California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


California Brick & Pottery Company
C.C. O'Donnell Brickyard

History


D.C.C. O'Donnell Dr. Charles C. O'Donnell, born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1835, arrived in Glen Ellen in 1891 and settled on Sonoma Creek at the present site of Robertson's Circle. Here he built a luxurious home called Cozy Castle, where he and his wife, Emma, and son George lived. The ranch was developed as a popular resort with several cottages to rent. While developing his property, O'Donnell had discovered coal and a fine bed of clay suitable for making brick and pottery. It was first reported in the Sonoma Index Tribune on January 31, 1903, that Glen Ellen was "going to have a brick yard in this burg before many moons."

The California Brick and Pottery Company was organized in San Francisco with a capital of $40,000. C. Hidaker and Henry Chauvet were operators. Karl F. Kraft was the general manager. In April 1903, work began on the construction of the brick plant and kilns. They hired 40 brickmakers from the Remillard yard at Greenbrae, which had closed.

By May 1903, the first bricks were fired in field kilns, and most of these bricks were used in the construction of five oil-burning, round, downdraft kilns. The plant was capable of making 40,000 bricks per day. The bricks sold for $8 per thousand. In March 1905, it was reported that the kilns were firing 250,000 bricks. Some of the red common bricks were stamped with the company initials "CB&PCo".

California Brick and Pottery Co. brickyard
View of the California Brick and Pottery Company brickyard.
Courtesy of Sonoma Valley Historical Society.

By September 1905, the company was producing fine pressed brick, pottery, and hollow tile. Clay from Ione, Amador County, was shipped to the plant for the pottery and hollow tile products. One third of the Ione clay was mixed with the local material. The fine yellow pressed brick was imprinted with the name "KAOLIN" on the face, but not every brick was marked. The kaolin clay used in this brick could have come from the Weise (Beltane) kaolin clay pit located 2.5 miles north of Glen Ellen. The plant capacity was increased to 50,000 bricks per day by August 1906.

The brickyard was shut down permanently by 1909, very likely for falling brick prices and demand. The bricks were used locally in the Glen Ellen and Sonoma area where examples can still be seen. The red common bricks were used in the Chauvet house (1905) and the Chauvet Building (1905) in Glen Ellen. The yellow pressed brick was used in the construction of the recently renovated Hotel Chauvet (1906) and also in the O'Donnell Bridge on O'Donnell Lane, Glen Ellen.

Dr. O'Donnell died on May 27, 1912, at his residence in San Francisco. The brick kilns stood on his property as late as the 1940s, when they were dismantled and the bricks sold off by the new ranch owner.

California Brick and Pottery Co. kilns
View of the abandoned kilns of the California Brick
and Pottery Company, c. 1914. From Bradley, 1916.


California Brick and Tile Company Brick

Common Brick


Common brick is orange red to red, mostly uniform in color. Side surfaces are smooth with minor cracks and faint lighter shades of transverse flash patterns. Visible clasts include angular white quartz and subrounded gray rhyolite and black basalt up to a half inch across, constituting about 30 percent of the clay body. Interiors are lighter orange and have minor pits up to a half inch across. Faces have a velour texture with low-angled wire-cut marks. Edges are straight and sharp, except where broken. Corners are sharp to slightly dull. Some are marked with the company initials "CB&PCo" as recessed block letters in the center of the large face of the brick. The upper case letters are 1 inch in height, while the lower case "o" is 5/8 inch in height. This brick was gmade using the extruded, wire-cut, and stiff-mud process. Length 7 3/4 - 8 1/2, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 1/4 inches.

California Brick and Pottery Co. brick side
View of the side of red common brick made by the California Brick and Pottery Company, 1905.

California Brick and Pottery Co. brick side
View of the side of red common brick made by the California Brick and Pottery
Company, 1905. Note the lighter orange interior clay body of the weathered bricks.

California Brick and Pottery Co. brick marked face
View of the face showing right half of the mark of the company initials
of the California Brick and Pottery Company in the Hotel Chauvet, 1906.

California Brick and Pottery Co. brick marked face
View of the face showing left half of the mark of the company initials
of the California Brick and Pottery Company in the Hotel Chauvet, 1906.


Pressed Brick


Pressed brick is light yellow to light salmon and somewhat mottled. Side surfaces are smooth with minor pits and some display an orange or light brown transverse flash pattern. Belt impressions can be seen on some surfaces as longitudinal dashed lines or as a coarse screen. Spotty white specks on the surface are angular quartz or rhyolite. Dark spots may be basalt or black iron. Interior clay body shows about 10 to 15 percent quartz, rhyolite, and basalt clasts. The smooth face displays the mark KAOLIN recessed as block letters centered on a smooth face. The other face shows a velour texture with low-angled wire-cut grooves. Edges are straight and sharp. Corners sharp when not broken. This brick was made using the stiff-mud process, extruded, wire-cut, and repressed. Length 8 1/4, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/8 inches.

California Brick and Pottery Co. pressed brick side
Side view of the pressed brick made by the California Brick and Pottery Company, 1906.

California Brick and Pottery Co. pressed brick marked face
Pressed brick showing the marked face.

California Brick and Pottery Co. pressed brick back face
Back face of the pressed brick showing the wire-cut surface.

California Brick and Pottery Co. pressed brick interior
Interior view of the clay body of the pressed brick.


References

Brick and Clay Record, July 29, 1903, p. 38.

Bradley, W.W., Mines and Mineral Resources of Portions of California, Part 2: The Counties of Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Yolo, California State Mining Bureau 14th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1916, p. 316-317.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Fitzsimmons, Jeannie, Showcase Gallery, Glen Ellen, personal communications, 2008.

Glotzbach, Bob, Self-Guided Walking Tour of Downtown Glen Ellen, Regeneration Resources, Sonoma, CA, 2006-07 edition.

Glotzbach, Bob, ed., Childhood Memories of Glen Ellen, Glen Ellen, 1992.

Sonoma Index Tribune, April 18, 1903.

Sonoma Index Tribune, August 18, 1906.

Sonoma Index Tribune, August 27, 1904.

Sonoma Index Tribune, Dr. C.C. O'Donnell Has Passed Away, June 1, 1912.

Sonoma Index Tribune, January 31, 1903.

Sonoma Index Tribune, March 18, 1905.

Sonoma Index Tribune, May 2, 1891.

Sonoma Index Tribune, May 2, 1903.

Sonoma Index Tribune, November 4, 1905.

Sonoma Index Tribune, September 23, 1905.

Sonoma County Directory 1899-1900, p. 39.

Smith, Diane, Depot Park Museum, Sonoma Valley Historical Society, written communications, 2008.

Copyright 2008 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.