Paso Robles Brickyards

Editor’s Note: Paso’s 125th anniversary celebration has ended, but we came across this story in the files and realized it didn’t get posted and we wanted to share it because it’s pretty cool. Enjoy!

by Harold Franklin

The Paso Robles area had most of the materials for its inhabitants to build their homes and businesses. The Salinan Indians had the brush and tule mats to build their homes. The Spanish had the adobe bricks they needed wherever they built. They had brought that skill from Spain to the New World with them. The plentiful adobe was mixed with enough water to make it gooey by working it with bare feet. Plopped by handfuls into a four inch deep 12 inch wide and 30 inch long wooden frame, the adobe was carried nearby where a handful of straw or pine needles was pushed into the adobe as a binder and the full frame dumped upside down on the ground. The frame was carefully pulled up by its four handles and the brick allowed to sun dry. Later it was turned on nits edge and fully dried. The bricks were set on to the walls using adobe mud.

The Iverson’s built two adobe houses in the Union district when they came, along with other adobe buildings in the area.

Wooden boards were brought to the area by ship to Cayucos, San Simeon, Cambria and Port Harford from the northern woods.  The wood was expensive and used carefully after brought by wagon to Paso Robles.  After the train came in 1886 lumber became more economical over the years.

Fired bricks were used in building the first buildings of Paso Robles from the early 1880’s to the 1920’s, many of them two story with a basement. No reinforcing iron was used. Many of the early settlers were brick masons.

Paso Robles Brick Yard was located between 17th and 18th Streets, from the Southern Pacific Railroad property to the edge of Riverside Street. It was started in the early 1870’s. By the 1920’s , it was a pit 30 feet deep and a block long and nearly that wide. A 10 foot wide well was on the south side of 17th Street west of the present Dr. Brad Dyck’s office.

Richard “Dick” Blake was born cattycorner from the brick yard in 1921 at 1624 Riverside Street. When a small boy a family lived in a house in the pit and had chicken sheds where they raised White Leghorn hens for their eggs. Bricks were no longer being made there.

A strip of land on the west side of Riverside Street had several buildings on it. Dick worked for Mr. Nance plumbing in Paso Robles while in high school 1937 to 1942 when Dick went into the U.S. Military. The last house they plumbed after Dick got out of the military was Jim Claassen’s house on the hilltop south of Union Road in the almond orchard. Mr. Nance died of pneumonia and Dick bought his business.

Photo shows the Tolle House, built in 1888, on Paso’s west side

On the northwest corner of 17th and Riverside Streets, was the remains of the old 2nd Baptist Church. Mr. Nance had his plumbing supplies in the old dilapidated building. Dick had also bought an old shack beside the church. A Mrs. Casteel lived in the two roomed building and when she moved out, Dick gave the old building to a local boy, who moved it down in the river. A flood washed it away. Jim Rude owned the rest of the strip and he sold it to Frank Blake, Dick’s brother, and Ole Viborg. Dick and Frank bought the old brick yard and it became Blake’s Plumbing for many years. The pit and the well had been filled in by the contractor when the 1012 Freeway was built in1955 to 1956.

John Schroeder was another local plumber and when Dick got home from the War on Saturday, John phoned and asked him to work for him Monday. Dick agreed and they finished plumbing Dr. Strahn’s office building on Vine Street. John died soon after that and Dick took over his business. John was my Grandmother’s next youngest brother, coming here in 1896.

Peter Johnson had a brick yard and kiln on present Union Road and Barney Schwartz Park. Peter was born in Sweden February 2, 1847 and came to Iowa 1872. He married Inga Gamberg in Minnesota in 1872 and they moved near Elk Point, South Dakota on a homestead beside her parents. After farming for a few years, they came to the Linne Swedish Baptist settlement on Creston Road in May, 1888. After two months, he and his family of 9 children moved to what is now Barney Schwartz Park. They lived in an old shed or barn down by the Huero Huero River while he built a kiln and fired the bricks for their new brick home, which is still standing beside Union Road. The brick kiln was near where the present swimming pool of the Paso Robles Sports Club is built. The house was finished in 1889 or 1890 and his family moved into the house with its two stories.

Peter was a mechanical genius doing carpenter work, making and laying brick, a stone mason as well as cobbling shoes. His bricks found ready sale in the building of the new city of Paso Robles. He helped in the remodeling of the Baptist Church as well as building all the brick houses seen today along Park and 17th Streets, from 20th down to 14th Streets. Peter added to his original 80 acres another 160 acres. His youngest son, William, took over the place and owned it until it was purchased for the park.

Today all the bricks are machine made and fired with natural gas. They are standard in size and hard.

Harold Franklin