Early Settlement of Vallejo, CA
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


It was not until 1849, two years after the founding of Benicia, that the settlement, first known as Eden, later as Eureka and finally changed to Vallejo, was started. Prospectors going up the bay towards the gold mines presumably were attracted by its favorable location, but of this year there seems little or no authentic history. It is known, however, that the first structure erected in February, 1850, was a sheet iron building, 10x10, put up on Marin Street by. B. T. Osborn. About the same time another building, also of sheet iron, was erected and named the Union House. The first surveys of the town were made in this year by Surveyor General Whiting, Edward Rowe, Mason Fay and Dr. L. S. Frisbie, and the town, some 160 acres lying south of Georgia Street, was laid out. Other surveys, taking in more area, were made in the years 1856 and 1867. In 1850 Captain Frank Marryatt, son of the nautical novelist, imported corrugated iron houses from Liverpool and erected them and other buildings of the same period were the Central Hotel, built by Mayor Wyatt, a Social Hall, erected by Captain Stewart and, in the following year, the Vallejo House, also built by the latter.

Building materials at this time were not only high in price but very scarce and when Vallejo was designated as the capital of California the lumber used for the State House was hewn planks which had been brought from the Hawaiian Islands. The erection of dwelling houses during 1850 and 1851, however, had in no way equipped the new town for handling the increase in population resulting from a meeting of the Legislature and when the first session of 1852 was held there on January 5, it was found that there were not sufficient buildings to house the lawmakers. The majority of them were obliged to live aboard the "Empire," the vessel on which they had made the trip from San Francisco, and this is said to have played no small part in their anxiety to get away from the town, for the ship, unfortunately, was not only far from comfortable, but it was also far from clean. Vallejo had naturally been jubilant over securing the state capital and when the lawmakers departed for Sacramento after only a week's stay, her citizens lost heart. A list of residents remaining there after the removal of the capital the second time includes Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brownlee, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Brownlee and their son, Mr. and Mrs. Beegor, Mr. and Mrs. Osborn, Major and Mrs. Wyatt, Mr. and Mrs. Mann and a few unmarried men. Alex J. Brownlee, son of Thomas Brownlee, was the first white child in the city. Lemuel Hazelton owned the one span of mules and wagon of which the town could boast, and he was also the proud possessor of a herd of goats. These provided the mutton chops and roasts of those days. At that time the government of the town, small as it was, was vested in a justice of the peace and constable. Major Hook discharged the duties of the former office and Aleck Forbes those of the latter.

Before the town suffered this slump William Bryant had established a two horse stage between Vallejo and Benicia and thither the people went to do their shopping. A little later on a small sloop made trips to San Francisco once a month, but in the '50s and early '60s Benicia was the popular shopping place for Vallejoites and Judge L. G. Harrier, prominent Vallejo attorney at this writing, tells that he remembers his mother narrating how the ladies invariably bought their laces and gloves in the stores of that town when some unusual social event was planned in her young days. Long after stores were flourishing in Vallejo, indeed, this continued to be the case.

Dr. L. S. Frisbie had located in Vallejo in 1851 and was soon followed by Dr. Davis. Daniel Dodd opened the first drug store in the town and B. T. Osborn started the first carpenter shop. Thomas Brownlee ran the blacksmith shop and Robert Brownlee conducted a small milk ranch at what is now the corner of Georgia and Sacramento streets, the heart of the business district. Some time later Dan Williamson opened a grocery store on the corner of Georgia and Santa Clara streets, while G. R. Jackman conducted a notion store on the north side of Maine Street, east of Sacramento. He was also the agent for the Wells Fargo Express Co., when it first opened an office in Vallejo. The high cost of living agitated the people of that day even as it does those of the present generation. The following prices are quoted as prevailing in Vallejo in the early '50s: Eggs, five dollars per dozen; cabbages, thirty cents per head, while sugar and tea were hard to procure no matter what price was offered.

The first white girl baby born in Vallejo was Miss Della Curtis in April, 1853. The first marriage was that of. a Mrs. Perkins and Henry VanValkenberg. The first death was that of Joseph Sparrow, a Virginian, - and so the cycle was completed. The first baby boy to be brought to town by the stork was Robert Brownlee, born in October, 1853.

