Hobson and Company Brickyard
In the spring of 1854, Jesse and Stephen Hobson established a brickyard on the west bank of Coyote Creek between
Empire and Washington streets, where Empire School stands today, in San Jose. Natives of Republic, Surry County,
North Carolina, Jesse was born in 1826, and his younger brother, Stephen, in 1828. They came to California
in 1853 to mine for gold, but not finding much, they ended up laying bricks briefly in San Francisco before settling
in San Jose. Their older brother David Hobson, born in 1822 in the same town in North Carolina, also
helped to start the brickyard in San Jose, but he left in 1855 to prospect for gold.
The Hobsons prepared wood to burn their first brick in the spring of 1854. In November 1854, they secured their first
major contract in furnishing brick for San Jose's first City Hall at $13 per thousand delivered. The City Hall was
a two-story medieval castle-like structure, which stood at 35 North Market Street in San Jose, until it was destroyed
in the 1906 earthquake.
In 1855, according to the County Assessor, three brickyards manufactured 1,400,000 brick in Santa Clara County.
At that time, San Jose was barely keeping ahead of the fires in replacing their wooden buildings with fireproof brick
buildings, and so the future looked bright for the new brickyard. In June 1855, the Hobsons ran an advertisement in
the San Jose Tribune announcing that the brickyard had well-burnt brick and they were soliciting for brick work,
particularly chimneys. They secured a contract for brick at $25 per thousand for a new two-story building for Frank Lightston
on the corner of Santa Clara and Market streets.
The round brick granary storage building at James Lick's Mill, located on the Guadalupe River near Alviso, was being
constructed in 1855. Although I could find no reports that mentioned it, Hobson's brick very likely were used in
the granary by the fact that the Hobsons were one of three operating brickyards in town and their brick was considered
to be the best made in San Jose, at that time, supporting the report that James Lick selected the best materials for
his mill. I was able to confirm that the brick in the granary is made of material consistent with that found in San
Jose. The granary is a round structure 66 feet in diameter, with walls two feet thick, and 22 feet high. It was the
only part of the mill to survive the 1882 fire that destroyed the rest of Lick's mill.
View of the Lick's granary made of Hobson brick.
In 1857, the Hobsons made the bricks for William and Company on First Street in San Jose. At that time, Stephen Hobson
had to leave the brickyard to take care of his ailing wife, Rebecca. That year, the Hobson brick won the special
premium award at the Santa Clara County Fair.
By 1870, there were 14 employed at the brickyard. The six brickmakers were Jesse Hobson, Louis Ebinger, George Johnson,
Paul Fefferelle, Thomas Gannon, and Louis Pauline, along with seven laborers, and one cook. Jesse Hobson continued
to operate the brickyard until around 1876, when he retired and became a Temperance lecturer and published a temperance
publication called the Christian Ballot. Jesse and his brother David started California's first religious
Society of Friends meeting in San Jose.
No description of the Hobson brickyard was found. However, from the bricks in the Lick's granary, it appears that they
were made using the soft-mud process with the material dug from the banks of Coyote Creek. The bricks were formed in
wooden molds and lubricated with a light coating of sand. After drying, they were fired in field kilns using wood for
fuel. The bricks were probably delivered by wagons to the local construction projects.
There is no evidence of the brickyard today. The site has been buried by at least eight feet of dump material,
which contaminated the site for any evidence of Hobson bricks. The site has been developed over by a school and
residential units. Jesse Hobson lived in San Jose with his wife, Susan, and six children. Susan died in 1877, followed
by Jesse in 1879. Stephen and his wife passed away in 1896. David lived with his wife, Mary, and 11 children on
their apricot orchard in the Beryessa district. David passed away in 1916.
Pale orange to orange, mostly uniform in color. Some display yellow flashing with orange to orange-red cores,
some are burnt to gray or black. The form is irregular with dull edges and corners. Some have a thick irregular lip
around the top face edges. Stack indentations on the sides are not common. The surface is coated with quartz sand and
displays minor cracks and pits. Pits are more common on weathered surfaces exposing the interior of the brick.
Faint transverse grooves are present on some of the sides. No maker's mark was seen on any of the faces. The
bottom face is flat and even. The top face is flat and pitted with large gouges. The interior contains 5 percent
round white clay, sandstone, shale, and black gabbro pebbles up to one inch across in a porous orange clay body,
which powders easily when exposed. Length 7 7/8 - 8 1/4, width 3 5/8 - 3 3/4, height 2 1/8 inches.
View of the sides of the Hobson brick.
View of the sides of the Hobson brick showing the yellow flashing pattern.
View of the sides of the Hobson brick showing the weathered pitted surface.
View of the faces of the Hobson brick.
View of the interior of the Hobson brick showing mostly white clay inclusions.
View of the interior of the Hobson brick showing a black gabbro pebble on the far left and some shale and sandstone inclusions.
Federal Census Records, 1870.
Copyright © 2012 Dan Mosier
Grant, Joanne, Hobsons have always been here, San Jose Mercury, Febuary 23, 1992.
Hobson, Jay W., The Hobson Family Lineage, Descendants of George and Elizabeth Hobson, The Anundsen Publishing Company,
Decorah, Iowa, 1994.
Laffey, Glory Anne, Nineteenth Century Brick Making in Santa Clara County, San Jose State University
Geography Report, 1980.
Sacramento Daily Union, Santa Clara County Fair, Septebmer 26, 1857.
San Jose Tribune, Brick! Brick!, June 12, 1855.
San Jose Tribune, County Assessor's Report, October 1, 1856.
San Jose Tribune, Lick's Mill, September 11, 1855.
San Jose Tribune, The contract for brick, November 21, 1854.
Santa Clara County Great Registers, 1866-1876.