Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Laguna Limekilns: Bonny Doon
by Robert W. Piwarzyk

[This article is excerpted from a manuscript titled, "The Laguna Limekilns: Bonny Doon," pp. 44-45. The maps, drawings, and photos of the manuscript are not included on this site. The manuscript is copyrighted 1996 by the author. It is used here with permission.]


The presence or absence of firebricks at an industrial site, and the names found on these bricks, is revealing. Several shapes of firebrick (regular, arch, and wedge), and many different named brick, were found at the Laguna limekilns. Most of these were probably imported. Some of these have also been found at other sites in the Santa Cruz mountains, but three are unique to this site. Of those, one has never been reported before!

The practice of stamping, or "branding," the manufacturer's name on a brick goes back to ancient times and was still in vogue at the time these kilns were operating. There are currently only one or two brickmakers in the United States that stamp their name in their brick. The introduction of high speed brickmaking machines made this impractical. Most of the industry stopped this practice forty to fifty years ago as it was an unnecessary, time consuming step.

Fireclay was found in shallow pits and used to make crucibles as early as the 1700s in Europe. The Industrial Revolution brought about the demand for high quality refractory bricks as new equipment and systems were developed. The demand for coal also increased and high grade coal had to be mined at greater depths. It is ironic that the best fireclay was found in conjunction with these deep coal deposits.

The early Spanish and Mexican kilns probably did not utilize firebricks. Most likely they were first imported sometime after 1850. From the early 1850s to the late 1870s firebricks had to be imported to California. At first, the only sources were Scotland and England. A unique find at the Laguna kilns revealed that Belgium also provided bricks. Firebricks (also called refractory, or kiln bricks) were made of higher density clay which was sometimes pressed to remove air and water, enabling the brick to withstand high temperatures. Common building bricks were used on occasion, but these could not hold up as well to high temperatures. Vitrified common and firebricks have been found melted, blackened, and glazed at several kiln sites. Firebricks were made in Europe and shipped (as ballast) "around the horn." At ten cents a brick delivered, the brickyards of the mid-west could not compete. The cost of hauling brick overland was prohibitive. Eventually good quality clay was located in California, but it was not until after the 1910s that production exceeded imports. With the threat to shipping during world war I all imports ceased and were never needed again after the war as the country had become self sufficient.

As the industries on the West Coast developed, steam became an important energy source. This, in turn, was generated in boilers by burning wood fuel. In the Santa Cruz mountains redwood was the preferred fuel as it burned hot, slow and steady. "pine" (actually fir), oak, and madrone were also used. Railroad locomotives, "donkey" engines, steam schooners, loading chutes, and even the fog horn at Pigeon Point Lighthouse were steam-powered. With steam power the brick lining the fireboxes of the boilers required frequent replacement. Although such equipment was used in the Santa Cruz mountains, most of the firebricks are found at limekiln sites. In the early 1900s firebricks were also used to line local sawmill incinerators and fireboxes of boilers at the canneries and food processing plants.

Besides being used for lime production, kilns were also used for brickmaking, lumber drying, and hop and apple drying. The arches of field kilns used for making brick were often lined with firebrick as this location got exceedingly hot. The other types of kilns did not get hot enough to warrent the use of firebrick. But limekilns generated high temperatures (up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit) to convert the limestone ore into lime, and since the "kills" themselves were made out of limestone the walls had to be shielded to keep them from "cooking" into lime and crumbling!

Stamping names on bricks was a matter of pride or politics, but it also created a depression which would not only save the brickmaker material and make the brick lighter weight, but provided a "key" for the mortar to penetrate. Thus, when the mortar hardened the upper and lower bricks were interlocked. Most of the brick found at the Laguna limekilns are hand-stamped. This is the reason that the name appears at different locations on the surface of the brick, and that the "b" in Snowball was found rotated in two bricks.

Some names set within a depressed frame, called a "frog," had either depressed or raised letters. The frogs had various shapes: rectangles, rectangles with scalloped corners, diamonds, triangles, circles, eyes, and various other shapes. Some frogs also had beveled or curved edges. A brick with a frog would also require less heat to harden it, therefore resulting in a savings of fuel in its manufacture. Also, less weight meant lower shipping costs.

In 1891 Congress passed the "McKinley Tariff Act" which required that imported products be identified as to their country of origin. This may have caused some brickmakers to stamp their names and countries in their brick, but others may have already been doing it out of pride. Regardless of the reason, an evaluation of the bricks found at a site can be helpful in dating the site and establishing the flow of goods.

Firebricks found in limekilns are usually used as a lining and are therefore not an integral part of the structure. Finding a particular named-brick doesn't necessarily date the site. It only provides a possible date that the brick itself may have arrived on the scene. Knowing when a brickyard started using a name might be helpful, but the age of the structure could be older than the brick if the brick was brought in at a later date to line an existing structure. Conversely, finding an old brick at a site does not preclude the possibility that a brick was imported at an earlier time, before the kiln was built, and reused subsequently at the time the lining was last installed. Knowing when a brickyard stopped using a name (or went out of business entirely), reveals the minimum age of the brick, not the structure.