It was in 1852 that the necessity of establishing a government naval station on the Pacific Coast was first discussed and the Secretary of the Navy, John P. Kennedy, appointed a commission to investigate all available sites and report thereon. This was on December 13, and the board consisted of Commodore Sloat, Commodore W. S. Ogden, Lt. I. T. Blount and Civil Engineer W. S. Sanger. After a thorough inspection of many points, Mare Island, just across the strait from Vallejo, was recommended, the report stating in part: "We have the honor to state that the island, including the tule land opposite Vallejo, contains about 900 acres, in addition to a large tract of tule land extending towards Napa and Sonoma. There is ample space for all the buildings required for the navy yard, with good anchorage for ships of war. We consider it the most eligible location near San Francisco."

There were many claimants to the island as is shown by the following record:

"In the year 1849 V. Castro agreed to sell Mare Island to M. G. Vallejo. In 1859 V. Castro entered into a contract with M. I. Chase as agent for the Mexican government to dispose of Mare Island, and in 1857 V. Castro deeded an undivided half interest to J. I. Stockman. In 1852 J. P. Turner filed his possessory claim for 160 acres located on Mare Island. In 1852 L. B. Harkness filed his possessory claim for 160 acres on the island. In 1856 the sheriff closed out the interest of Harkness under execution of W. H. R. Wood. In the year 1857 R. Miller filed a lien on Mare Island, making J. D. Myers, defendant, for services rendered for boring artesian wells. In 1870 J. W. George brought suit against H. Halleck, J. R. Bolton and F. Billings for an undivided 67-80th interest in Mare Island."

On August 31, 1852, Congress authorized the establishment of a United States Navy Yard at Mare Island, and on December 10, 1853, Secretary of the Navy Kennedy forwarded a letter to W. H. Davidge, agent of W. H. Aspenall, in relation to the purchase of the land. This constituted an agreement between the two parties and reads in part as follows: "The United States shall agree to allow a convenient ferry for intercourse and make a reservation of such land as the United States government may find convenient for ferry purposes, for the ferry to be part of the public property which may be designated by the Navy Department for its own convenience or advantage. It also reserves the right to forbid any communication between Mare Island and the main land." The bill of sale included "all the tule or lowland and marsh belonging to the same, or which has been reputed or claimed to belong to the same."

The expense of the commission was $11,508.00 which was paid out of an appropriation of $100,000.00 made by Congress for the new yard. The sum of $83,491.00 was paid by the government on account of purchase, the owners who made the deed to the government being George W. P. Bissell, W. H. Aspenall and Mary S. McArthur.

The government immediately entered into a contract with Dakin, Moody, Gilbert and Secor of New York to build a basin and railroad for the yard at a cost of $840,000, for the purpose of taking ships out on the mainland and repairing them while the sectional dock was being used to raise vessels and make quick repairs. Previous to this the government had contracted with the same firm to build a sectional dry dock in ten sections at New York, take it to pieces and send it around the Horn to its destination at Mare Island, there to be reassembled.

This choice of Mare Island by the Navy Department and Congress gave impetus to Vallejo's growth. Hope sprang anew in the hearts of the settlers. What if the state capital had been taken away? Was not a greater glory to be theirs? With a national establishment at their very doors would not their own town thrive and prosper?

The first vessel loaded with materials for the new navy yard arrived at Mare Island in September, 1852. Darius Peckman was the first foreman mechanic for the dry dock company, as it was called. Shortly after he arrived he was followed by Theodore Dean, manager and superintendent in charge, who headed a little band of six mechanics. John Callendar who, with his brother, Samuel, ran a livery stable in the town later and owned one of the landmarks at the present writing, an old house opposite the post office on Virginia Street was one of the original party of workmen. It was a dull life which the men had to live on the island and they were glad to visit Vallejo and find a welcome from the early settlers there.

