I have always been fascinated by the fact that Peter Skansie’s first job in Gig Harbor was at a brickyard on Wollochet Bay and that he rowed back and forth twice a day a distance of 4 miles . He earned $2.50 per day at the brickyard and worked there until it went under. Today that $2.50 would be worth about $65 per day.
And, then there was a bit of miscellaneous information in the Research Files at the Harbor History Museum from Joan Bassett which reads: “(Date unknown definitely but somewhere between 1909 & 1912) Claude Powell and dad (Victor Tomlinson) hauled bricks from the west side brick yard on Fox Island, owned by C. S. Barlow (Descendants later had the Barlow Sand & Gravel in Tacoma). They hauled them in a beach seine boat. Started to sink and they threw bricks over to stay afloat. They then got a wagon at Arletta and carried them to Rosedale where they built the chimney on the Rosedale School.”
So with a little mystery like this, I thought I would do a little investigating and see what I could find out about the brick yard, where it was and who owned it. And maybe learn why there was a brick factory on Fox Island in the first place.
Some time around 15,000 years ago the melting Vashon glacier changed the lands in and around the Puget Sound region. One of those lands happened to be Fox Island which received large deposits of clay, sand and gravel. Perfect materials for use in the building trade, and those clay deposits presented the perfect opportunity for new business ventures for the entrepeneur in the 1800s.
And the brickyard we are hunting for was located on Fox Island; in fact there were two brickyards on Fox Island. Very little is known about the one that existed in 1900 in the vicinity of where 12th Avenue & Kamus Drive intersect. But the better known one was located on what now is known as Brick Kiln Road and it is the one we are going to explore. Its life was longer, having originally been founded on July 13, 1884 (although some records show it was September rather than July) as the Fox Island Brick Manufacturing Company. Its name and its owners changed over the years before it finally closed.
A group of investors got together, formed the new Fox Island Brick Manufacturing Company and purchased approximately 435 acres of land on the southwest end of the island from an Augustus Lowe for about $3.45 per acre or $1,500. This newly formed company started manufacturing bricks, sewer pipe, tiles, chimney pipes, and other clay products. Building materials needed for the growing communities in and around Fox Island. Transportation was provided by scows towed to the final destination in Tacoma or other places on the Gig Harbor peninsula.
In August 1888 new ownership bought the brickyard for $14,000 (today’s $340,000) and changed the name to The Fox Island Clay Works. The new company officers and directors were: W. S. Bowen, president and general manager; J. M. Steele, vice-president; A. R. Zabriskie, secretary; and S. F. Sahm, John M. Steele, I. W. Anderson, Walter S. Bowen and Samuel M. Clark, directors. Capital stock of $50,000* was divided into 500 shares with a par value of $100 each with a maturity time of 50 years. *$1,219,500 in 2014 dollars.
The brickyard and its land contained some of the finest deposits of various clays, and the new owners wanted to convert the plant to more modern production methods. They outfitted the brickyard and structures with the very best and newest machinery available for the manufacture of their various products. Their piping was used by almost all the towns and cities around the Sound as well as in other more distant Washington locations and in Oregon.
They opened an office at the junction of Dock Street and Fifteenth Street in Tacoma, at the head of Commencement Bay. This allowed for an easy receiving location for the shipments via scow from Fox Island, but it was also a convenient location for reshipment to other places. The North Pacific Railroad had tracks which ran through the company’s yard almost to the water’s edge which was a big plus.
Unfortunately the company was a little too aggressive and by 1890 needed additional funds so they took out a mortgage of $30,000 ($731,700 in 2014) from Mason Mortgage Loan Company. In 1893 there was a serious economic depression in the US and unfortunately on December 21, 1894, Mason Mortgage Loan Company foreclosed on the land, buildings, materials, the steamboat “Susie” and other equity. The land was put up for sale in order to pay off the outstanding mortgage.
By 1897 the country was coming out of the depression, and a gentleman named Bleeker seeing an opportunity, acquired the land and restarted the brickyard. Calvin S. Barlow, owner of Tacoma Trading Company bought bricks from Mr. Bleeker and in 1904 loaned him money when he needed additional cash. In 1906 C. S. Barlow decided to take over the brickyard paying Mr. Bleeker $2,900 for it. (Although not stated in the information at hand, the purchase price probably was in addition to any funds not yet paid back for the previous loan. In other words forgave the debt.)
|Tacoma Public Library Image Archives - Advertisement in the 1941 Clover Park High School Yearbook|
The brickyard operations had always been on a “summer yard” basis only with the bricks dried in the open air before being placed in the kilns. Russell Barlow said his father, Calvin S. Barlow, invested $30,000 to build a dryer so the plant could manufacture year round. But, unfortunately concrete was becoming easy to obtain and a more popular material for construction. This resulted in the bottom falling out of the brick manufacturing industry. As a result the plant was closed in about 1910-11.
|Tacoma Public Library Image Archives - Gig Harbor summer of 1926 2 Mack trucks parked at wooded site - Barlow & Sons started 1882 in Tacoma and dealt in building materials including sand, gravel and blasting powder|
Information from Russell Barlow goes on to relate that “there were about five or six buildings on site - superintendent’s house, office & company store, bunk house, cookhouse, shed containing brick machine and of course, the kiln. Around 15 men were employed who manufactured about 10-15,000 bricks per day. Up until this time the clay was transported down the hill from the pit to the plant manual with the aid of a horse. The horse pulled a cart placed on rails up to the pit to be filled, and then the cart coasted under its own power back down the hill to the plant. A man rode on the cart to operate the brake to stop the cart and dump the clay. The horse had already returned to the plant to be ready to pull the empty cart back up the hill.
|Tacoma Public Library Image Archive - Display at Puyallup Fair 1923 - In 1917 the name was changed from Tacoma Trading Company to C. S. Barlow & Sons|
There were no railroad tracks on the property but C. S. Barlow bought additional clay land as it was contemplated the original clay was depleted and, at the same time purchased the tidelands with the intent to build tracks on the beach to reach the deposits. Unfortunately, the business was closed at this site before the improvements were made.
Although Calvin S. Barlow was born in Cowlitz County, WA in 1856 and died in Tacoma, WA in 1920, he and his sons did play a part in the history of Fox Island through their ownership of the brickyard there. So it is only right that I share a little of his information that I discovered in the search of brickyard history.
|Tacoma Public Library Image Archive - Family picnic held at Russell Barlow's home in 1948; Russell is believed to be 2nd from left|
Calvin moved to Tacoma in 1879 and became a leading citizen not only of Tacoma but also of the state. He became a member of the Tacoma city council in 1884 and in 1897 he served as a member of the Tacoma city charter committee; he also was a member of the WA state board of Visitation for prisons. In 1888 he became a member of the Board of Trustees for Puget Sound University (now University of Puget Sound) and served until 1903. He was also a member of several fraternal organizations, and at the time of his death was survived by his wife, Hertilla LaDu Burr Barlow, daughters Mildred Barlow McIlwraithand and Hertilla Barlow Day and sons George, Allen, Russell and Douglas. He was a member of the First Methodist Church in Tacoma. http://barlowgenealogy.com/GeorgeofSandwich/GeorgeBarlow-MaryPurdy.html#cs
- Harbor History Museum Resource Room - Fox Island Files
- Tacoma Public Library Image Archives, Northwest Room