J. P Munro-Fraser.

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

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January 4, 1853, and on February 28th of that year Aspinwall and Corn-
stock bound themselves in the sum of $200,000 to convey the whole of the
island to the authorities. The expenses of the Board were deducted from
the original appropriation as was also the cost of erecting buildings, making
the first layout on the part of the government to be : Cost of Mare Island,
amount paid to Aspinwall, Bissell and Mrs. McArthur, $83,000 ; expenses of
Board of Survey, $11,508.20 ; erection of building for use of yard, $5,491.80.
Total, $100,000.

As has been remarked above the selection of the site for a Navy Yard
was the result of an Act of Congress, approved by the President of the
United States, of the 31st August, 1852, and on March 3, 1853, another ap-
propriation of $100,000 was voted by Congress, for building blacksmith's
shop, carpenter shop, store-house and wharf, " Provided, That before this
sum shall be expended, the Attorney General of the United States shall
decide that the United States have good title to the land upon which the
buildings are to be erected." The same Act directs the Secretary to com-
plete and carry into execution the verbal contract for a basin and railway
in California in connection with the floating dock already referred to, and
on August 5, 1854, a further grant of $200,000 was appropriated for the
continuing of the buildings mentioned above.

The first Commandant of the Yard was appointed on September 16,
1854, Commander David G. Farragut being the officer chosen. At the time
of his assumption of office, the island was a mere grazing locality, there
being visible only squatters, one or two humble dwellings, and a few
sheds which had been put up by the builders of the sectional dry dock.
Arrangements for the occupation were pushed with characteristic vigor by
Captain Farragut, and on October 3, 1854, the National flag was first
hoisted on its newly acquired property.

In the archives of the Commandant's office is preserved a Log in the
handwriting of the officer who afterwards achieved such glory for his coun-
try and name at New Orleans, when he caused himself to be tied to the
shrouds of his flagship, the " Hartford," and ran the gauntlet of the enemy's
guns. The pages of Farragut's diary may become tarnished by time, the ink
may fade, but his memory will remain untinged as long as the United
States will have a history, and be cherished in the hearts of his country-
men in such a manner as is only done for the great and the good.

" September 16, 1854. — Commander Farragut took charge of the Island,
and forthwith ordered all of the squatters off — Vara, Gilbert and Antonio
Pintro were their names. Weather clear.


" September 17, 1854. — Looked around the Island for the localities speci-
fied in the plan of the Navy Yard ; also engaged in examining the amount
of property on the island that could be advantageously used by Govern-
ment. Weather clear.

; ' September 18, 1854. — The sloop-of-war " Warren " came up to be moored
as a store-ship for the accommodation of the Yard. Also employed Vara,
who was a carpenter, to put up a flag-staff. Paid $500 for towing up the
ship, and $192 for pilotage. Weather clear.

" September 19, 1854. — Made arrangements to dock the " Warren," and
employed three or four more to work on the Yard and fix foundation for
flag-staff. Also sent to San Francisco for lumber and other appliances to
work with. Weather cloudy.

And so does this interesting relic go on ; day by day are the facts re-
corded with like simplicity until now it is regarded as evidence, the authen-
ticity of which can never be doubted.

The year 1855 began with great bustle; on January 24th, the stone foun-
dation for the smithery was commenced, and that for the residence of the
Commandant was started on the March following, while on April 2Gth the
annexed entry is found in Captain Farragut's Log : " Received by the
' Napa City,' the copper-plate for the corner-stone engraved with the fol-
lowing words, viz., ' This Navy Yard was founded September 18, 1854.
Franklin Pierce, President of the United States ; J. C. Baffin, Secretary of
the Navy ; Charles Smith, U. S. N., Chief of Bureau, Docks and Yards ;
D. G. Farragut, Commandant of Yard; D. Turner, Civil Engineer, A
Powell, Master Carpenter, R. S. King, Master Blacksmith, Mr. Warner,
Master Mason. The corner-stone of this building was laid January 23,

During the year the Commandant found it his duty to address the men
on desertion and the aiding and abetting it, for this offense had become alto-
gether too common ; the word in season had its reward, for those employed
became steadier, and there was a marked decrease in the number of malcon-
tents. On July 21 , an interesting series of experiments was inaugurated in
regard to the testing of native woods when Puget Sound timber was found to
be very much stronger than Eastern oak and Georgia pine, a result scarcely
to be anticipated. On October 26th, we find that the Astronomers of the
Exploring Expedition erected the Observatory on the highest point of the
island, while the year was wound up by a ball given under the auspices of
the Dry Dock Company, who it will be remembered retained possession of
the dock for some years subsequent to its completion.

It will thus be seen that the new Navy Yard was assuming something
like shape ; on the fourth day of the New Year, the planting of trees was
commenced. Early in the following month three of the forges in the
smithery were completed and ready for use, while the basin to admit the


sectional dock was being completed with all speed. On the 7th of August,
1856, this was effected, water being admitted into it, and on the 25th of
September the " Warren " was hauled ashore from the sectional dock and
basin, which was the first use of the basin and railway. In the following
year another test on the relative strengths of different woods was made, on
this occasion between teak and Puget Sound timber, the latter of which
again carried off the honors.

Space will not permit of entering into a full detail of the yearly occur-
rences at the yard ; such, indeed, would but tax the patience of the reader ;
suffice it to say, that but few idle days were admitted into the roll of time ;
the construction of buildings was pushed with becoming energy, until the
works are not to be excelled on any portion of the globe. As the Island
looks to-day, it is a credit to all concerned ; the buildings are noble speci-
mens of the mason's art ; the grounds are neatly laid out and pleasantly
wooded ; while the rising ground behind shows that its cultivation has not
been forgotten, there being 350 acres under the plough, its produce being
entirely used for Government purposes, what others may say to the con-
trary notwithstanding.

