California brick

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.

Hobson brick ad

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.

Hobson brick ad

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.

Lick's granary at San Jose
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.

Hobson Brick

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.

Hobson brick
View of the sides of the Hobson brick.

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.

Hobson brick
View of the faces of the Hobson brick.

Hobson brick interior
View of the interior of the Hobson brick showing mostly white clay inclusions.

Hobson brick interior
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.

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.

Copyright 2012 Dan Mosier

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