California brick

Gallant Dickenson and Amos Lawrey


Gallant Duncan Dickenson and Amos Giles Lawrey came to Monterey, California, in April 1847. Dickenson was a farmer and speculator. Lawrey was a brick mason. Shortly after their arrival, they took the clay from the grounds of the present high school on Hermann Drive in Monterey and fired them into common brick in a crude kiln. The bricks were transported to Decatur Street, where they built Dickenson's tiny two-story house. Lawrey was a brick mason and he was the one who was in charge of making the bricks and building the house. The original plan was to erect an L-shaped house. By June 1848, before the house could be finished, the gold rush called and they never returned to Monterey to finish the house. Some historians believe this was the first brick house built in California. However, due to lack of dates, the claim of being first is not well established as brick houses were also built at that time in other parts of the state.

Dickenson was born in Virginia in 1806. In 1828, he married Isabella McCreary and they had four sons and two daughters. Lawry was born in Ohio about 1819. In 1846, Dickenson and Lawrey had joined the Donner Party on their overland trek to California, but their party had split from the Donner Party at Fort Bridger and they made it safely to Sutter's Fort before it snowed in the mountains, but not without hardship. Dickenson and Lawrey made their way to Santa Clara, where they enlisted in the war with Mexico. By April 1847, they were in Monterey, where they erected the brick house. Dickenson and Lawrey left Monterey in 1848 to prospect for gold. In 1849, they were in Stockton, where one of Dickenson's daughters, Margaret Elizabeth, married Lawrey. The Lawreys had two daughters and one son. Lawrey and family eventually settled in San Jose, where he died in 1881. According to Leland Bibb's research, Dickenson died at Snelling in Merced County in 1869.

In Monterey, Dickenson's house was purchased by Patrick Breen in 1851. It was later owned by Maria Garcia who ran a popular restaurant known as "Garcia's Spanish Food." Today, this house is preserved in the Monterey State Historic Park and is being used as a museum about the first brick building in Monterey.

Monterey's first brick house
Monterey's first brick house made of Dickenson-Lawrey brick.

Dickenson-Lawrey Brick

Common brick is light orange, orange red, and light brown, showing the various firing stages. Visible white, yellow, and gray clasts on the surface, which are up to a half inch across. Rough surface texture with abundant holes and pits. Irregular edges and rounded or broken corners. No lip present. Fine lines or mold marks are visible on the sides running longitudinal or at angles relative to the top edge. Top face display longitudinal strike marks. Bottom face is smooth and pitted. This brick was made by the hand-molded, water-struck, soft-mud process. The brick is light and porous and weathers easily. Brick sizes vary. Length 8 1/2 - 8 3/4, width 4 1/4 - 4 3/8, height 2 1/8 - 2 1/4 inches.

Dickenson-Lawrey brick
Dickenson-Lawrey bricks on the side wall of his brick house in Monterey.

Dickenson-Lawrey brick
Dickenson-Lawrey bricks showing the face.

Dickenson-Lawrey brick
Dickenson-Lawrey bricks on the corner of the brick house.

References, California, Death and Burial Records from Select Counties, 1873-1987 [database online], Operations, Inc., Provo, Utah, 2014 (accessed May 26, 2015).

Andresen, Anna Geil, First Brick House and Its Owner, The Grizzly Bear, November 1914, p. 4-5.

Alta California, San Francisco, CA, September 8, 1847.

Bibb, Leland E., written communications on Dickenson and Lawrey, 2015.

Bonta, Robert, Minute Book A - Court of Sessions (Civil), San Joaquin County, California, 1850-52, San Joaquin Historian, v. 14, no. 1, January-March 1978.

Buxton, Barb, written communications on Dickenson and Lawrey, 2011.

California Department of Parks and Recreation, Historic Monterey Path of History Walking Tour, 1989.

Federal Census Records, 1850.

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Hoover, Mildred B., Rensch, Hero E., Rensch, Ethel G., Abeloe, William N., and Kyle, Douglas E., Historic Spots in Califoria, Stanford University Press, 1990.

Copyright 2004, 2015 Dan Mosier

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