J. P Munro-Fraser.

History of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. online

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spectively the " Linda," the " Edward Everett," and the " Phenix." They
made a few trips up the Sacramento river, but their day was short, for late
in October (the 26th and 28th, if I mistake not), the propellers " Hartford,"
and " McKinn," commencing running for passengers and freight on the
route between San Francisco and Sacramento, via Benicia. These were the
first sea-going steamers to make this trip. They were succeeded by the
side- wheel steamer " Senator," which commenced her trips on the 3d day of
November, charging $30 fare from San Francisco to Sacramento, and $15
from Benicia to either place. The " Senator " is said to have earned millions
of dollars in a few years. And now, 27 years later, she is still running as a
sea-going steamship.

Later in November the little iron steamer " Mint " commenced making
trips to Stockton. She was brought out on deck of ship " Samoset," in

On his return from Monterey, where he had presided over the Constitu-
tional Convention, in the winter of 1849-50, Dr. Semple became impressed
with the idea that steam-boating must be a profitable business, and ac-
cordingly he determined to build one on correct principles, that should
astonish the natives, but all lookers on. So far as the hull was concerned,
this was easily managed, as material was readily obtained. His favorite
idea that her bow must be made duck-breasted, was carried into effect ;
and when launched her appearance on the water was rather attractive. But
it was when the machinery was to be applied that the " true inwardness " of
the Doctor came to the surface. Steam-engines were not so plenty in those
days as in these, a quarter century later ; and so as two could not be had
that were exactly alike, he obtained two of different make, one being fully
twice as large as the other. When the absurdity of furnishing the boat
with engines varying so greatly in power was pointed out to the Doctor,
his genius rose equal to the occasion. He could manage that. But how ?
asked the practical, common sense, incredulous observer. Why, by gearing,
of course. With cog-wheels, and other appliances, we'll gear up the one


engine, so as to equalize its power with that of the other. In spite of re-
nt onstance, argument, ridicule, and other elements of opposition, this idea
was adhered to, and the natural result followed as a matter of course. On
her first trip she was at the mercy of the current and the wind. The strong
engine overpowered the weaker one, giving her a forward movement in the
direction of a great circle, the tendency being to bring her round to the
point started from. However, by the help of the tide and other favoring
circumstances, they managed to reach Colusa with her, for which place she
was named. Her first trip, though, proved to be her last as a steamboat.
The engines had to be disposed of, and she was converted into a barge.
Her builder, Mr. F. P. Burch, with his family, still resides in Benicia ; and
her engineer, Mr. R B. Norman, has for many years been a well known
citizen of Sacramento.

The last exploit of Dr. Semple's that occurs to me was his building a
house for the use of his family, with an inverted roof — so that what is
usually the peak or highest part, was in this instance the lowest, and the
roof slanted upwards towards the eaves, instead of downwards, there being
but one eave trough, and that in the middle of the roof. What his reasons
were for this peculiar construction may have been explained at the time,
but are not now remembered. Some are sarcastic enough to say it was
from motives of economy in the matter of eave trough.

Among the many early settlers in Benicia was Capt. John Walsh, whose
family arrived from Valparaiso in November, 1849, occupying at once the
house he had built for them. The captain is a well known citizen, whose
fame has gone all over those parts of the world that are visited by ships. He
is a privileged character, of whom many amusing incidents are related,
some of which he tells at his own expense. Although old and infirm, being
now in his eightieth year, and bereft of kindred, who have all preceded him
in their flight to the spirit land, he retains much of his original vivacity,
and is generally ready to provoke a smile from any visitor by his ready
wit. He is able to attend to his duties as Custom-house Inspector, which
are performed satisfactorily to the Department. A favorite grandson is the
only relative living near him, or in California.

