placerville, El Dorado County, California. Although the building was undergoing renovations and fenced in, I could barely see the brick in the foundation beneath the plaster-covered building. It wasn't until Kathleen Newell, a news media professional, who was researching the bricks in the Herrick building for the owners, contacted me. Kathleen arranged for me to see the brick building along with the owners, Tim and Sue Taylor, who gave us a detailed tour of their amazing renovation work. We got a detailed look at the interior brick walls of the building. Close-matching Muddox bricks were used to replace some bricks and strengthen parts of the walls. After examining Herrick's bricks, we set out to research Herrick and his brickyard. Kris Payne, an engineer and history buff who was also attending the tour, took me afterwards to Oregon Ravine to search for Herrick's brickyard. This led to the discovery of the brickyard site where fragments of brick matching the ones in the Herrick building were found. Thanks goes out to all those who helped to add Herrick's brick to these web pages.

Interior of Herrick Building at Placerville
View of the interior first floor of Herrick Building. L-R: Kris Payne, Dan
Mosier, and owners Sue and Tim Taylor. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Newell, 2013.

Orville Bruce Herrick was born in Akron, Ohio, on April 20, 1829. He married Elizabeth Cowan in 1849, and the following year they crossed the Plains to join the Gold Rush to California. In the summer of 1850, they settled in Placerville and took up residence at the Placer Hotel on Main Street. Charles D. Bonestell ran the hotel at the time and employed Herrick as the cook. Shortly afterwards, Herrick bought the hotel and in 1853, replaced the wooden building with the current two-story brick building. Herrick was accused of cutting down the famed Hangman's Tree that once stood next door in Elstner's Hay Yard. One source claimed that John Studebaker helped to cut down the tree. Herrick and Bonestell obtained the brick for their building from their own brickyard, which is believed to have been located at the northeast corner of Pacific Street and Quartz Alley in Oregon Ravine, where there is a paved parking lot today.

Little is known about Herrick's brickyard. The property contains shale, which was crushed and mixed with material obtained from the floor of the ravine to make common brick. The material was not screened and therefore allowed large-sized stones to enter the brick. The material was mixed with water in a pugmill and then thrown into wooden molds to form the brick. No sand was used in making most of the bricks except for the ones that were used in the chimney. Water was the lubricant that produced the smooth water-struck surface, which is characteristic of Herrick's bricks. The bricks were also characteristically thin, measuring 2 inches or less in height. The sand-struck bricks used for the chimney were similarly made except that the bottom face contained a rectangular frog useful for holding the mortar. Herrick probably fired the bricks in field kilns using the local wood as fuel. It is possible that Herrick had learned the trade of brickmaking before he left Akron, Ohio.

The "Jackass" or "Hangtree" Inn, as it was known, was completed by early 1854. Herrick sold the Inn to Lyman Dutcher on December 24, 1855. It is not known when Herrick ceased making bricks at his brickyard. The brick building at 425-433 Main appears to be made also of Herrick brick, indicating that Herrick supplied brick for other buildings in town. The small size of his brickyard, less than 2,500 square feet, however, suggests a small amount of production. Herrick and Bonestell sold the brickyard property to William H. Smith for $25 on August 23, 1856.

Charles Bonestell, a native of New York, left Placerville for the Reese silver mines at Austin, Nevada. Bruce Herrick remained in Placerville and was active in other business ventures and in the community. He briefly ran the No. 9 grocery store with George F. Jones, was proprietor of the Union Hotel, conducted theater productions, served as town auctioneer, was elected school superintendent, and was a respected member of the Hope Hook and Ladder Company. After a long illness, he died at the age of 27 years and 5 months, on October 2, 1857. His funeral was attended by a large number of people, including his fellow fire fighters. His wife, Elizabeth, and three young children mourned in his passing.

Herrick Brick

Common brick is light orange to dark orange to orange-red and mostly uniform in color. Some are burnt to brown or black, especially on the ends. The shape is irregular with dull edges and corners. Cracks are common, more so in the over-burnt bricks. The surface has a smooth water-struck texture. The bottom face typically shows transverse wood grain imprints with minor pits. The top face is rough and pitted with longitudinal strike marks and thin irregular lip around the edges. Large quartz and other rocks protrude the surface and they range up to 2 inches across. The sides display transverse striations caused by sliding out of the wooden mold. A sand-struck variety was also made and contains a rectangular frog on the bottom face. The sand-coating is mostly quartz and gives the brick a tan color. The interior is composed of subangular quartz, shale, and slate, and these range from 1/4 to 2 inches in size and 5 to 15 percent in volume, the higher volumes being found in the harder bricks. Flat shale and slate dominate along with flatten pits in the orange clay body. This brick was made using the soft-mud process with wooden molds. The brick is characteristically thin. Length 7 7/8 - 8 1/4, width 3 7/8 - 4, height 1 3/4 - 2 1/8.

Herrick brick
View of the sides of Herrick brick showing the various shades of the water-struck brick.

Herrick brick
View of the sides of the water-struck Herrick brick showing some with burnt ends.

Herrick brick
View of the bottom face of the water-struck Herrick brick. Note the wood imprint on the right.

Herrick brick
View of the top face of the water-struck Herrick brick.

Herrick brick
View of the end of the water-struck Herrick brick, showing the transverse striations from the mold.

Herrick brick
View of the sand-struck variety of Herrick brick, showing the rectangular frog on the bottom face.

Herrick brick interior
View of the interior of the Herrick brick showing a large quartz inclusion 1.5 inches across on the right.

Herrick brick interior
View of the interior of the Herrick brick showing lots of flattened pits and shale and quartz.

References, Summit County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1840-1980, Provo, Utah, 2010.

Daily Alta, Died, October 14, 1857.

El Dorado County Deed Book A, p. 559-560.

El Dorado County Deed Book C, p. 85.

Federal Census Records, 1850.

Ferguson, Marilyn, personal communication, 2010.

Mountain Democrat, About the Union Hotel, May 13, 1854.

Mountain Democrat, At Auction, July 1, 1854.

Mountain Democrat, Died, October 10, 1857.

Mountain Democrat, Dissolution Notice, January 12, 1856.

Mountain Democrat, Hangman's Tree passes its 150th birthday under a cloud, January 25, 1999.

Mountain Democrat, Official Vote of El Dorado Co., September 22, 1855.

Newell, Kathleen, personal communication, 2013 (

Payne, Kris, personal communication, 2013.

Sacramento Daily Union, Funeral Ceremonies, October 12, 1857.

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

Taylor, Sue, personal communication, 2013.

Copyright 2013 Dan Mosier

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