History of Rio Vista, California
From: History of Solano County, California
By: Marguerite Hunt
And Napa County, California.
By: Harry Lawrence Gunn
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago 1926

By Mrs. Duncan S. Robinson.

Rio Vista, often called the "Capital of the Netherlands," because of its importance as the center of the productive Sacramento River delta region, is a beautiful little town numbering some 1,500 or more inhabitants and is situated on the north bank of the Sacramento River, about half way between Sacramento and San Francisco.

The modern Rio Vista has been made easily and quickly accessible to the outside world by a splendid state highway passing directly through the town and by way of the great bascule bridge, completed in 1919, which spans the river just at the town limits. But its wonderful transportation facilities by water link the present prosperity of Rio Vista with its interesting past, for it was as a headquarters for shipping salmon that the original settlement was begun. Mr. Robert Carter, one of the few surviving pioneers, who still resides in Rio Vista, tells of the difficulties which were encountered in those early days, of finally getting the steamers which plied between Sacramento and San Francisco to make landing between these two points, other than Benicia. Salmon fishing was at its best in the nearer vicinity of Rio Vista than of Sacramento, thousands of salmon being caught in the nets, and it was found troublesome to ship and load the fish, before a permanent port of call was made of the fishing headquarters centering about old Rio Vista.

Sir Francis Drake probably explored this region on his trip up the Sacramento River in 1578. Indians there doubtless were at some time, but there is no record of permanent settlement by whites until that in 1844, made by General John Bidwell, who sailed up the Sacramento in a schooner. With some Indians he constructed an adobe house and some cultivation of land was attempted the following year. Bidwell, a native of the United States but a naturalized Mexican citizen, had obtained in November, 1844, from Micheltorena, Governor of the Department of the Californias under the Mexican Government, a grant known as the Ulpinos tract, consisting of 17,726 acres and extending from a point on Cache Slough as far as the waste lands skirting the Montezuma hills.

The immigrants who came to California in 1846, before the discovery of gold, naturally were seeking good agricultural land and Bidwell induced a group of white settlers to take up some of his land in that year. But the rigors of a severe winter, with lack of adequate food supplies, resulted in the disbanding of both the white and Indian settlers. During the long, hard winter, the hungry and discouraged Indians frequently used the expression "Hale-che-muck", which meant "nothing to eat", hence the origin of the name of the Bidwell settlement: Hale-che-muck !

In 1851, Robert Beasly built his famous twin houses, that came around the Horn, on the southern end of the Bidwell grant. The terms of the grant did not permit Bidwell to sell his land, but after the Mexican Government lost its claim to California, he apparently thought it possible to sell portions of it. After the United States obtained possession of California, Bidwell took steps, September, 1852, to validate his claims to Los Ulpinos grant, and after much legal proceeding, he was granted a patent, August, 1866, signed by A. Johnson, President.

Sales of portions of this grant were consummated before the granting of the patent, however, and we find record of a court sale at Benicia, in December, 1855, with a total sale price of $2,591 ! One of the purchasers was Col. N. H. Davis, who, in 1857, established a town site not far from the old town of Haleche-muck, and very close to the point where the three channels of the Sacramento River come together. He accordingly called the settlement "Brazos del Rio" (Arms of the River).

By this time, salmon fishing had come to be the leading industry and fishermen patronized the store of J. M. Sidwell on Grand Island. Colonel Davis induced Sidwell to move his store to the location of his own house. Albert Westgate was in charge of this store and other places of business soon sprang up a butcher shop owned by A. J. Bryant, a hotel by W. K. Squires, a blacksmith shop by Simon Fallman, tin shop by Carter and son, store by S. R. Perry, drug store and hotel by J. and T. Freeman, livery stable by Jas. Hammel, and private residences.

The necessity for a landing to ship fish and the difficulty in getting boats to stop has been referred to. The original landing, built by Davis and Sidwell, was 24 by 75 feet, but the steamer "New World", which carried the mail from San Francisco to Sacramento still refused to land. This prompted Davis to petition, in 1858, for a postoffice which would necessitate the stopping of the "New World", since by contract it was obliged to stop at Benicia and all way landings where mail should be delivered. The postoffice department requested another name than "Brazos del Rio", because of the confusion with other postofi•'ices similarly designated, and the suggestion of Colonel Davis, who was an excellent Spanish scholar, which was "Vista del Rio", was shortened by popular preference to "Rio Vista".

In 1859, the California Navigation Company took over this wharf and enlarged it to 150 by 48 feet. The fine steamers "Antelope", "New World", "Eclipse", and "Senator", made Rio Vista a port of call on their trips. Hundreds of fishermen and busy shipping produced an era of great prosperity on the little settlement for five years.

In 1861, however, came unusual and prolonged rains, which flooded a portion of the town in December, and in January, 1862, demolished the remainder of the village, which stood six feet under water. About 150 homeless inhabitants, made doubly miserable by the continuing storm, gathered on a rise of ground beyond the town, from which they were finally rescued by steamers.