July 4, 1853, marked the first celebration of Independence Day in the town. A dinner given at the Vallejo House and a huge bonfire were the outstanding features of the day. It was in this year that General Vallejo disposed of a league of land, including the town site, to Samuel Purdy, lieutenant governor of the state, Martin E. Cook, James Wadsworth and J. W. Denver for the sum of thirty thousand dollars. This was to be cut up into town lots. Some fifteen thousand dollars worth of property was sold, but a financial depression a little later prevented the plan being a success and General Vallejo never received the entire purchase price. As the most satisfactory way of straightening the matter out, General J. B. Frisbie, Vallejo's son-in-law and business man, eventually returned the amount which had been paid and accepted a conveyance of the land.

During this time the mail was brought from Benicia, where the steamers of the Pacific Mail made their landings. On mail day the sight of a steamer going up the Strait of Carquinez was hailed with delight. Wells Fargo Co. quickly hitched up its team of horses and made the seven mile trip to Benicia and, no matter at what hour the agent returned, it was seldom that a letter had to remain in the post office until the following morning, so eager were the residents for news from the outside world. The postmaster at this time was Eleazer Frisbie. Before this Colonel Leslie had held the office. He was the first attorney at law to establish himself in Vallejo.

In September, 1854, Commander, later Admiral David G. Farragut, arrived at Mare Island and took command of the station. Accompanying him were his wife and son, his private secretary, Paul Loyall, as well as Colonel Turner, formerly a member of congress from the state of North Carolina, who had been appointed a civil engineer for the yard. The latter's two daughters accompanied him and the marriage of one of these young ladies a little later to Dr. John M. Brown, later surgeon general of the navy, was one of the brilliant events in Mare Island's early social history, ice for the wedding supper being brought from San Francisco only at very great expense.

The sloop of war Warren was brought to the navy yard under command of Lieutenant David McDougal and was fitted out as living quarters for the commandant and other officers and their families until such times as houses could be erected. The last day of that year was marked by one of the worst storms that Vallejo had ever experienced. The Warren dragged her anchor and drifted down the channel, as did other vessels in the harbor, while the Union Hotel on Georgia Street had its roof torn up, rolled up and carried a block and a half away.

With the arrival of Farragut all civilians connected with the dry dock company were forced to leave Mare Island and find accommodations in Vallejo. The Central Hotel, located at Maine and Marin streets, was fitted up as a mechanics' boarding house; William Shillingsburg, father-in-law of James Roney, who has served the city as mayor several times, both under the second charter and the present commission form of government, and some others built a house on Maine Street, near Santa Clara, which they called the Happy Home. On January 1, 1855, Anson Clark and wife arrived and the following day the Samuel Rule family was added to the number of residents. Scarcity of rooms and dwellings in the town made it necessary for some of the new-comers to occupy quarters in the basement of the old State House, but homes were soon run up and the year 1855 was one of good times in Vallejo.

Mrs. Farragut and the Misses Turner had interested themselves in a Sunday school and this appears to be the basis for the work of the first minister, Rev. William Wilmott, in charge of a circuit of the Methodist denomination, who is mentioned as starting his labors in that year. On Thursday, November 22, 1855, the first newspaper made its appearance. It was called the Vallejo Bulletin and was published by A. J. Cox and E. E. Eaton. It was a four page weekly, the pages being scarcely larger than a sheet of legal sized paper, and was destined to live but six weeks. Under the heading of "Improvements in Town" the following article was published in one of its issues:

"A fine substantial wharf is just completed at the foot of Maine Street which, we are informed, is built in a manner which reflects great credit on the contractors, Messrs. Morrison and Bates. The wharf is about 250 feet in length and 25 feet in width with a "T", 30x60, capable of affording ample accommodations for the largest class of steamers. At low water there are about seven feet of water. It would not - surprise us to see in a few months this old and once principal street lined on both sides with handsome dwellings, as it is certainly a very desirable locality for private residences. The United States Hotel, a large and popular house, is near the wharf and not far off is Capt James Warner's elegant brick residence, the first of the kind erected in the town. The public are certainly indebted for this valuable improvement to Capt. Charles J. Stewart, W. R. Woods, J. B. Frisbie and the Messrs. Brownlee."

