California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Pacific Brick Company

History


In June 1890, the Pacific Brick Company was organized to manufacture bricks in north Vallejo, Solano County, where a surface deposit of loose dark loam rests on a terra cotta base. In October 1890, the company was incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000. The directors were Alexander Mackay, L.J. Norton, R.D. McElroy, Rolla V. Watt, and James L. Case, all of San Francisco. Watt was president, Norton was vice-president, McElroy was treasurer, Case was secretary and general manager, and M.S. Wilds was the superintendent. $74,000 was subscribed by 28 stockholders. The office was based at 317 California Street in San Francisco.

The property of the Pacific Brick Company is the same shown on this map as Mrs. Ivy Austin 75 acres in the center.
The property of the Pacific Brick Company is the same as shown
as Mrs. Ivy Austin 75 acres near the center of the map view.
The City of Vallejo is on the lower right. From Eager, 1890.

Property acquisition began on September 12, 1890, when Rolla V. Watt purchased the property known as the Bolsa from Amy Austin. On October 25, 1890, Watt conveyed the property over to the Pacific Brick Company. Then on December 6, 1890, the brick company acquired additional tideland from the Vallejo Land and Improvement Company. The brickyard was located in the vicinity of the Wilson Avenue ramp off of Highway 37 in north Vallejo.

The brickyard, of which $50,000 was expended, consisted of a clay crusher and stone separater, a pug-mill, a Penfield brick machine for making soft-mud brick, with a capacity of 40,000 per day. The drying house, 40 by 90 feet in size, contained three drying tunnels, which were fed exhaust heat through floor piping from the engine house during the day and steam at night. The bricks were dried in 48 hours. The engine house contained a 70-h.p. Atlas engine and boilers. The type of kiln used to fire the brick was not stated. The company also had a 250-foot long wharf, where their own barges and steam tug shipped out the bricks, mainly to San Francisco. The plant employed 30 workers.

The wharf of the Pacific Brick Company is annotated in red on the Napa 1899 topographical map. From USGS, 1899.
The wharf of the Pacific Brick Company is annotated in
red on the Napa 1899 topographical map. From USGS, 1899.

During the last week of February 1891, the brick machines commenced making brick and the first kiln of 250,000 brick were fired. The Vallejo Times Herald wrote, "Many of these were of so fine a quality that visitors carried them home with them, heavy as they were." By June, the yard was experimenting with different styles of bricks. In August, the plant temporarily shut down due to a lack of water when the well dried up. At the end of October, the plant closed for the winter.

There were no further reports of manufacturing brick from the Pacific brick works, though the yard may have worked during the dry months for a few more years. On September 26, 1894, it was announced that the Pacific Brick Company was selling its plant and property. Low demand for common brick at that time was blamed for the plant closing. On May 10, 1895, the property was sold to Martin R. Aden. In August 1895, the plant machinery, engine, and boilers were purchased by the Sawyer Tanning Company of Napa, dismantled, and shipped out by schooner. Part of the property was later acquired by the Vallejo Brick and Tile Company (see
Vallejo Brick and Tile Company,) in 1908, when they opened a new brickyard.

Soft-mud common brick found near the brickyard site is believed to be from the Pacific Brick Company based on the materials matching the local geology. The Pacific Brick Company, as far as I know, was the only one in this section of Vallejo that made soft-mud brick. The brickyard site itself has been so disturbed by landfill and construction of Highway 37 that no evidence of the yard was found. A single representative bat is shown and described below. No markings were found on the bat, but with the lack of whole bricks to examine, this may not be conclusive. There was no report in the local newspapers of Pacific bricks being used anywhere in Vallejo as the production was apparently small, probably less than 1 million brick, and mainly for the San Francisco market. There is a slight chance that some bricks were used in Vallejo. But it is more likely that the Pacific brick will be found in San Francisco in structures built from 1891 to 1893.

Pacific Brick

Pacific common brick is pale grayish red and mostly uniform in color. There is a coating of fine quartz sand on the surface giving it a gritty feel. The quartz is subrounded, clear to white, and orange-stained. The edges and corners are dull and the form is good. The sides contain minor pits. The top face is rough and pitted with a longitudinal strike and may or may not contain a lip, 1/8 inch thick. Well-fired brick is more grayish pale red and very indurated and hard. One middle bat did not show any markings on the bottom face, which is flat and even. The interior contains about 10 percent round yellow sandstone, round black iron oxide, round clots of white clay, and minor amounts of well-rounded pebbles of schist, phyllite, and metavolcanic rock, all less than 1/2 inch in diameter, in a porous orange-red sandy clay body. The abundance of yellow clots of fine sandstone is a diagnostic feature for this brick. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Length ?, width 3 3/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

View of the side of the Pacific common brick bat.
View of the side of the Pacific common brick bat.

View of the even bottom face of the Pacific common brick bat.
View of the even bottom face of the Pacific common brick bat.

View of the rough top face of the Pacific common brick bat.
View of the rough top face of the Pacific common brick bat.

View of the interior of the Pacific common brick bat.
View of the interior of the Pacific common brick bat.

Microscopic view of the interior of the Pacific common brick bat.
Microscopic view of the interior of the Pacific
common brick bat (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

References

Going To Napa, Vallejo Chronicle, August 17, 1895.

Land Sale, Vallejo Chronicle, May 23, 1895.

New Incorporations, San Francisco Call, October 19, 1890.

San Francisco City Directories, 1891-1894.

Eager, E.N., Official Map of Solano County, Solano County Board of Supervisors, 1890.

Solano County Deeds, Amy Austin to Rolla V. Watts, September 12, 1890, Book 106, p. 426.

Solano County Deeds, Pacific Brick Company to Martin R. Aden, May 10, 1895, Book 120, p. 475.

Solano County Deeds, Rolla V. Watts to Pacific Brick Company, October 25, 1890, Book 107, p. 278.

Solano County Deeds, Vallejo Land and Improvement Company to Pacific Brick Company, December 6, 1890, Book 107, p. 430.

Two New Incorporations, Daily Alta California, October 19, 1890.

U.S. Geological Survey, Napa 15-minute quadrangle map, scale 1:62,500, 1899.

Vallejo Chronicle, April 1, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, August 15, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, February 26, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 15, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 26, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 30, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, June 27, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, July 17, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, October 30, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, September 26, 1894.

Vallejo's Brick and Terra Cotta Industry, Vallejo Times Herald, December 24, 1891.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.