Dr. Semple and his associates, Larkin, Phelps, Stewart, and Cooke, did
much to improve Benicia, and make it attractive ; and they spared no pains
in publishing to the world its advantages, but they failed lamentably
in the very particular most necessary to make their enterprise a success.
They placed too great a valuation upon their lots, and by demanding high
prices drove away from them the very persons they should have induced by
liberal terms to settle and build up the town. This was unjust to those
that had already settled, and who hoped to see others coming in and pro-
moting its substantial growth. But so convinced was the Doctor that the
town must develop into a great city, and that nothing could prevent it, that


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nothing could prevent it, that he would listen to no suggestions on this
head. On several occasions men wanting to buy property gave up the idea
on account of the terms. Had each one of them been presented with a lot,
the object of the proprietors might have been accomplished, and themselves
rewarded by prosperity and affluence, instead of reaping the disappointment
which followed.

A notable instance of their fatuity occurred immediately after the great
fire of 4th May, 1851, which destroyed the entire business portion of the
eity of San Francisco. A large number of her influential merchants were
so disheartened at the repeated misfortunes thus befalling them that they
were ready and anxious at onca to transfer their business to Benicia, and a
delegation waited on its proprietors to see on what terms they would be
received and provided for. The terms were too exacting ; the application
failed, and the opportunity was lost — absolutely thrown away. The appli-
cants were angered at their failure, and embittered against Benicia, a feeling
which survives measurably to this day — while the bona fide settlers of
Benicia, who would have welcomed their San Francisco brethren, were dis-
gusted with the cupidity and bad management of its founders.

As another illustration of events in these days, it should not be forgotten
that Capt. Lyon, who had been sent out to punish the Indians that were
hostile and troublesome, came very near being killed by the awkwardness
of some of his own men, a bullet from one of them passing through his hat
from back to front. In mentioning it to General Riley on his return, and
exhibiting the hat, he claimed that that shot did not come from an enemy.
The General's reply was, it certainly did not come from a friend. This
brave officer was afterwards, during the war of the Rebellion, the lamented
General Lyon, who fell at the battle of Lexington, Missouri, in August, 1861.

Among the immigrants of 1849, were some old farmers from the East, to
whom the alternation of the wet and dry seasons appeared to present in-
superable objections to the idea of this ever being an agricultural country.
The laws of nature to which they had been accustomed were here set at
defiance, and their conclusion was that cultivation of the ground would be
useless in the absence of summer showers. Yet here on these rolling and
dry hills waved the luxurious, almost rank growth of wild oats, four or five
feet in height. The soil being adobe, and two or three feet in thickness,
has since nullified the opinions of these good old farmers, and still persists
in yielding fine crops of grain, notwithstanding fifteen years of cultivation.

In the remarkably wet winter of 1849-50, it was no easy task to walk
on this adobe ground where traveled upon, without being in danger of
losing a boot when drawing: one's feet out of the mud. and so it came to
pass that long rubber boots were at a premium.

As an offset the following winter, that of 1850-51, to which this present
one of 187G-77 bears a close resemblance, was correspondingly dry, and
rubber boots proved a bad speculation.



The Constitution of the State of California, which had been framed by
the Convention at Monterey, in October, was adopted by the people at an
election held on the 13th November, 1849, and in accordance with its pro-
visions the first Legislature met in January, 1850, at the Pueblo de San
Jose, the first Capital of the State. The first two cities incorporated by
this body were Monterey and Benicia, both on the same day, the 27th of
March, 1850. Some days afterwards, San Jose, Sacramento, Stockton and
Los Angeles were incorporated. San Francisco followed, on the 15th day
of April.

Under its charter, Benicia had nine Mayors, as follows:

Capt. James Kearny, from May 1850, to May, 1851.
Dr. W. F. Peabody, from May, 1851, to May, 1852.
Capt. D. M. Fraser, from May, 1852, to May, 1853.
Capt. Alex. Riddell, from May, 1853, to May, 1854.
Charles French, from May, 1854, to November, 1855.
W. S. Wells, Acting from November, 1855, to May, 1856.
J. M. Neville, from May, 1856, to May, 1857.
T. B. Storer, from May, 1857, to May, 1858.
Charles Alison, from May, 1858, to May, 1859.
The charter was amended in 1851 and 1854, and repealed in 1859, since
which time the government of the city has been vested in a Board of
Trustees. The city charter was found to be an expensive luxury, by means
of which the city debt was incurred little short of $100,000 in 1859. This
has since been reduced, uutil at the present time an arrangement has just
been effected by which it can all be redeemed for the sum of $6,000, and
the taxpayers breathe freer.