Or, as more aptly stated in "Brick Bats for Archaeologists: Values of Pressed Brick Brands," by Roger and Marsha Kelly: ".... Reuse of bricks is an important capability which may lead to ambiguous interpretations of chronology ... "

Bricks come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Shapes vary from cylindrical, square and triangular, to the rectangular ones we see most frequently. Sizes vary as shrinkage of the clay, while it is burning in a brick kiln, is difficult to control. Also, originally there were no standards for size, but common building brick tended to be smaller than firebrick. Generally the firebrick imported to Santa Cruz was 4 ½" wide x 9" long x 2 ½" thick. (the newer ones found here are a little smaller: 4" x 8 ¼" x 2 ½".) The common vary from: 4" x 8" x 2 ½" to: 4 ⅛ x 8 ½" x 2 ⅜. Firebrick is seldom, if ever, red like common building brick. Iron in the clay turns these brick red when they are burned in the brick kiln. Since fireclay is different, the firebricks come out yellow to beige, and darker brown to light grey colors.

Brickmaker: Robert Flemming & Co., "Calder Fire Clay Co."
Location: Calder, Coatbridge, Scotland
Dates: Ca. 1890-1937
Comments: Noted in Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1931 & 37
Several pieces were found at the Laguna kilns. Then whole brick were discovered in the fire chamber floors.

Brickmaker: John Carr & Sons
Location: Low Lights, North Shields, England
Dates: Ca. 1844-1908
Comments: Began making firebricks by 1889 at the latest.
Noted in Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1908.
This brick is difficult to identify, as it may be confused with the T Carr brick, especially when only a partial brick is found as was the case at the Laguna limekilns.

Brickmaker: Joseph Cowen & Co.
May have originally been Foster & Cowen.
Location: Blaydon-on-Tyne, England
Dates: Ca. 1823-1904
Comments: Brand registered with United States Patent Office 1893. Take-over firm operated to 1946. The most common firebrick (found at six sites) in the Santa Cruz mountains. Known to be stamped with grade (?) numbers up to 6 above, below, or to the side of the name. Also found arch and wedge shaped, and stamped "Cowen/England."

Brickmaker: Henry Foster & Co., Ltd.
Location: Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
Dates: Ca. 1890-1963
Comments: Noted in Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1963.
May have been the same Foster said to have started with Cowen. Also reported in IBCA's Journal of Fall 1990 as being made at a brickworks in Belleville, Ontario, Canada (east of Toronto).

Brickmaker: Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Dates: 1887-1926
Comments: This company is said to have had a plant in Richmond, California. Bricks found in Santa Cruz may have been made in Richmond.

Ls Escoyez / Tertre / Belgique
Brickmaker: [Jean-Henry Escoyez, who lives in Belgium, sent the following information to the Library in August 2000: "'Ls' isn't the abbreviation for the french word 'Les', but it is the abbreviation for the first name 'Louis', who was the founder of this factory, and the mayor of the village Tertre, in Belgium. Now this factory is closed, but I don't know when. (Probably after the World War I).Tertre is a village in the county of Saint-Ghislain, province Hainault, near the town Mons (Chief town of the province), and more or less 60 km (50 miles) of Brussel." ]
Dates: Unknown
Comments: Several fragments of this brick and two overlapping brickbats have been found at the Laguna limekilns. This is the only site where this item has been found to date. As far as is known, it has never been reported before!

Brickmaker: Not known.
Location: Probably originally made in England for the Pacific Northwest trade.
Dates: Probably the mid-1800s.
Comments: Later use of this name by the Gladding McBean Company also had their logo, GMcB, on the brick above or below the name. Also found wedge shape.

Patent/R Brown & Son/Paisley and
Patent/R.Brown & Son Ltd/Paisley
Brickmaker: Robert Brown & Sons, Ltd.
Location: Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Dates: Ca. 1836 - 1938
Comments: Started making firebrick in 1852. Became "Limited" in 1902. Several pieces of this brick have been found in various places in Santa Cruz County, but only one piece with Ltd was found and that was at the Laguna kilns. The word "patent" means that the method or formula for making this brick was patented.

Brickmaker: G.H. Ramsay & Co.
Location: Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
Dates: Ca. 1789-1925
Comments: Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1925
Only one large partial piece of this brick was found at Laguna kilns, and this occurred on the last day of the survey!

Ravens/W B I & Co.
Brickmaker: Unknown
Location: Unknown
Dates: Unknown
Comments: Fragments have been found at two kiln sites. Whole bricks without any mortar attached have been found at two residential locations in Bonny Doon; two as pier blocks, and ten lining a barbecue. Fragments were found in an old dump in Bonny Doon. At the Laguna limekilns it is found more frequently than any other brick.

Brickmaker: Unknown. May be Richmond Brick Co.? Brick is known to have been made at Point Richmond, with the name "Richmond" by United Materials Co. from 1927 to 1930.
Location: Unknown
Dates: Unknown
Comments: Only one brick with these letters was found at the Laguna limekilns. The only other ones found in Santa Cruz were the two buried in the yard at the old Majors Creek ranch house on Empire Grade in Bonny Doon.

Brickmaker: James and George H. Snowball
Became Snowball Brothers Ca. 1913
Location: Swalwell, County Durham, England
Dates: Ca. 1854-1935
Comments: Several letter sizes and styles are known. Also comes in arch and wedge shapes. Noted in Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1935. Have been found at five limekiln sites in Santa Cruz. Two fragments of this brick having a backward "b" (i.e. rotated) were found at the Laguna limekilns.

T Carr
Brickmaker: Thomas Carr & Son
Location: Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
Dates: Ca. 1827-1918
Comments: Noted in Kelly's Directories Ltd. 1901 & 1918.
Also found in arch and wedge shapes.

>>Continue with: The Bricks of Santa Cruz County.



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