California brick

Jesse D. Hunter


Fountain at Rancho Camulos
View of the fountain believed to be made of Hunter's brick at Rancho Camulos,
Ventura County, California. Photo by Dan Mosier, 2009

In 1852, Captain Jesse Divine Hunter located at the corner of Broadway and Second streets in Los Angeles, California, and fired the first clay-fired bricks in Los Angeles. These bricks were used in the first brick building erected in town at the corner of Main and Third streets.

Captain Hunter was born on July 5, 1806 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to the parents of Samuel and Lydia Hunter. He married Lydia Edmonds in 1827 at St. Louis, Missouri. In 1846, he was chosen by Brigham Young to lead Company B of the Mormon Battalion to San Diego, California, where the United States was at war with Mexico. His company arrived in San Diego on January 29, 1847. He was accompanied by his wife, who was pregnant during the long journey, along with possibly six of their children. His wife gave birth to the first American boy born in San Diego, Diego Hunter, and two weeks later on April 27, 1847, she died of typhoid fever.

A number of men from Company B were experienced in making bricks, so they commenced on March 28, 1847, to make bricks that were used in water wells. By the end of June, they had erected the first brick building in San Diego. The building was used as a courthouse. It was probably at that time when Captain Hunter learned to make kiln-fired brick. The soldiers were discharged from service on July 16, 1847. Hunter was appointed the U. S. Indian agent for southern California and moved to San Luis Rey. Then he raised cattle at San Bernardino before he moved to Los Angeles in 1852 to establish his brickyard.

There is no description of Hunter's brickyard at Broadway and Second streets in Los Angeles. He probably used surficial material on the property to make bricks, which were fired in field kilns using wood as fuel. The bricks were smaller and thinner than standard size. Because they were underfired, they spalled and eroded easily. These bricks were used locally in the Los Angeles area, and probably all of the first brick structures in town came from Hunter's kilns. Aside from the first brick house at Main and Third streets in Los Angeles, it is likely that Hunter provided bricks for the first brick jail house. In 1854, his bricks were sent to the Pacific Salt Works at Redondo Beach. Galen Hunter, who has researched the old salt works, said that he found documentation that the brick buildings at the salt works were made of Hunter's bricks.

In 2009, Judith Triem, Board Member of Rancho Camulos, Ventura County, brought to my attention the bricks used in their fountain, which was erected in 1852, and she thought they may be Hunter's bricks. From the records of the Rancho, it is known that Rancho owners Ygnacio and Ysabel del Valle brought the bricks to the Rancho from Los Angeles in 1852. The only brickmaker in Los Angeles at that time was Jesse Hunter.

Rancho Camulos Fountain bricks
View of the exposed bricks in the fountain before restoration,
Rancho Camulos. Photo courtesy of Judith Triem, 2009.

After examining the bricks, I agreed with Ms. Triem that the bricks may well be that of Hunter's. But, first I verified that the bricks were not made in Ventura County. However, I did not have a known Hunter brick to compare and, therefore, could only surmise from the historic evidence provided by Ms. Triem and the character of the brick that it probably could be Hunter's bricks. Furthermore, the evidence is supported by the micaceous clay and white quartz derived from granitic rocks, commonly found in bricks from Los Angeles. If these are indeed Hunter's bricks, they would have to be among the first batch fired in his kilns in Los Angeles.

It is not known exactly how long Captain Jesse Hunter manufactured bricks. Indications are that by 1854, he had purchased property for farming at Rancho Cañada de los Nogales. From the 1860 Federal Census Records, we know that by 1860, he was farming, probably on land that he had purchased a year earlier in the Glendale area (Rancho San Rafael) and no longer making bricks. Therefore, it appears he probably manufactured bricks from 1852 to 1854, and possibly as late as 1859.

The census record shows that he was remarried to a woman named Keziah Brown, 50 years old and a native of Kentucky, and seven children were listed in the household. Jesse Hunter died in Los Angeles on August 27, 1877, and is interred in the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. The site of Hunter's brickyard in Los Angeles has been built over by modern business buildings.

Hunter Brick

Common brick ranges from orange to orange-red, mostly uniform in color. The form is irregular and some are badly skewed with undulating dull edges and dull corners. The surface has a fine coat of sand. The bottom face is flat with minor pits. The top face is heavily pitted and displays internal clasts. The sides may have an irregular lip up to 1/4 inch thick around the top edges, but most are missing the lip. No maker's marks were seen. The interior contains 10 percent subangular white quartz up to 1/2 inch across in a porous, micaceous and sandy, orange clay body. Some bricks contain as little as 1 percent quartz. Pits range up to 1/2 inch across and can be quite numerous in some bricks. Laminations can be seen in the clay body. The brick crumbles and spalls easily. This brick was made using the soft mud process and is characteristically small in size. Length 7 1/8 - 7 3/4, width 3 3/4, height 1 3/4 - 2 inches.

Hunter brick
View of the side of a Hunter brick.

Hunter brick
View of the bottom face of a Hunter brick.

Hunter brick
View of the top face of a Hunter brick showing little clasts.

Hunter brick
View of the top face of a Hunter brick showing more clasts and pits.

Hunter brick interior
View of the interior of a Hunter brick.


Bringhurst, Lila, personal communication on the Mormon Battalion bricks, 2007.

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Hunter, Galen, written communications on the Pacific Salt Works, Redondo Beach, 2014.

Kaplan Chen Kaplan, 3940 San Fernando Road, Glendale, California, Historic Resource Evaluation, Santa Monica, California, April 21, 2008.

Layne, J. Gregg, Annals of Los Angeles, Part 2, California Historical Society Quarterly, v. 13, no. 4, December 1934.

Porter, Larry C., Researching the Mormon Battalion, Ensign, August 1989, p. 45-46.

Rancho Cañada de los Nogales, Wikipedia, 2011,ñada_de_los_Nogales (accessed 2011).

Symthe, William Ellsworth, History of San Diego, 1542-1908, The History Co., San Diego, CA, 1908.

Triem, Judith, written and personal communications on the Rancho Camulos brick fountain, 2009.

Tyler, Sgt. Daniel, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War 1846-1848, Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 7th printing, 2000.

Willard, Charles Dwight, The Herald's History of Los Angeles City, Kingsley-Barnes and Neuner Co., Los Angeles, California, 1901.

Winter Quarters Project, Second Ward, 2007, (accessed 2011).

Copyright 2011 Dan Mosier

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