Brick Making

An Examination of Brick Making at the Ross Colony – This report is simply an examination of brick making in the Russian American Company colonies.


Bricks were made throughout the colonies in Kodiak, Long Island, and Unalalska, on the Kenai Peninsulas, in Atla, Nushagek, St. Michael and Fort Ross.  Brick kilns were constructed at most of these sites; however there is little evidence to properly support this assumption. The nine different kilns that have been discovered are described as kilns made with just stacking the bricks in a non- alternating way, with no use of mortar.  Brickmaking in general was considered a “most important enterprise”. Sitka had a critical need for bricks. Muraviev 1824 b. Brickmaking in Russian American Colonies was taken seriously, just as was building a fort. Most bricks were used for stoves and ovens.


In Kenai, at the Nikolawvsk Redoubt, the production of bricks was of utmost importance. They were of a fair quality, generally being shipped to New Archangel. In 1865 it has been noted that 30,000 or more bricks were being produced and shipped annually ‘3’. Although Tikhmenev wrote in A History of The Russian American Company, ‘In a brickyard near the redoubt, about 50,000 bricks of good quality are manufactured with the help of local natives who are hired by the company as part-time workers. Most of the bricks are shipped to New Archangel, except for a small quantity, which is shipped to Kodiak.


In Kodiak at Middle Bay, around 3,000 to 6,000 bricks were being produced annually, typically a small amount. They most likely had one kiln with this small production level. They hoped to increase production on Kodiak to fifteen thousand bricks a year but the lime was of poor quality and was insufficient in amount.  The lime had to be burned from shells and clay suitable for brickmaking. Also the lack of builders who were familiar with kiln and brick making was a problem. Baranov wrote in 1803, “It would do no harm to send a couple of men skilled in erecting buildings. We were going to build a stone powder magazine, but the lack of experienced people prevented us last year, and now there are still fewer”.  The bricks were not considered good quality, maybe from the lack of lime and insufficient clay or poor quality clay. The bricks were generally used in constructing the house stoves only and some chimneys, but not for buildings since they were poor quality.


Governor Muraviev in 1823 ordered ‘well dried’ bricks be brought to Sitka. In the same year he wrote “our need for bricks here in Sitka is very great. Presently we received from Kodiak 3,500 bricks, but in view of extensive construction going on here – this quantity is far from sufficient. 3

The Atka and St. Michael bricks were used only for local demand. They did not produce enough to consider shipping them.


It is also known that bricks were being manufactured in Victoria and were of superior quality than from some of the kilns in Alaska. It is unknown how many bricks were sent to Alaska from this region.3

At Fort Ross, no kiln site has, of yet, been discovered.  The brickyard is thought to have been located in the Bodega Bay area, probably why it has not been discovered, since very few excavations have been completed in that area. The Khlebnikov Archive Unpublished Journal and Travel Notes, page 135 – wrote, ‘The Chief Manager gave instructions about obtaining bricks, clay, and various kinds of wood from Fort Ross. I wrote the office the following letter (no. 8):  The Chief Manager has ordered the Ross Office to send finished bricks to Sitka on the Kiakhta, if such bricks are available. The manager of the Ross Office has reported that they have no finished bricks at the moment, but that he hopes to have a large number ready by the time the Kiakhta leaves. I therefore ask you to order that production should begin without delay and that, if possible, three to five thousand bricks should be made. In addition, please load several barrels of good clay onto the ship’.


Over 12,000 bricks were sent to Sitka in 1830 according to Ynez Haase report of 1925.

Russian American Statistical Ethnographic Information F.P. Wrangell. Page 9 –

‘There are tanneries and brick-kilns in Kodiak and Ross: wool blankets are woven in Ross, together with underblankets for saddles. These underblankets are called potniki in Russian.’  Page 34 – At Bodega Bay, 15 miles south of Ross, a brick kiln (ziegelhutte) has been erected: since there is no harbor in Ross, sheds were also built there to store goods brought for Ross by the company’s ships.  Wrangell noted that the Indians were used to haul clay for the production of bricks’ 1969:211 (1833).


In the Official Quarters within the fort compound, during excavations of 1976, brick was discovered around the post holes of the foundation.  Hulquist Report p. 10-11 states that the bricks recovered are an average of 5 ½ inches as compared to the American size of bricks which is 4 inch.  Most bricks discovered were not whole, only fragments and therefore an average length of the brick have not been determined. Not only were bricks discovered in the post holes as fill, but as larger pieces have been found and it is thought to have been for the Russian stove.


The bricks were thought to be made in sand – mold method with a rectangular wooden mold. The clay would than be sprinkled with sand to prevent the clay from sticking to the sides of the mold.  Most brick fragments have a sandy outer layer, and strike marks on the brick. The bricks were thought to be fired in a single kiln. Within the kiln are various temperatures, insufficient temperature or to high of a heat where vitrification occurs.  and dampness from being placed underground. Bricks were recovered from the officials’ quarters. The shapes were common, arched, and keystone and roman.


The composition of the bricks was common clay, limestone and organic material, sandstone and shell, sandstone and quartz.  Another type of brick found was made with two different types of sandstone clay giving it a marbled appearance. The clay was probably from the same deposit, just different layers. Most of the geologic underlying material at Fort Ross area is sandstone.


In the Bodega Bay region, clay with micro silicates such as quartz, mica, and granite material are found.


Resources –

  • Brickmaking in Russian America: Research Results by Timothy L. Dilliplane.
  • 1 Russian Brickmaking; A report by Carol Hulquist.
  • 2  A history of the Russian American Company by P.A. Tikhmenev Translated and edited by Richard Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly, University of Washington Press 1978
  • 3  Brickmaking in Russian America – Alaska Office of Archaeology. Investigating Brickmaking in Russian Alaska – Heritage Newsletter
  • The Khlebnikov Archive Unpublished Journal 1800-1837 and Travel Notes 1820,1822,1824 – The Rasmuson Library Historical Translation Series Volume V- University of Alaska Press 1990