California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Hiram W. Walker

Walker and Byrnes Brickyard

History


Hiram Warren Walker (1836-1915) was a native of Portland, Maine. He came to California in 1861 and, about 1864, established a brickyard east of Claremont Avenue on San Mateo Creek at San Mateo. His family consisted of his wife Mary, son Henry, and three daughters, Minnie, May, and Lillie. Walker probably leased the brickyard property from the Irish landowner James D. Byrnes, who was known as the "Father of San Mateo." The Walker and Byrnes brickyard, as it was also called, provided the bricks for the growing town of San Mateo.

No description of this brickyard could be found, except for a brief mention of the "patent brick kilns" in the local newspaper. From the known bricks made by Walker, mud from the banks of the creek was used to form handmade bricks. The bricks were probably fired in kilns using wood as fuel. The first bricks were used in the chimney of the Byrnes' Railroad House on Third Avenue, which contained a saloon, restaurant, and barbershop. This building was destroyed in a fire in 1880. Walker bricks were also used in other brick buildings in town, such as the Husing Store, Coleman Building, and Byrnes brick warehouse, all built in the 1860s. Curiously in 1875, one of the brick kilns was used as the town jail described as having walls two feet thick. One of the surviving structures containing Walker bricks is the former residence of James Byrne still standing at the end of First Avenue. Here Walker bricks form the three-foot high foundation of the two-story wooden house built in 1875. However, most of the original bricks in the foundation have been replaced by modern bricks in recent renovations.

Byrnes House in San Mateo
View of the Byrnes house in San Mateo.


Walker brick foundation in Byrnes House
View of the brick foundation of the Byrnes house. The remaining original bricks have been painted over.



An archaeological study on the Casey ranch by Crystal Springs Reservoir yielded common bricks that match with Walker's bricks. Walker owned property near Casey and his brickyard was the closest source for bricks, so it is likely that he had supplied bricks to Casey for use on his ranch. Samples of the brick provided by Stuart Guedon of Basin Research Associates are shown below.

Walker continued to fire bricks at his brickyard in San Mateo until about 1881. Thus, most of the brick structures built in San Mateo up to 1881 were probably from Walker's brickyard. The brickyard inventory apparently lasted for a couple more years as the remaining stock was used in Bynres' Union Hotel building, which replaced the Railroad House in 1883.

Walker left San Mateo and by 1882, he was laying bricks in Redwood City. By 1890, he was making bricks again in South San Francisco. By 1896, he had returned to Redwood City, where he remained until 1898, when he resided in San Francisco until his death in 1915.

While San Mateo Creek still flows to the bay, the adjacent Walker brickyard site is now covered by residential units.

Walker Brick

Common brick is pale red to pale reddish brown to light brown and uniform in color. The form is irregular with dull edges and corners. An irregular lip up to 1/4 inch thick is seen around some top edges. The sides and bottom face are coated with fine sand of subangular clear quartz and minor black sand. The sides may display fine transverse striations and stack indentations. The bottom face is smooth and even. The top face is rough, pitted, and has longitudinal strike marks apparently made with a wooden tool. The interior consists of a porous orange-red sandy clay body with rare clasts of subrounded to subangular massive white quartz, red and gray sandstone, and dark gray shale, all up to 1/4 inch across. The clasts constitute about 2 percent when present. The pores are mostly less than 1/8 inch across, but can range to as much as 1/2 inch across. This brick was made using the soft-mud process. Brick sizes vary with lengths 8 - 8 1/4, widths 3 1/2 - 4, heights 2 1/8 - 2 1/2 inches.

Walker brick
View of the side of Walker brick from the Byrnes property. Transverse striations are displayed on
the side (upper part of photo) and longitudinal strike marks are seen on the top face (lower part of photo).

Walker brick
View of the side of Walker brick from the Byrnes property.

Walker brick
View of the bottom face of Walker brick from the Byrnes property.


Walker brick interior
View of the interior of Walker brick from the Byrnes property. The white clasts
are massive quartz, gray clasts are shale, and dark red clasts are sandstone.


Walker brick
View of the end of Walker brick showing a prominent lip at the top edge.


Walker brick
View of the side of Walker brick from Casey's ranch. Donated by Stuart Guedon.


Walker brick
View of the smooth bottom face of Walker brick from Casey's ranch. Donated by Stuart Guedon.


Walker brick
View of the top face of Walker brick with the longitudinal strike marks from Casey's ranch. Donated by Stuart Guedon.


Walker brick interior
View of the interior of Walker brick from Casey's ranch. White quartz, red and
gray sandstone, and gray shale are the visible clasts. Donated by Stuart Guedon.


References

California Death Records, 1905-1939.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1867.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1880.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1882.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1886.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1890.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1894.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1896.

Great Registers of San Mateo County, 1898.

Moore and De Pue, Illustrated History of San Mateo County, California, San Francisco, 1878.

Postel, Mitchell P., San Mateo, A Centennial History, Scottwall Associates, San Francisco, 1994.

Ringer, Donald P., San Mateo USA, California, The Golden Years, 1975.

San Francisco Chronicle, Deaths, November 3, 1915.

San Mateo County Deed Book 26, Pullen to Walker, May 8, 1876, p. 193.

San Mateo Gazette, May 29, 1875.

Copyright 2013 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.