Mayors Kearny, Fraser, Riddell and French died some years since.
Mayors Peabody, Wells, Neville and Alison are residents of San Francisco,
and Mayor Storer lives in Virginia City.

A. J. Bryant, who was City Marshal of Benicia in 1854, is now Mayor of
San Francisco.

At the same first session of the Legislature, Benicia was named the
county seat of Solano county, and so continued for eight years, when it
was superseded in 1858 by the present county seat, Fairfield.

The first Sheriff of the county was B. C. Whitman, afterwards Clerk of
the Common Council, subsequently a leading lawyer in Benicia, and now an
ex- Judge of the Supreme Court in the State of Nevada. The second Sheriff
was Paul Shirley, who held the office several years. He now resides on the
other side of the Straits, in Martinez, and is State Senator from Contra
Costa county.

The fourth session of the Legislature was held in Benicia early in 1853,
and on the 18th of May of that year an Act was passed making it the
permanent seat of Government, but as no appropriation was made for the


erection of public buildings, and the Capital in those days was notoriously
on wheels, it was not a difficult matter at the fifth session to move it again,
and so on the 1st day of March, 1854, the Legislature and attaches, furni-
ture and all, left Benicia on the steamer Antelope for Sacramento, where
the Capital has since remained with some show of permanence. This move-
ment was brought about by a combination between the workers for Sacra-
mento and the friends of the lamented David C. Broderick, who desired
and expected thereby to be elected to the United States Senate, but who
was disappointed in that expectation, although in a subsequent Legislature
he was successful. Broderick was absent from Benicia when the vote was
taken on the removal question, and there was no telegraphic communica-
tion then with San Francisco. If there had been, the result probably
would have been different. Either Broderick would have been elected
first, or the Capital would have remained at Benicia. On such slender
threads does the fate of communities sometimes depend.

In those palmy days Benicia boasted among its residents, some of the
prominent and distinguished men of the State, among whom may be men-
tioned Judges S. C. Hastings, John Currey, S. F. Reynolds, E. W. McKinstry,
and others, who have since been absorbed by the commercial metropolis.

The Masonic Order made an early start in Benicia. Benicia Lodge, No.
5, was formed in 1850. Masonic Hall was built in 1850, and is a substan-
tial edifice to this day. The lower floor was occupied as the Court House,
County Clerk and Recorder's office until the State House was built in 1852.
The State House became the Court House until 1859, when on account of
the removal of the County Seat, it became the property of the Board of
Education, and has ever since been occupied as the Public School, one of
the most commodious and substaintial in the State, and being of brick is
likely to last for several generations. The attendance is large.

The Odd Fellows organized somewhat later than the Masons, but have
flourished so successfully as to possess a fine brick edifice of their own
which affords them most desirable and satisfactory accommodations. They
are known as Solano Lodge, No. 22.

Several newspaper enterprises have from time to time been established in
Benicia, but none of them now remain. The Benicia Gazette was published
in 1851, by St. Clair, Pinkham & Co. A bound volume of this publication
is in the possession of the Society of California Pioneers. The Benicia

Vedette was published by Mathewson in 1853. The Solano County

Herald commenced its publication in November, 1855, and three years after-
wards was moved to Suisun, where it still flourishes under the altered name of
the Solano Republican. The " Pacific Churchman " was published here in
1869-70, since which time it has been established in San Francisco. The
The " Benicia Tribune" was published by R. D. Hopkins in 1872-73 ; since
then it has been transferred to Dixon, where it still flourishes as the Dixon


Tribune. There was a Benicia Sentinel at one time, but it was a short-
lived affair.

In 1850-51 when it was difficult for masters of vessels to retain their
crews, on account of their disposition to desert to the gold fields, and try
their hands at digging or mining, as many as 60 or 70 ships were to be seen
at anchor in Benicia harbor, most of them loaded with lumber, which
became a drug in the market and was offered for freight and charges.
After the 4th of May fire in San Francisco this state of the lumber market
was remedied, and the ships gradually withdrawn.