The United States Hotel at that time was the leading one in the town, the next to come into prominence being the Metropolitan, which still stands at the corner of Santa Clara and Virginia streets. It was built in the '50s by Charles Rand, the brick used in its construction, it is said, being a quantity that had been condemned on the navy yard. Another story, however, is to the effect that it was brick secured from the "brick yard," a locality in the vicinity of the foot of Tennessee Street, now the Vallejo end of the causeway connecting that city and Mare Island. There was a natural formation of clay there, which, when exposed to the sun, had the qualities of brick. This story is probably only a myth, however, as the "brick yard" was never commercialized, and its output could hardly have supplied sufficient material for a building the size of the Metropolitan.

This hotel was conducted by John Lee of Massachusetts and D. W. Harrier and was one of the social centers of Vallejo until the '60s when William Likins erected the present Capitol Hotel, one block farther down the street, designed to be a residence for naval officers and their families. This was opened with a grand masquerade ball, to which tickets of admission were $10.

The first telegraph line between Vallejo and Benicia was put into operation in the fall of 1857, being financed by a stock company, and two years later it was extended to Napa. In 1859 and 1860 several of the buildings of Vallejo were wiped out by fires, believed to have been of incendiary origin, among those that went up in smoke being the former State Capitol.

War feeling in Vallejo ran high as well as in other parts of California during the struggle of 1861-65. In Napa County the sympathizers of the North and South were about evenly divided at the outset, but the former gained in number as time went on. At Cordelia, Solano County, there were a large number of Southern sympathizers and for a while a feud was maintained between the two factions, each arming themselves against the other, but no blood was shed.

Frank A. Leach in his interesting book, "Recollections of a Newspaper Man," tells of three military organizations being formed in the town of Napa - an artillery, cavalry and infantry. Government officials kept a close watch on those who favored the South and on one occasion notified the companies at Napa that a number of these were in the habit of assembling in the upper valley and drilling; that, having thoroughly prepared themselves for the attack, they purposed marching down on Napa and taking possession of the armory and then, with field guns and equipment captured there, would made a dash for the Mare Island Navy Yard with the idea of gaining possession of it. For months previous a small guard had been maintained at the Napa armory at night, while the ringing of the courthouse bell had been agreed upon as a signal if there was any necessity for all the companies turning out. When this report was received the nightly patrol was increased to a sufficient number to admit of the patrolling of all roads leading to Napa. The report, however, proved to be without foundation.

Another time a man rode into Napa bringing the information that he had seen men maneuvering with a field piece about half a mile from the road in the vicinity of Yountville. Horses would be attached to the gun, which was then rushed into position and unlimbered, the whole affair giving every indication that the artillerymen were being drilled in their work. The Napa companies were at once put on a war time footing. They remained on duty throughout the night. Scouts were sent out to watch the action of the Southern sympathizers and found that the joke was on themselves. The gun was only a rude imitation of a field piece, a couple of sections of 6 inch stove pipe laid across the front axle of a wagon, and the "Home Guards" were the subjects of many a laugh by their up county neighbors.

A number of officers attached to the Mare Island yard at the beginning of the war were Southern sympathizers and resigned. It must be remembered that California had been largely democratic before being divided on the slavery question, but in Vallejo the Southern sympathizers were greatly outnumbered by the Unionists. The Frisbie families were about the only ones who could safely employ any one with a leaning towards the South. Doctor Woodbridge of Benicia, who by that time was occasionally conducting services for the Presbyterians of Vallejo, was also in favor of the South but in a passive rather than an active way.

Henry Connolly, one of the pioneers of Vallejo, then owned the Washington House, which still stands on the lower block of Georgia Street. He was also the owner of the White Sulphur Springs, a famous resort, now called the Blue Rock Springs, just outside of Vallejo, and ran two stages a day between the two places. Later the springs were purchased by General Frisbie, who expended vast sums in beautifying them, and they are now the property of Manuel Madrid.

