California brick

Petit and Queen, Sutterville


Two pioneer builders and contractors arrived in Sacramento, California. They were Alexander P. Petit and his wife, on October 8, 1849, and James Queen, as a member of the Stevenson Regiment, on April 4, 1847. Both were natives of Pennsylvania; Petit was born in Chester County in 1819, and Queen in 1817. Both men were active members in various community organizations and, in 1850, held councilmen positions in Sacramento.

Petit ad
From the Sacramento Transcript, April 12, 1850.

Petit was a self-taught architect who designed and built many prominent buildings throughout Northern California, including the courthouse (1850), city hall (1852), Pacific Theatre (1850), Overton House (1852), and McNulty's Concert Hall (1854) in Sacramento, American Theatre (1854) and Edwin Forrest Theater (1855) in San Francisco, the Sutter County Courthouse (1858) in Yuba City, the State Buildings (1851) in Vallejo, the Grand Hotel (1874) in Santa Rosa, and the Lake County courthouse (1871) in Lakeport.

In 1850, Petit and Queen formed a partnership in the construction business. They had their office at 65 3rd Street in Sacramento. Like many of the early builders at that time, they had manufactured their own bricks for their brick-building projects. They found good brickmaking material in the southeastern part of Sutterville, south of Sacramento. The Petit and Queen brickyard was also known as the "South Sacramento Brick Yard."

Petit and Queen brick ad
From the Sacramento Daily Union, January 18, 1853.

At first they probably made sand-molded brick in wooden molds and fired the bricks in field kilns. These earlier bricks were used in the Pacific Theatre, Overton House, the Sacramento Courthouse, and the Sacramento City Hall. None of these buildings survived, so I was not able verify the character of their early brick. By February 1853, they had acquired three brickmaking machines that were capable of producing 50,000 bricks per day. These sand-molded bricks were made by using the soft-mud process and pressed. Two types of brick were made, common and face brick. These sold for $8 per thousand. An advertisement in 1853, asked for six boys ages 14 to 15 years of age for employment at the brickyard.

Petit and Queen brick ad
From the Sacramento Daily Union, April 7, 1853.

In 1853, Petit and Queen supplied the brick for ten brick buildings erected in the new town of Sutterville. Among them was the Sutterville Brewery, which stood on Sutterville Road, just west of Land Park Road, until 1952, when it was demolished. This was the last of the original buildings in Sutterville to be torn down. A small historic plaque marks the site of the Sutterville Brewery building. Petit and Queen bricks were used in many buildings in downtown Sacramento, but none of these have survived.

It is not know exactly how long the Petit and Queen brickyard was in operation. The last advertisement published in the newspapers for the brickyard was June 21, 1853. But at least two additional brick buildings were erected by Petit and Queen in Sacramento in 1854. Therefore, it was probably in 1854 that the last bricks were made at the brickyard. Petit and Queen dissolved their partnership about that time. James Queen eventually left the construction business and ran for local and state political offices. He moved to San Francisco about 1865 and died in the Napa Insane Asylum in December 1879.

About 1855, Petit left Sacramento for building projects in other cities, such as San Francisco. It is doubtful that he used bricks from his Sutterville brickyard for these projects, because there were no reports of activity from the Petit and Queen brickyard after 1853. Petit most likely purchased bricks from other brickmakers in the cities where he had building projects. Although, it is possible that he could have made his own bricks on site provided good brickmaking material was available.

In 1879, Petit left California for Phoenix, Arizona, where he built the first two-story brick building, the Irvine Building. In 1880, he moved to Tucson and later Tombstone. By 1885, he had returned to Phoenix to build the Porter Building (1885), the Monihon Building (1887), the Totten Block (1889), the Wharton Building (1893), and some houses, among which was the elegant Rosson House (1895), which was his last job. Petit's wife, Mrs. C. L. Petit, died in 1891, and Petit died on March 28, 1895. There are two buildings built by Petit that remain standing - the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport, California, and the Rosson House in Phoenix, Arizona. For this brickyard study, it is fortunate that some remnants of Petit and Queen's original bricks were found at the old town site of Sutterville, and these are described next.

Petit and Queen Brick

Common brick is orange to dark orange-red, mostly uniform in color. Surfaces are coated with sand containing fine, clear, sparkling quartz crystals. Form is irregular with dull edges and corners. Top face is pitted with faint longitudinal strike marks. No lip was seen on any of the samples. Bottom face is smooth and flat. Sides show faint transverse striations, minor pits, gouges, and cracks. Interior clay body is grainy with about 10 percent pores up to 1/8 inch across, 5-10 percent yellow or cream subrounded granitic rocks up to 1/4 inch across, which are diagnostic for this brick, and 3 percent black iron grains up to 1/16 inch across. No brand marks were seen on any of the samples available. This brick was made in 1853 using the sand-molded, soft-mud, brick molding machine. Length 8 1/2, width 4, height 2 - 2 3/8 inches.

Petit and Queen brick
View of the end side of the Petit and Queen brick bat.

Petit and Queen brick
View of the top face of the Petit and Queen brick bat showing the faint longitudinal strike marks.

Petit and Queen brick
View of the bottom face of the Petit and Queen brick bat.

Petit and Queen brick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Petit and Queen brick bat.
Note the cream to yellowish colored granitic rocks.


Federal Census Records, 1880.

Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1880.

Rosson House Heritage Square Foundation and Guild, Docent-Volunteer-Intern Handbook, Phoenix, Arizona, 2005(?).

Sacramento City Directory, 1851.

Sacramento Daily Union, A Scrap of Ancient History, April 7, 1864.

Sacramento Daily Union, Board of Trustees, April 7, 1865.

Sacramento Daily Union, Boys Wanted, April 7, 1853.

Sacramento Daily Union, Brick advertisement, January 18, 1853.

Sacramento Daily Union, Court House, June 21, 1850.

Sacramento Daily Union, Edwin Forrest Theater, October 8, 1855.

Sacramento Daily Union, First Regiment of New York Volunteers, April 26, 1871.

Sacramento Daily Union, From Sutter, February 18, 1853.

Sacramento Daily Union, July 24, 1854.

Sacramento Daily Union, McNulty's New Concert Hall, April 22, 1854.

Sacramento Daily Union, New City Hall and Prison, October 19, 1852.

Sacramento Daily Union, New Hotel-Brick Stores, &c. &c, June 30, 1852.

Sacramento Daily Union, September 26, 1851.

Sacramento Daily Union, Sutter County Court House, January 15, 1858.

Sacramento Daily Union, The California Pioneers, September 9, 1884.

Sacramento Daily Union, The Grand Hotel, October 10, 1874.

Sacramento Daily Union, The New Theater, October 6, 1855.

Sacramento Transcript, A Rare Chance for Investment, November 2, 1850.

Sacramento Transcript, A. P. Petit advertisement, April 12, 1850.

Sacramento Transcript, Opening of the Pacific Theatre, August 21, 1850.

Weber, Helen, written communications on Veridian, 2010.

Wilson, Alan L., The Sutterville Brewery Building 1853-1952, (accessed 2010).

Wright, George F., editor, History of Sacramento County, California, Thompson and West, Oakland, California, 1880.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

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