The P. M. S. S. Co., for whom Alfred Robinson and Geo. W. P. Bissell
were agents, established the depot for their shop and supplies at Benicia
early in 1850, when their first wharf was built. In 1853 they increased
the size of the wharf to its present dimensions, and put up the machinery
shops and foundry.

From this time on for 16 years or more the company enjoyed an era of
unexampled prosperity, every attempt at opposition helping as much as
hindering it. By steady accumulation and the growth of its business its
capital was increased from year to year until in 1869 it amounted to not
less than ten millions. In 1869 came its first encounter with its great
competitor, the Overland Railroad. Up to this time Benicia had been
greatly benefited by the location of the company's works, and its liberal
disbursements. As long as the company remained at Benicia they were
prosperous. Then came a dispositson to branch out, to water the stock and
provide for the friends of the new management. All this was not so con-
veniently managed while the works were located at Benicia, so it was
determined to move everything to the city. From that time the history of
the company shows a series of questionable managements, and a departure
from its old prosperous ways. From being worth about $150 or more per
share its stock has fallen to $20 — the present price being about $24.
Benicians remember the periodical visits of the California, the Oregon, the
Panama, the Tennessee, the North ener, the Golden Age, St. Louis, Sonora,
Golden Gate, Golden City, Sacramento, John L. Stephens and others with
regret, that the noble ships which succeed them come not in their place.

The Marysville & Benicia R. R. Co. was incorporated in 1853, with a
capital of $3,000,000 ; $10,000 was spent in surveys, by Wm. S. Lewis, Esq.,
as Chief Engineer, with the celebrated Mr. Catherwood as consulting engi-

So strongly impressed was Mr. Catherwood of the feasibility of this
scheme, that he went to England to present the plan there ; and with the
aid of a brother of his, who was one of the cashiers in the Bank of England ,
he raised $1,000,000, which was one-third of the capital ; but on his return
to this country from England, went down in the ill-fated steamer " Arctic,"
off Newfoundland, which put an end to that project,, which would mater-
ially have advanced the fortunes of Benicia.


This imperfect sketch of the " Early Times in Benicia," cannot properly
be brought to a conclusion without a brief reference to the educational and
religious movements of the place. To Benicia belongs the honor of having
established the first Young Ladies' Seminary in the State, under the auspices
of the Protestant churches. In June, 1852, the enterprise was proposed,
and immediately enlisted the favor and hearty symyathy of many friends.
A Board of Trustees was organized, a suitable building purchased, and the
school opened about the 1st of August, with Mrs. S. A. Lord as Principal,
and Miss Georgia Allen, and Miss F. A. Allen, as Assistants. The second year
Miss J. M. Hudson became Principal, with the same Assistants. The third
year, the school became the property of Miss Mary Atkins, whose fame as
a teacher has since become part of the educational history of this State.
The school became deservedly popular and successful ; and its graduates,
under Miss Atkins' administration, have since taken rank in society as
among the best educated and most cultivated women in our State. After
twelve years spent in her high vocation, Miss Atkins sought rest ; and in
186(3, transferred the school to Rev. C. T. Mills and wife, who kept it up in
a high state of efficiency and prosperity, until 1871, when they, having
been induced to move to Alameda county, disposed of the school to Rev.
Chas. H. Pope, who, during the year that he held it, made some valuable
additions and improvements. Since 1873, the school has been under the
management of Miss Mary Snell, who, with her sisters, and other accom-
plished teachers, have maintained its excellent reputation as one of the best
schools in the State. In October, 1871, under the auspices of the Rev. Mr.
Pope, then Principal, a re-union of graduates and pupils was held in honor
of the visit then paid to the institution of its former proprietor, Mrs. Mary
Atkins-Lynch, with her husband, the Hon. John Lynch, then U. S. Surveyor-
General for the State of Louisiana, and during the past year, Centennial
Commissioner for the same State. His duties in that capacity will detain
him in Philadelphia until March next, after which time Mr. and Mrs. Lynch
will take up their permanent residence in California.