Connolly's Hall in the '60s was a favorite gathering place for the social activities of the town and it is recounted that on one occasion a young rancher, with a leaning towards the South, became so jubilant that he indulged in the singing of "Dixie." Immediately he was seized by a number of the young men present, taken out onto Santa Clara Street and there dumped into a mud hole some three or four feet deep, where he was allowed to cool off. Passers by finally rescued him but he had learned the part of wisdom and did not offend again. With the assassination of President Lincoln, Vallejo, like all the nation, was plunged into the deepest gloom, and it was long before the people recovered from their shock and grief. President McKinley's assassination thirty five years later, his death occurring on September 14, 1901, was the occasion of another public demonstration of mourning, employes of the navy yard and business men participating in the procession which was a part of the memorial services, while the school children marched in a body.

Following the war Vallejo again had an era of prosperity. More substantial buildings began to replace the older ones in the business district, among these being the Alpha Block, built by E. H. Sawyer, which was destroyed by fire on the morning of February 18, 1868, representing a loss of about $40,000.

In an issue of the Vallejo Recorder of 1867 appeared the following announcement:

"There is not a vacant cottage in town; buildings are engaged three or four months before the leases expire. There were five applications for one residence this week. Lots 50x130 cost $200. Lumber is worth from $25 to $30 per thousand." At that time Georgia Street, the main business thoroughfare of the town, was unpaved and ungraded with not even sidewalks to help the weary pedestrian make his way along. In fact, so hard was the adobe soil to travel in during the rainy season that it was frequently necessary for planks to be laid along the middle of the street in order for teams to do any hauling to the merchants' doors.

The most pretentious house in the district, shown plainly in a number of old photographs taken about 1868, was that of General Frisbie, which stood on the southeast corner of Georgia and Sacramento streets, and which still stands, weather beaten but rentable, on York Street, one block south, where it was moved to make way for the Bernard Hotel, erected on the corner in 1872 and named for the son of General Frisbie. This hotel's first proprietor was John Staples. Just across the street from the Frisbie home was the McCarthy Building, which still stands in the heart of Vallejo's business district. The upper story was reached only by a staircase along the outside and from there stretching eastward was an almost solid formation of rock which had to be cut away when Georgia Street was improved.

Another corner of these streets was occupied in early days by Chris Buckley and James Wolff. The former later became a dictator of politics in San Francisco and was known far and wide as Blind Chris Buckley, having lost his sight. His death occurred several years ago at his Livermore home, but some time previous his rulership over San Francisco politics had passed into other hands.

While the Frisbie home was on Georgia Street it was the scene of numerous affairs at which naval officers from Mare Island were guests, and its wide porch was used for the speakers on the occasion of any celebration. It is recalled by one of Vallejo's residents today that on one of these occasions the small boys of the town watched with delight the flames of a bonfire, started in front of the house, at which Farragut was to make a speech. As the flames died down to small embers some of the boys started skipping through them, when one unfortunate little fellow fell. It was Farragut who rushed down and rescued the child, although not before he had been badly burned. Farragut always had great faith in Vallejo's future. He invested in property there and was the owner of Farragut Hall, used until some twelve or fifteen years ago as a theatre, and also the Farragut Building. The former still stands and is known as Veterans Hall, but the latter, which included among its offices the Vallejo Public Library until the erection of the Carnegie Building, was torn down after the World war and in its place stands a five story store and office building erected by Fred Fisch and A. J. Higgins.

In the scrap book of Judge L. G. Harrier is the following letter, written to E. H. Sawyer by Farragut, which shows his advocacy of all things for the betterment of the city:
"U. S. S. Franklin,
"Trieste, Austria, Sept. 15, 1868.

"Dear Sir:
"I have received your letter enclosing a petition for the paving of Georgia Street, Vallejo, which I return to you signed as I am always ready to endorse any movement which has public improvement for its motto. In answer to your application for the purchase of my lots, I would state that I have no intention at present of selling them but am ready to improve them when opportunity offers. I hope to visit you in the course of next year. Truly yours, D. G. Farragut, Admiral."

