Brickyard was important Riverside-Pocket area business

The Sacramento Brick Co. brickyard is shown in this 1938 photograph. Bricks manufactured at this now-defunct Riverside-Pocket area business were used in the construction of such famous Sacramento buildings as the Memorial Auditorium, the Elks Building at 11th and J streets and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. (Photo courtesy of PHCS)The Riverside-Pocket area undoubtedly has much history, but it is certainly not everyone who knows that the area has a direct connection to some of the capital city’s most renowned architectural structures.

Buildings such as the Memorial Auditorium, the Elks Building at 11th and J streets, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, a portion of the state Capitol and various structures in Old Sacramento, for instance, have a commonality that link them together for an obvious local trivia question.

These local landmarks were all constructed with bricks that were made at the Sacramento Brick Co., which opened on Riverside Road (today’s Riverside Boulevard) in 1881.

Additionally, the company, which was originally owned by Thomas Dwyer, also supplied bricks for reconstructing part of San Francisco following the great 1906 earthquake and fire.

By this time in the company’s history, the brickyard was already quite notable, as is evident by a reference in the 1890 History of Sacramento County, which reads: “(The brickyard has) in operation four Quaker brick machines with a capacity of (manufacturing) 140,000 (bricks) daily.”

During summer months, the brick-making plant utilized clay-like soil for its production that was dug from the “clay pit” in the area of today’s Lake Greenhaven, near John F. Kennedy High School.

This c. 1960 photograph shows one of the locomotive engines, which pulled the cars that transported clay from the clay pit to the factory at the Sacramento Brick Co. on Riverside Road. (Photo courtesy of PHCS)The bricks were created according to an on-demand contract basis, yet the demand was high enough to provide enough employment that such a large amount of clay – as it will be referred to for the remainder of this article – was eventually dug from the area that the “clay pit” reached the level of the water table, thus forming the beginnings of today’s Lake Greenhaven.

 

Brick by brick

The preliminary process of creating the bricks began in the winter, as the clay was dredged and placed on the south bank of the pit for the purpose of having it dry until summer.

Once dry, the clay was loaded into the plant’s ore car-sized locomotives and delivered to the brickyard, which was located about a half-mile away, across Riverside Road. The plant, which was situated on about 250 acres, extended southward from the levee area to near modern-day Gloria Drive.

Overall, about eight cars were used for this process in a rotating sequence along the tracks, which were moved according to the locations of each dredging project.

Once at the brickyard, the clay was loaded onto a large conveyer belt and transported to a hopper before being transferred into what was known as the “pug mill.”

It was at this mill that the clay was mixed with a precise amount of water, so that the bricks would not be too soft or too dry.

Shown left to right, Linda Azevedo, Carolyn Azevedo Peters, Patsy Azevedo, Rosie Azevedo de Oliveira, Carrie Azevedo, John Azevedo, Jr. and Richard Azevedo gather together with dragline operator John Azevedo (seated in background). John Azevedo dug 75 percent of the present-day Lake Greenhaven, which was once the brick company’s clay pit. (Photo courtesy of PHCS)Following this process, the clay was molded into the form of bricks through machinery, which included moving belts and metal cutting wires, which cut the clay into the required size of the bricks.

After being stacked on pallets for the curing process, the bricks were then transferred to kilns for the firing process.

During the plant’s earlier years, 20-foot-wide by 40-foot-long, outdoor kilns, which were made of brick, utilized coal – a heating source that was later replaced by crude oil and for a period of time, gas.

Originally, bricks created at the brickyard were transported by horse-drawn wagons to local construction sites.

 

Building blocks

Pocket historian Dolores (Silva) Greenslate said that she recalls seeing a brick delivery wagon with a team of horses led by brickyard worker, Joe Prady pass by her childhood home on Riverside Road on various occasions during the late 1920s.

Eventually, the brick delivery wagons were altogether replaced by brick delivery trucks.

