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Home » Blogs » History Mystery #90: The Case of the Perplexing Pumitile
Image of a pumitile brick.
Excuse me, but have you ever seen this brick before? The History Mystery detectives need your help!

History Mystery #90: The Case of the Perplexing Pumitile

By Connie Popelish, North Fork History Group

Image of Bob Quick's gas station.

Bob Quick’s Gas Station in downtown North Fork.

Some of the special features of North Fork architecture include the unique buildings made of blocks of pumice and cement, known as pumitile. Pumitile concrete bricks were manufactured by the Jourdan Concrete Pipe Company of Fresno, beginning around 1931. Initially, the company made concrete pipes for sewage systems, but eventually branched out, designing open-interior bricks to be used in building construction. The company utilized pebble pumice and pumicite, the powdered form of pumice, from deposits near Friant, CA (Mineral Resources, 1931.)

The pumitile bricks were long, thin, and pale yellow, and special rounded bricks were made for the corners of buildings, which is one of the unique features you’ll find in buildings made of pumitile. The factory was located at the junction of Highway 145 and Spring Valley Road (Road 206), where Outback Materials is located today. Near Outback, there are a couple of small buildings constructed of pumitile. Across Road 206, to the west of Outback, there is a house built of pumitile.

Pumitile was described as “hollow masonry units made of cement and pumice pebbles dug from the San Joaquin River (Architecture, Ethnicity and Historic Landscapes of California’s San Joaquin Valley, 2008). It was manufactured and became popular for construction from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Many buildings in the North Fork area are made of pumitile. You may have seen — but not really noticed — this special architectural feature. In downtown North Fork, take a look at Gas ’N Stuff or Bob Quick’s old gas station or the hardware store (painted to look like red brick) or the small building next to Doc Cohlan’s old office on the north side.

Keep your eyes open for pumitile and you’ll see many other buildings and homes in the area constructed of this locally-made material.

  • Do you have any information about the pumitile factory near Friant?
  • Where else do you find pumitile buildings in this area?
  • Do you live in a pumitile house?

Let us know!

The North Fork History Group may be contacted at northforkhistorygroup@gmail.com.

 

FOLLOW-UP TO HISTORY MYSTERY #89

We received lots of information about the machines in the form of emails, phone calls and comments on the SNO page. We had 1732 views, so we were able to add a lot of information about our mining machine display. From the comments we learned that the one on the left is a centrifugal water pump. The machine in the middle is a small rock crusher, also known as a Chipmunk, probably due to their chipmunk cheeks. The one on the right appears to be part of the cylinder portion of an old slush (or mud) pump.

We want to thank everyone for participating in the History Mystery project. Our museum is closed at this time, but we always welcome donations to keep up the maintenance of the museum.

 

One comment

  1. Don Parker grew up in Friant so Kathy Ellis asked him about pumitile. He remembers there was a smoke stack to the right of where the mobile home park in Friant is now, and that company made powdered pumice, put it in bags and shipped it out by train to the Jourdan Pipe Company.

    That area by the mobile home park was later used as a government camp while the Friant dam was being built.

    The Jourdan Pipe Company was sold to Elmer Ericson, who built the house across the street from where Outback is now. It was built in 1954. Don’s cousin has a 1950’s brochure about the bricks. The pumice was mined on the Wagner property. When Don was growing up they called it “the pummy plant”.

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