On January 2, 1889, the Pontiac Brick and Tile Company is incorporated. The company located a “splendid quality of clay” for a brick-making plant near Sand Point, Lake Washington. The company president is M. [Morgan] J. Carkeek and other officers are C. P. Stone (vice president), Thomas Burke (treasurer), and Charles J. Fox Jr. (secretary and brick-plant manager). The plant is located near “Lee’s place” (probably a shipyard owned by Edward F. Lee) just west of the recently completed Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway line.
Initially, the company leased the land for the brick plant. Extant records do not reveal where the leased land was located. After 1900, the company purchased 18 acres of land located (based on a street grid established much later) between NE 70th Street and NE 73rd Street (this street was never established) and 55th Avenue NE and Sand Point Way.
Bricks Become Hot Item
The brick company announced in early January 1889, that machinery for the plant had been ordered and that they expected to start manufacturing bricks by the upcoming building season. The timing for the company could not have been luckier because just about the time they started production, the Great Seattle fire of June 6, 1889, destroyed Seattle's downtown business district, causing the demand for bricks to zoom to an all time high. (The Seattle that burned down was built of wood. Seattle was rebuilt with brick and stone.) The company had brick kilns going full blast to meet the demand and apparently a large number of people were employed, so much so that on January 18, 1890, the Pontiac Post Office was established at the plant.
From about 1892 to 1894 the plant was closed. In 1894, President Morgan Carkeek reopened the plant. About 1900, the plant was sold to W. W. Fisher (president) and Thaddeus G. Dennis (plant manager). Dennis continued as plant manager until it closed about 1914. For at least two years (1901-1902) Fisher operated a second plant in Eagle Harbor, Kitsap County.
Who Were the Brickmakers?
Pontiac brick plant employees changed significantly between 1900 and 1910. It is difficult to determine the exact number of employees. Based on the occupations of people living near the plant listed in the U.S. Census, the number of employees increased from 10 in 1900 to 24 in 1910.
In 1900, except for the manager, the average employee was 33 years old. Two thirds of the employees were born in the United States. Of the three immigrants to the United States, Norwegian Gustave Bergirsire had lived in the United States for 20 years and Frenchmen Louis Robert and Jaston Courtois had immigrated to the United States in 1893 and 1895 respectively. Even in the booming Klondike Gold Rush economy, jobs were sometimes scarce. For the year preceding the May 1900 census, five of the brickyard employees were unemployed from one to eight months (four months average).
The 1910, the U.S. Census listed, besides the manager, 23 brick company employees living near the Lake Washington plant, with an average age of 30. The portion of foreign-born employees jumped from one third in 1900 to three quarters in 1910. Thirteen employees were Italians who had immigrated to the United States since 1904 and six of those had arrived since 1908.
The plant also employed two Scandinavians, one Scot, and four men born to German parents (three born in the U.S.). Italian Madeline Puntill cooked for at least 10 men at the Pontiac brick-plant boarding house including Augusta Sartori, age 26, Antone Guiseppe, age 24, Angelo Frankenstein, age 41, and Ganalta Givonni, age 42. Frankenstein and Givonni were both married and had arrived in the United States the previous year but were not living with their wives. It was common practice for men to immigrate to the United States first; after they established themselves and earned enough money they would send for their wives and children.
In about 1914, the Pontiac Brick and Tile Company permanently closed.