RIO VISTA - HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT.
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
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.