Clay City – 1907 to 1979

Clay City stacks and kilns
Clay City chimneys and kilns

Clay City used to be a booming industrial spot outside Eatonville, behind Ohop Lake. The thousands of bricks it produced will be around for years to come, but the city that never really was, will probably fade as a memory.

Sitting on Clay
At the turn on the century Clay City would probably have just been a logging camp, but when you’re sitting on 600 acres of clay, it’s easier to build bricks than log.

The Far West Lumber Company formed the Far West Clay Company and the Clay City plant opened in 1907.

“The kilns, seven in all, were an unusual dome-shape brick structure, several feet tall. The machinery used to run the dryers and heat the kilns operated on steam power. The initial plan was to use waste wood to fire the boilers, but testing determined it was more cost-effective to use coal.”  (In the Shadow of the Mountain)

The place was busy and people came. There was a Clay City School, a store, a boarding house and from 1908 to 1922 Clay City even had a post office.

Al Gratzer
Al Gratzer

Hard Years
Clay City had a hard time weathering the depression. Rumor has it that the company had to use materials from some of its other buildings to fuel the boilers. Population dropped to 15 by the 1930s.

In an article “A City That Isn’t” that ran in the Eatonville Dispatch in 1979, Don B. Goddard writes, “After years of on-and-off operation, Clay City was puchased in 1944 by the Houlihan family. They spent two years renovating the plant operations, then continued production for about four years.

A fire in November, 1950 destroyed all that wasn’t brick.

Today there are six kilns producing in excess of 2,500 tons of brick and tile a month, which finds its way to every corner of the Northwest and Hawaii.”

1979 still going strong
In 1979, 180 standard bricks could be produced every minute. The raw mud bricks were sent to dryers and after 88 hours at 225 degrees they were ready for the oven. The bricks spent 90 hours in the ovens at 2,000 degrees and then several more days cooling.

Al Gratzer
Want to know the real story behind Clay City?  Al Grazter would know it. The Eatonville resident worked there for over 30 years.

22 thoughts on “Clay City – 1907 to 1979”

  1. When I was a kid we used to go to a place on the north Clearlake road where we could see Clay city, and the valley. We would have to tromp through some weeds and bushes to get to the edge of a cliff to see it. We were basically right above Orville road. My grandad, Glen Dale Beane, also made bricks back in the 30’s and 40’s out by Clearlake. As a kid, I would explore around the remains of the old kilns, etc that were still there. My grandad used alot of the “Beane” bricks for the fire place chimney and the storage shed and other things on his house at Clearlake, My Dad also used some of the “Beane” bricks on various projects on the house I grew up in, at Clearlake.

    1. Wow! Sounds like where you used to explore is pretty much where I grew up! My grandparent’s (now my mom’s) house is located right above Orville Road, pretty close to the bank of that cliff, with a picturesque view of Mt. Rainier out the back window, and a creek coming off the lake running through the front yard… I remember when I was younger, we were able to see just a bit of Clay City; but now everything has grown up so much, you can barely (if at all) see it. It’s so neat reading these stories, and getting the history of things I grew up seeing.

      **Sorry, I know this post is a few years old, but couldn’t resist commenting. 🙂

  2. Mr. Melvin Lundstad of Ashford wrote me the following and I thought I would share:

    I spent many years as a mason contractor and bricklayer and used to ‘strike deals’ on bricks there with ‘Dennis’ who was the mill foreman there for mutual materials One large order for some special bricks I found there, nearly 20,000 of them needed (called a scratch face standard)–went to build two large chimneys nearly 40′ tall (three story home) for fireplaces and wood stoves –on Bainbridge Island for Ralph Munro, then Sec. of State for Washington. I was there for 7 months on the job.

    I really liked to go to the plant, watch the process –and keep my eyes looking for a good deal!

  3. Pingback: Eatonville to Rainier » Clay City (the early days)

  4. michelle bates

    Al Gratzer was a relative of my dads i believe they were cousins. my dad had been adopted as a baby so it wasnt until i was a teenager that he finally met Al and his wife Marie they lived less than a mile away from us at the time on orville rd. near kapowsin. they were very nice people.

  5. Wow, I find it so amazing how much there is to still learn about history… this is the first I am hearing about this “Clay City”. Fascinating. Did anyone ever take recordings, or write down, of Mr. Gatzer’s experiences and history of Clay City? Is it now a tourist attraction to bring in business, or relatively unknown? Fabulous history. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi, Thank you for responding. I’m not sure how much was written down. Unfortunately, a new owner purchased the property and bulldozed the kilns because I think they thought they were dangerous. I went out there a year or so ago to take some pictures and there were a lot of elk dropping and bullet casings along the way, but all that remains in a cement slab. On the brighter side, many buildings made from the brick still stand in Eatonville! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Eatonville to Rainier » Clay City Baseball Team (ca. 1910)

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  8. Does anyone know the names or identifying marks, if any, that were imprinted on the bricks produced in Clay City? I suppose they could have changed over the years.

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