Four men in March, 1862 - Wm. Squires, S. R. Perry, J. M. Sidwell and Isaac Dunham sought a new location for a town and the present site of Rio Vista was acquired from Joseph Bruning. The northeast corner of the Bruning ranch on the edge of the Montezuma hills was chosen and the town plat surveyed by Bruning and recorded under the name of "New Rio Vista". An addition to the town was surveyed and recorded by T. McWorthy, owner of the Gardener ranch. Main Street marks the division between the two ranches at the present day.

The new town grew rapidly and shortly there were hotels owned by J. M. Sidwell and Wm. K. Squires, as well as other buildings. The bricks of Albert Westgate's store stand today. The first two story house was built by J. C. Carter and was the object of much comment at the time of its erection. A wharf was erected by J. Bruning in 1862. The first church was the Catholic, erected in June, 1862, and the Congregational Church followed in August of the same year. The first public school was established on a lot donated by J. Bruning, in the fall of 1862, with Jas. U. Chase as the first teacher. Bruning was later, in 1876, to erect the well known Academy for young ladies. This academy was named in honor of his wife, Elizabeth Gertrude, who was one of the first white women in that section of Solano, and was dedicated by Bishop Alemany, December, 1876. The first postoffice was located in the store run by S. R. Perry, who also acted as postmaster. The first fraternal organizations were the Rio Vista Lodge No. 208, F. and A. M., June, 1870; Rio Vista Lodge, No. 180, I. O. O. F., organized September, 1870; in 1872, the River View Encampment, No. 6, Champions of the Red Cross. The first newspaper was begun in 1877, by L. L. Palmer, who called his paper the "Weekly Gleaner".

Allusion has been made to the location of this picturesque little city in the very heart of the rich Delta region, which in recent years, has become world famous for its products. Rio Vista draws not only upon its own mainland but for many miles upon the surrounding island territory on the Sacramento County side. It is the largest of the island towns and is not only the main business center for this great agricultural area, but is the residence of many of the growers of the region.

The visitor is charmed with the appearance of the town, with its location sloping up from the river, its paved and tree lined streets, attractive and modern homes, many substantial and fireproof business buildings, and well kept park which occupies a block in the central part of the city. A splendid lighting system, good water, sewerage, and other features which combine to make a modern city livable, are at once evident to the newcomer.

Rio Vista's educational facilities are unsurpassed for a town of its size. The Joint Union High School is one of the finest in the state, likewise the Grammar School building is modern, and well equipped, and both schools have large corps of efficient, well paid teachers. St. Gertrude's Academy, a Catholic School for girls, and St. Joseph's Military Academy for boys, provide exceptional educational opportunities to the students enrolled, many from great distances. Two banks, two weekly newspapers, three first class hotels, three churches, many business houses of all kinds, fine moving picture theatre, branch public library, all combine to make of Rio Vista, an up to date community. There are some ten fraternal organizations and the social life of the community, the hospitality of its people, make Rio Vista a pleasant place wherein to dwell or tarry. Strong civic pride is a natural outcome of the advantages which Rio Vista possesses and the Chamber of Commerce, Woman's Improvement Club, and other organizations, cooperate in everything for the betterment of the community. The town is governed by an elective board of trustees, one of whom is chairman and ex-officio mayor. Members of the present board are Martin Christensen, Geo. C. Gordon, E. Hitchcock, J. E. Sullivan, H. B. Holmes. F. J. Kalber is town clerk and A. M. Larsen, city treasurer.

A greater Rio Vista is assured - for the outlook is most promising. The deep water along the water front permits vessels of any size to call and transportation is consequently very heavy. Large warehouses are kept up by the hay, grain and wool production from the inland, and the canneries in the vicinity, by the delta produce. The largest cannery of the California Packing Corporation, for the packing of asparagus for a world market, is located at Rio Vista.

A word about the delta produce: it is a notable fact that the region about Rio Vista is never without a seasonable crop. From November to March the celery crop, March to July the asparagus and fruit crops, July to November, beans and sugar beets are produced on a large scale and shipped everywhere. Cheap transportation spells prosperity to this section, with its lines of steamers calling daily at Rio Vista. These fine water facilities are augmented by the highway travel opened up by the magnificent bascule bridge costing over half a million dollars. The highway from Sacramento, crossing the river at this point, permits, in addition to ordinary travel, several auto stage lines and much auto trucking to add to the business of the community. Another busy auto travel route will be that to San Francisco by way of Sherman Island and the new Antioch bridge. At present, Rio Vista has an auto stage route connecting with the Sacramento-San Francisco Electric Railroad and another railroad line is expected to connect with Rio Vista direct, in the near future. Natural advantages encourage the development of a progressive community. The early history of Rio Vista, proving the sturdy, indomitable character of its early settlers, who refused to submit to discouragements and adverse situations and who valiantly redoubled their efforts for a still better town, should in itself, be an inspiration to the men and women of today, for an even finer, greater Rio Vista. And after all, it rests with the members of any community, what the present and the future of that community shall be.

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