In June next, the Young Ladies' Seminary, of Benicia, will celebrate the
25th anniversary of its fdundation. Two of its original Board of Trustees
have died — the other seven are still living, and one of them stands before

On the 1st of January, 1853, St. Catharine's Acadamy, under the charge
of the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Dominic, was established at Benicia,
having been removed from Monterey to this, as the more eligible location.
This school for young ladies has been uniformly well attended, and appears
to have enjoyed a satisfactory degree of patronage. Everything about it
wears an air of comfort, cheerfulness, and prosperity, and it enjoys an ex-
cellent reputation. The grounds are extensive and well cultivated, and the
buildings commodious.


In the summer of 1853, the Rev. Charles M. Blake established a boarding
school for boys, which a year or two afterwards passed into the hands of
Mr. C J. Flatt, under whose proprietorship it was known as the Collegiate
Institute, connected with which some ten years later was a Law School.

In December, 1867, Mr. Flatt disposed of the property to the Pacific
Coast Mission, of which the Rev. Dr. Breck was the head, and the school
then became the nucleus of what has since grown to be St. Augustine's
College, with the history of which this audience should be somewhat famil-
iar. The premises have been greatly enlarged and improved, affording
accommodations for one hundred boys, which number, however, has not yet
been secured, though the institution well deserves them. Not less than
fifty thousand dollars have been expended upon the property, which is in a
good state of preservation and cultivation, making it an attractive seat of
learning. The college owns fifty acres of land within the city limits, which,
in time, must constitute for it a valuable domain. The whole is under the
special supervision of Bishop Wingfield, who, with his family, has his Epis-
copal residence on the premises.

One of the objects of the Pacific Coast Mission was to establish a church
school for girls. Accordingly, in June, 1870, the Rev. Dr. Breck purchased
a block of land in the vicinity of St. Augustine College, and commenced the
erection of the buildings for " St. Mary of the Pacific." A year or two later
these were completed, and has ever since constituted the chief ornament of
the town. The garden and surroundings of St. Mary's, make it an attractive
spot. The school grew and prospered steadily under the fatherly care of Dr.
Breck, until his untimely death, which took place on the 30th of March
last, at which time the school was so full that the good Doctor had had it in
contemplation to put up additional buildings, in case his health was restored.
But it was not so to be, for our all-wise Heavenly Father was then pleased
to take him to Himself. As a natural consequence of his death, the school
has since fallen off some ; but is now recovering, and will doubtless soon
enter upon a renewed career of prosperity, under the rectorship of the Rev.
John H. Babcock, who, with his wife, have just been placed in charge of the
establishment by Bishop Wingfield. By former Experience and present in-
clination, Mr. Babcock is well fitted for the position and its various duties.

Reference has already been made to the Presbyterian Church, which was
founded here in 1849, and abandoned in 1869, for want of adherents. It
flourished until 1861 — the first year of the civil war — when it began to
decline rapidly on account of dissatisfaction in the congregation at the de-
determined political stand taken by the pastor, who was several times a can-
didate for office on the unpopular side. Two years before its final abandon-
ment, it was supplanted by the First Congregational society, who built, and
still possess, a very comfortable house of worship, with a parsonage at-
tached. The bell in its tower was cast in 1853, at the P. M. S. S. Co's.
works, and was in use there until the works were abandoned.


The Methodists maintained an organization for a year or two, while
Benicia was the Capital of the State ; but thereafter they withdrew from
the field, and their insecure little building was blown down and destroyed in
a S. E. gale which visited this part of the State, the 1st of January, 1855.

One or two attempts were made in early times to form a Baptist society,
but without success.

The Roman Catholics founded their church of St. Dominic in 1851. It
has always been sustained liberally by its adherents, and is apparently
flourishing. In its tower is a large and very fine-toned bell, equal to some
of the best in our city churches. The well-known Father Villarassa is the
ehief pastor here. A substantial, two-story edifice, has recently been added
to the premises, as a home for the Brothers, and a Theological School.

The first regular service of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Benicia
was held on Sunday the 24th of September, 1854, in the court room of the
City Hall. Major E. D. Townsend, U. S. A., a lay reader appointed by Rt.

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 18 of 57)