Sawyer and others accordingly presented the following petition to the Board of Trustees and thus Vallejo's first street paving was started:

"To the Honorable Board of Trustees of the City of Vallejo. The undersigned owners of real estate on Georgia Street in said City of Vallejo, between Santa Clara and Sacramento streets, would most respectfully petition your honorable body to order said Georgia Street, between Santa Clara and Sacramento streets, to be paved with Stow pavement and that said pavement be made to cover the entire width of the street which shall not be covered by the sidewalks when constructed according to the ordinance." This petition bore the signatures of E. J. Wilson, E. H. Sawyer, Patrick McElvoy, H. K. Snow, D. G. Farragut and M. Furstenfeld.

It was only July 23, 1866, that a meeting was called to consider changing the form of government from that inaugurated in 1851, when William Barnett and James Wyatt had been elected justices of the peace of Vallejo township with William E. Brown as constable. At this meeting William C. Greeves was elected president; Eben Hilton, treasurer; William Aspenall, secretary; Amos M. Currier and S. G. Hilborn, town attorneys. Ordinances were adopted providing for the new form of government and in February, 1867, an act was passed by the Legislature, incorporating the city within the following limits: "Beginning at the northeast corner of the present town of Vallejo, as recorded by plan drawn in 1856, and running east 3,000 feet; thence running south to the water of the bay of Vallejo, or Napa River; thence running up the channel of said bay or river to a point west of the place of beginning; thence running east to the place of beginning." April 1, 1868, marked the first board meeting after the incorporation of the city when the following officers were elected: A. Powell, president, George W. Lee and H. W. Snow, trustees; J. L. Likens, marshal; J. E. Abbott, treasurer; J. W. Batcheller, assessor; C. W. Riley and R. J. Hopkins, receivers; Dr. L. C. Frisbie, health officer; and E. H. Rowe, surveyor. This board served only until November 13, 1868, when the following took office: Philip Mager, president; Henry Connolly, and Edward McGettigan, trustees; Lyman Leslie, recorder; George Edgar, marshal; J. E. Abbott, treasurer; Elisha Whiting, assessor; Paul K. Hubbs, clerk; A. H. Gunning, surveyor, and L. C. Frisbie, health officer.

In 1869 the board consisted of A. Powell, president; S. G. Hilborn, Eben Hilton, A. P. Voorhies, and E. T. Starr, trustees; Charles C. Hall, recorder; Joseph L. Likens, marshal; J. E. Abbott, treasurer; J. W. Batcheller, assessor; and C. A. Kidder, clerk. In this year it was first decided that the trustees should serve for two year periods.

The fourth board was organized on September 16, 1871: John B. Frisbie, president; A. Powell, S. J. Hilborn, A. P. Voorhies and E. H. Sawyer, trustees; J. E. Abbott, treasurer; J. W. Batcheller, assessor; J. J. Watkinson, marshal; T. H. Lawlor, recorder; Judson Haycock, clerk, and E. H. Rowe, surveyor. It was during the tenure of office of this board, i. e. July 22, 1872, that an election was held and the municipality empowered to borrow $50,000 as a fund to protect the city from fire, the principal to be paid off in twenty years and to bear interest at the rate of seven per cent per annum. Although it was intended to use this money for the construction of a reservoir north of Vallejo, this plan was abandoned on the formation of a water company. About $15,000 was spent in making the Fifth Street cut to South Vallejo; $2,000 for a fire engine house in South Vallejo; considerable money on a city park, the land for which had been donated by General Vallejo, etc. A lot for a city hall was purchased from Naval Lodge, No. 87, F. and A. M., for the sum of $1,500. Bids for the erection of the building were opened on July 22, 1872, when the following offers were received: J. E. Fry, $11,700; J. N. Warren, $11,800; J. W. Newbert and Co., $12,575; E. M. Benjamine, $11,875, and B. V. Jackson, $12,000. The bid of Warren was accepted and the city hall erected then has done duty ever since. Prior to that time there is record in the minutes of the trustees of the renting of Washington Hall, owned by Henry Connolly, in 1868, at $25 per month.

In making up the budget necessary to fix the tax rate in 1925 the sum of $50,000 was included towards the erection of a joint branch county jail and city hall by the City of Vallejo on the land at the corner of Capitol and Marin streets, purchased by the county several years previous from Golden State Lodge, No. 216, I. O. O. F.

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