In addition to seeing the brick delivery wagons, Greenslate, as well as other children residing in the area at the time, was continuously entertained by the sight of the brickyard’s locomotives crossing Riverside Road.

“It looked as though it was a toy train, which we longed to ride,” Greenslate recalled.

Being that the area was a Portuguese settlement, Greenslate said that the brickyard provided a lot of employment for the local Portuguese people.

John Azevedo, seated to the left, used this dragline to gather clay and load it into locomotive cars, shown to the right of this photograph. (Photo courtesy of PHCS)Among the Portuguese men who were employed at the brickyard were the locomotive and dragline operator John Azevedo, Joe Lewis, Manuel Enos, Jesse Alves, and Tony, Eddy and William Neves.

Greenslate added that Antone Perry, the son of her great-grandfather, 1850s Pocket pioneer Antonio Pereira Rodrigues, worked at the brickyard for many years.

Antone Perry, whose sons, Alfred and Bill Perry, also worked at the plant, was employed as a brick setter and was known among his co-workers as “Squirrel,” due to his ability to work in small, narrow tunnels, where he stacked bricks to be fired.

Although the Perrys resided within a close vicinity of the brickyard, many others lived in houses located on the brickyard’s grounds.

Four-room, two-story, wood-frame houses, which included upstairs living quarters and kitchen and eating areas, were rented on the grounds for $7 per month.

These homes were not the only houses located on the property, as the site also included the large house of the brickyard’s supervisor, a boarding house for single men and about 20 single-room cabin-like structures.

 

“Thing of the past”

Although the brickyard is certainly a thing of the past, having been closed on Jan. 3, 1971 due to development in the area, its history remains strong through a variety of elements such as many structures built with Sacramento Brick Co.-manufactured bricks, Lake Greenhaven and even Brickyard Drive, a Riverside-Pocket area street named in tribute to this famous, local landmark.

 

E-mail Lance Armstrong at lance@valcomnews.com.

6 Responses to Brickyard was important Riverside-Pocket area business

  1. One correction to this article, the first owner and founder of the Brickyard was John C. Ryan, an Irishman not Thomas Dwyer. I understand that the Mr. Dwyer did purchase it from John C Ryan, not many years after it was started by Mr. Ryan. Mr. Ryan when first arriving to this area from Ireland, first struck out to find gold, with that going as well as expected, he came to Sacramento and got into the brick business. Mr. Ryan also built a beautiful brick home which consisted of 4 stories and took up the entire block of Q street between 10th and 11th Streets. This brick home was the first to built in Sacramento. The land for this home was purchased from Louisa Sutter. Mr.Ryan also helped with the Sacramento floods in using his bricks to create canals to draw water away from flood areas. Frank D. Ryan another
    Ryan ancestor was a member of the Legislature in the early 1900.s I’m not sure but I believe he died while in office. There was also a Ryan’s Candy Store in early downtown Sacramento. (John C. Ryan was my Great Great Grandfather, Frank D. Ryan was an Uncle).

  2. J.R. Welsh says:

    Did the Sacramento brick yards have any identifying marks on their bricks ??

  3. Jim graves says:

    Grant,

    I have a database of brick yards and would be happy to send you a copy of the Sacramento yards.
    Jim Graves brickcollector@gmail.com

  4. Grant Jones says:

    Seeking information on the brickyards of about 1890-1904 and the people that worked them.

  5. Grant Jones says:

    Seeking information on the brickyards of about 1890-1904 and the people tat worked them.

  6. Grant Jones says:

    I moved to Sacramento in 1963. Since then I have been seeking information about the brickyards in Sacramento in the years of about 1898 to 1904. My Grandfather, Frank Barnhill, traveled down from Enterprise, OR where the Barnhills and Hillmans add a homesteaded. He worked in the brickyards to make enough money to purchase some land in the Klickitat area of Washington. Any information would be appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *