California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Romby's Brickyard, Brickyard Slough, Oakland

History


Map of Romby's brickyard
Romby's brickyard was located on the mudflats near the intersection of High Street and Tidewater Avenue in Oakland (see map on right). The currently named Tidal Canal, built in 1902, was then called "Brickyard Slough" and named for Romby's brickyard when the slough terminated at the railroad to Alameda. Little is known about Romby and his brickyards, though he probably built the very first brick kilns in Alameda County. He may have been part of a group of French pioneers who came to Oakland in 1850. He first opened a brickyard on Adams Point on the north shore of Lake Merritt and, in 1852, he moved to another site by the lake at Webster Street in Oakland. In the 1852 California census records, Edward "Rhombie" is listed as a brick moulder, 40 years of age, and a native of France. A woman named Victoria P. Rhombie, aged 36 and also a native of France, was probably his wife. Listed with Romby were two French brickmakers, six French laborers, one French cook, and one Spanish artisan. Therefore, Romby probably opened the yard at Brickyard Slough in 1853, shortly after other French settlers had obtained a lease to work on part of the property owned by Antonio Maria Peralta.

The first mention of Romby's brickyard was in April 1854, when the State Legislature passed the incorporation of the town of Alameda, and reference was made to the brickyard in regards to the boundary line with Brooklyn (Oakland) at the head of Estero de San Leandro (San Leandro Bay). Apparently, Romby had left the brickyard before 1860. It is possible that this could have been the same Edward (Rombi) Romby who was later working as a machinist in San Francisco in 1860. According to the 1860 Federal Census Records, Edward Romby, 56 years old, was married to a V. Romby, 43 years old, and both were natives of France.

In 1860, there were three French brickmakers who may have been working at Romby's brickyard. They were C. Malherbe, 42; Charlier Victor, 50; and Philebor Lathuele, 34. There is no description of their brickyard, but from the known bricks we can tell that they used the soft-mud process to make bricks. The mudflats provided the material for the brick. The mud was thrown into wooden forms to fashion bricks. After they were air dried, the bricks were fired in field kilns, using wood as fuel. These bricks were most likely used locally in the wells and foundations and chimneys of homes in the nearby towns between 1853 and 1860. It is also possible that some of the bricks were shipped to San Francisco, as another French party was shipping charcoal from Alameda Point at that time.

Peralta House in San Leandro
View of the Peralta House, San Leandro. Photo by Dan Mosier, 2011.

Romby's brickyard may have supplied the bricks for William P. Toler, who used the bricks to build a house in 1860 for Ygnacio and Rafaela Peralta. Better known as the Peralta House, it is located at 561 Lafayette Avenue in San Leandro, California. The Peralta House is believed to be the first brick house built in Alameda County. Toler's wife was Maria Antonia, the daughter of Ygnacio Peralta, who was one of the sons of Don Luis Peralta, the original land grant owner. An interesting side note is that William Toler, who was in the U. S. Navy under Commodore Jones in 1842 and later Commodore Sloat in 1846, hoisted the first American flag up the flag pole at the Custom House in Monterey. The Tolers later lived in the house with Ygnacio and Rafaela Peralta.

Fortunately, the Peralta house was saved from demolition in 1926 by the Alta Mira Club, the current owner of the historic house. Although the historic bricks have been covered with stucco and the chimneys have been painted over, some of the original bricks can be seen in the foundation, which provide the examples below. No maker's marks were seen on any of the faces of the bricks exposed.

Romby's brickyard was abandoned soon after 1860, when the local common brick market was dominated by the Remillard Brothers brickyard in Oakland. What became of the three French brickmakers is unknown. Romby disappeared after 1860. Romby's brickyard site has been erased by bay fill and industrial development.


Romby Brick

The common brick is dark orange red to orange red, mostly uniform in color. The surface is coated with fine sand, some so thick that it has a light brown color. The edges are straight and dull. The corners are dull. The sides have faint transverse striations and an irregular lip, up to 1/4 inch thick, along the top edges. The bottom face is flat and even with no markings. The top face is rough and pitted and has strong longitudinal strike marks. The interior contains 10 percent subrounded reddish to brown shale and sandstone clasts ranging up to one inch across in a porous, orange-red, sandy clay body. The clasts are visible on the surface of some bricks, but may be nearly absent in others. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Length 8 1/8 - 8 1/4, width 4, height 2 1/8 - 2 1/4 inches.

Romby common brick
View of the sides of Romby brick peeking out below the white stucco in the foundation of the Peralta House.

Romby common brick
View of the top face of the Romby brick showing the strong longitudinal strike marks and pits.

Romby common brick
View of the partly eroded bottom face of the Romby brick, where some of the sedimentary clasts are exposed on the surface.


References

Baker, Joseph Eugene, editor, Past and Present of Alameda County, California, The Clarke Chicago Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois, 1914.

California Census Records, 1852.

Federal Census Records, 1860.

Fibel, Pearl R., The Peraltas, Spanish Pioneers and the First Family of the East Bay, Peralta Hospital, Oakland, California, 1971.

Merlin, Imelda, Alameda, A Geographical History, Friends of the Alameda Free Library, Alameda, California, 1977.

San Francisco Call, The Lake Merritt Mystery Is Solved, September 19, 1893.

San Leandro Historical-Cultural Commission, Historical Preservation Survey, City of San Leandro, 2000.

Thompson and West, Official and Historical Atlas of Alameda County, California, Oakland, California, 1878, p. 23.

U. S. Geological Survey, Concord 15-Minute Topographic Map, 1897 edition, reprinted 1910.

Copyright 2011 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.