California brick

John Kearney


Kearney brickyard site Fred Shilzony first brought this brickyard to my attention when he sent an email asking about the bricks stuck in the mud in Lyford's Cove on the shores of Strawberry Point in Mill Valley. This brickyard was unknown to me and it was not reported in any history books or articles that I was aware of. But there it was, designated on a park sign as Brickyard Park on Great Circle Drive, Mill Valley. His daughter also sent pictures of Brickyard Park and of the red bricks along the shoreline. This prompted a visit to the park to observe and document the bricks. Preliminary research has shed some light on the brickmaker of this operation which follows.

In 1870, there was a John Kearney, aged 45 years and a native of Ireland, working as a stone cutter in Newcastle, Placer County. It is possible that this was the same John Kearney who started making bricks on Strawberry Point during the 1870s. The property was owned by Hilarita Reed, who had inherited the land from her father John Reed, a prominent landowner and lumberman in Mill Valley. When Hilarita married Dr. Benjamin Lyford, a Canadian physician turned farmer, the brickyard site became known as Lyford's Cove. John Kearney probably had leased Lyford's property for his brickyard.

By 1880, Kearney had hired Hugh Monahan, an Irish brick molder, and ten laborers, mostly Irish. The clay was dug from the slopes of the cove and thrown into wooden molds to form bricks. The bricks were sand-struck and fired in field kilns, probably on the flat where the children's playground now stands. The orange-red bricks were used locally in Mill Valley. The production rate is unknown but from the size of the operation, it was probably small. We don't know when Kearney closed his brickyard, but it is possible that it was closed by 1883, when brick prices were declining and the area was subdivided for residential development. The brickyard was not listed in an 1882 news article about Marin County bricks. Residential development on Strawberry Point did not begin until 1947.

One building still standing at 7 W. Blithedale, Mill Valley, has a foundation made of Kearney bricks. There may be other buildings and the foundations and chimneys in the homes of Mill Valley made of Kearney bricks. The shores of Lyford's Cove is littered with broken brick and rejects from the kiln. Some of the bricks were also used in the base of the Brickyard Park sign.

Kearney brickyard sign

Kearney Brick

Common brick is pale orange to pale red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is sand-struck. The sides display small pits. The subrounded clasts, up to 3/8 inch across and constituting about 25 percent of the volume, are red and black sandstone and red chert and minor white quartz. Faint transverse grooves are visible on the sides and some have yellow flash marks. Some display 1/8 to 1/4 inch irregular lip around the top edges. The bottom face is flat and even with unusual longitudinal coarse brush striations. The top face is pitted and displays longitudinal strike with coarse brush striations. The edges are irregular and dull. The corners are dull. Interior clay body shows abundant clasts and can be quite porous with large pits. The size of the bricks ranges considerably. The underfired bricks tend to be orange and closer to standard size. The overfired bricks are pale red and narrower and thinner in size. This brick was made using the hand-molded, sand-struck, soft-mud process. Length 8 1/2 - 8 3/8, width 3 3/8 - 4, height 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 inches.

Kearney brick
View of the side of a Kearney brick.

Kearney brick
View of the top face of a Kearney brick.

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

Kearney brick interior
View of the interior clay body of a Kearney brick.

Kearney brick
View of a smaller size, pale red Kearney brick.

Kearney brick
View of an eroded face of a Kearney brick showing abundant clasts.

Kearney brick interior
View of the interior clay body of a Kearney brick showing clasts and large pits.

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


Federal Census Records, 1880.

San Francisco Call, Bricks, 1882.

Shilzony, Fred, written communications, 2007.

Teather, Louise, Place Names of Marin, Scottwall Associates, San Francisco, CA, 1986.

Copyright 2007 Dan Mosier

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