California brick

John E. Hill


John E. Hill was born in 1834 in Charlotte, New Brunswick, Canada, and at the age of 12, began working in the logging camps. He came to Eureka, Humboldt County, California, in 1859 and, along with his brother Stephen Hill, worked in the logging business on Ryan Slough and in Arcata. About 1871, John and Stephen left the logging business and started farming on property near the Eureka Slough at the present location of John Hill Street. On July 16, 1862, John married his wife Mary and they had four sons, all of whom later worked along with their father as brickmakers or as contracted bricklayers. About 1874, John started a brick manufacturing business on his ranch when he discovered good building-brick clay. His yard stood near the intersection of Essex and John Hill streets.

The clay was dug from the southern banks of the Eureka Slough on the property of about 4 acres. The clay was dumped into a hopper and elevated to a pug mill and disintegrator. Originally the mix was sand-molded by the soft-mud process until replaced by a Brevan stiff-mud wire-cut machine. The wet bricks were delivered to boards for stacking and drying for about two weeks before firing. After drying the bricks were fired in a 30-foot, round, down-draft kiln, with a capacity of 75,000 brick. Wood was used as the fuel. Steam power was used to run the machinery. The plant employed from four to eight men.

John E. Hill's brick was used for many buildings in the Eureka area, many of which are still standing, such as the Long Building (1877) at 403-411 Second Street, Ricks Building (1878) at 203-215 F Street, and the Carnegie Library (1903) at 636 F Street. Common, face, and ornamental bricks were made.

In 1875, Hill discovered a fire clay deposit lying below the clay horizon he was using for making building bricks. It was described as being of "flinty hardness" and further tests were to be made. It is possible Hill made some firebrick that went into the fireplaces in the homes in Eureka. These firebricks were probably not marked with a name.

On January 30, 1877, Hill paid Isaac H. Garretson of Iowa, $250 for the license to use Garretson's improved process for molding brick.

In 1905, John Hill sold his brickyard to the Eureka Brick and Tile Company, and retired from brickmaking. He died on July 20, 1911, resulting from a fall from his windmill tower.

There was another brickmaker in town named John B. Hill, a cousin of our subject, who operated his brickyard at a nearby location from 1890 to 1904, and they may be easily confused. See John B. Hill for more details about his brick and brickyard.

John E. Hill Brick

Common Brick

Common brick is light orange with light and dark mottled shades on the surface. Uneroded surfaces show darker shades, sand coat, pits, and rounded lumps of orange clay up to 2 inches across and white shell fragments up to 1/2 inch across. Edges are irregular with irregular lip around the top face on some. Eroded surfaces may show wavy, stratified layers or lamination. Bottom face is smooth with longitudinal strike marks. This brick was made using the sand-molded, soft-mud process. Length 7 5/8 - 8 1/8, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 3/8 - 2 1/2 inches.

Hill brick
View of the side of John E. Hill brick. Note the stratified layers and white shell fragments typically found in this brick (405-407 Second St., Eureka).

Hill brick
View of the side and end of John E. Hill brick with sand-molded surface and irregular lip (403 Second St., Eureka).

Hill brick
Bottom face of John E. Hill brick (207 F St., Eureka).

Hill brick
View of a clam shell, 1/2 inch long, in the side of a John E. Hill brick (403 Second St., Eureka).

Microscopic view of the interior clay body of John B. Hill brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of John
E. Hill brick (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

Wire-Cut Face Brick

Common face brick is orange-red with a mottled lighter shade color. Smooth extruded surfaces on the sides. Minor crackles and pits and longitudinal striations on the surface of the sides. Some show fine screen imprint of the conveyor belt. Ends show a velour texture with wire-cut marks at a slight angle, indicating an end-cut process. Top and bottom faces could not be observed but expect them to be smooth and similar to the sides. Edges are sharp and straight. This brick was made using the extruded, wire-cut, stiff-mud process. Length 8 1/4, width 3 1/4 - 3 7/8, height 2 3/8 inches.

Hill wire-cut face brick
View of the side of the John E. Hill brick. Ornamental shaped brick on the second row from the top. (Carnegie Library, Eureka).

Hill wire-cut face brick
View of the ends and sides of the John E. Hill brick Note wire-cut, bullnose ends on the left (Carnegie Library, Eureka).

Carnegie Library at Eureka
View of the Carnegie Library, Eureka, made of John E. Hill wire-cut bricks in 1902.


Aubury, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 374.

Brick and Clay Record, 1916, v. 49, no. 8, p. 723.

Eureka City Directories, 1893-1904.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Fire Brick Clay, Humboldt Times, October 16, 1875.

Humboldt County Directories, 1885-1898.

Humboldt County Miscellaneous Records, License to use Patent Process in Manufacture of Brick to John Hill, March 17, 1877, Book B, p. 39.

Nash, Glen, Some staked their futures on brick plants, The Humboldt Historian, May-June 1985, p. 19-20.

Pioneer John Hill Has Passed Away, Humboldt Standard, July 20, 1911.

Pioneer Rancher Is Dead, Humboldt Times, July 21, 1911.

Root, Lloyd L., Mining In California, California State Mining Bureau, 21st Report of the State Mineralogist, 1925, p. 301.

Copyright 2006 Dan Mosier

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