Since the appointment of Captain Farragut, up to the present time, in-
clusive of the present holder of the office, there have been altogether fifteen
commandants at Mare Island, as, under :

Commander D. G. Farragut, September 16, 1854 ; Captain R. B. Cunning-
ham, July 16, 1858 ; Captain David McDougal, March 13, 1861 ; Captain
W. H. Gardner, June 5, 1861 ; Captain Thomas O. Selfridge, May 27, 1862 ;
Captain David McDougal, October 17, 1864 ; Commodore Thomas S. Craven,
September 5, 1866; Commodore James Alden, August 1, 1868; Captain
Reed Werden, March 17, 1869 ; Rear- Admiral Thomas S. Craven, April 15,
1869 ; Commodore John R. Goldsborough, January 1, 1870 ; Commodore
E. J. Parrott, April 15, 1871 ; Rear- Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge, Septem-
ber 3, 1872 ; Rear- Admiral John Rodgers, July 3, 1873 ; Commodore E. R.
Calhoun, April 17, 1877.

The Sectional Dock: — On Mare Island, is the first erection of the kind
ever attempted on the Pacific coast, and was commenced in the year 1852.
It is composed of 11 sections, each 130 feet long and 33 feet wide, each sec-
tion standing 6 inches apart. The extreme length of the construction is
325 feet, and is capable of accommodating a ship of 3,000 tons burthen.
The dock basin, in connection therewith, is 400 feet long by 150 feet wide,
with a proper depth and ways, 350 feet in length. To get a vessel on to
the dock, it is first sunk to a sufficient distance, when she is floated on to it ;
the water is then pumped out by steam engines, built expressly for the pur-
pose, when the entire structure rises ; it is then floated into the basin, being-
hauled by hydraulic power ; the basin is then emptied by means of pump-
ing, and the dock sinks on to the floor, where it becomes a fixture.


The operation of sinking the dock, is to open the gates that are at each
end of the main tank ; as they fill, they sink, because the combination of
wood and iron, of which they are constructed, has made them heavier than
water. To. keep them under the command of the dock-master, the floats are
set in operation by the machinery connected to the steam engines situated
in the houses on top of the frame work. The master speaks not a word,
but calls the attention of the attendants by a whistle, and by mystical signs
conveys his orders to them, and the dock sinks slow or fast, as he wills, to
the depth required. The gates being shut, the buoyancy of the floats keeps
it in that position.

The vessel is then floated in ; the centering beams or shores lowered to a
level, run against the sides of the ship, each side being adjusted forward or
back, till the numbers on each correspond. Then the vessel is in the center
of the dock, ready to be raised. The operation of raising the dock is to
pump the water out of the sections and keep it level with the floats. As
the water is taken out, the dock rises. To effect this, each section has three
pumps on each end, each one with capacity to throw three hundred gallons
a minute. They are connected to the machinery above by long rods, and
run to the pump, on the deck of the section.

When the vessel is in position, ready to be raised, the pumps are set in
operation by a sign, and as soon as the sections lighten a little, the floats are
started, and they move downwards on the gear posts just as fast as the post
rises, so that the floats keep the same depth on the surface. When the
vessel is lifted about twelve inches, the bilge-chocks are run under to sup-
port her all around. They are large oak blocks, built up, one on top of
another, and connected together by iron dogs, so that they can be made
high or low, as the shape of the vessel may require. These slide on ways
fastened to the deck of the section, and are held to them under water by
bended iron clamps, that slide freely. They are drawn under the vessel by
rope and chain, worked by the attendants on the platform of the dock.
After the bilge-chocks are set the dock is put in full operation. The floats
keep it traveling, by the fast or slow machinery, as the pumps discharge
the water, causing the dock to rise' the master governing the operation as
he wills, stopping each pump as his judgment dictates and the necessities of
the operation requires, till the dock is above water.

The Stone Dock : — Now in course of construction, will be, when finished,

the finest piece of workmanship of its kind in the United States. Its

dimensions are :


Length between inside line of invert and first altar 418.

Length of keel block from inside of caisson 440.

Length from outside line of apron to outside line of invert. 7.9

Length of invert 41.



Width of floor 30.

Width of floor on line of keel blocks 58.

Extreme length of dock over all 525.9

Extreme length of invert over all 126.

Extreme length of invert, inside 114.

Depth of water at mean high tide on invert 27.6

Depth of water at mean high tide on floor of dock 32.

Width of entrance to dock 78.

The cost of this prodigious undertaking was estimated at $2,149,099;
the masonry alone being put down at $1,307,877 ; but concrete has been
substituted instead of mason work, as was originally intended, whereby,
the expense, it is expected, will be lessened by at least twenty per cent. The
cost, up to the fiscal year, ending June 30, 1879, will be $1,094,146 73. It
is built on the principle of an inverted arch, the pressure being entirely
from the outside towards the centre ; this design serving the purpose of
keeping the floor intact should the contingency arise of water sapping
underneath. The concrete work, which is, as it were, the shell of the struct-
ure, is quite new to America, the idea having been brought from France by
Mr. Calvin Brown, the Civil Engineer of the dock ; while the lining is of
dressed granite ; the flooring is composed of granite blocks, averaging five
and a half tons in weight, which are placed in position by means of a der-
rick, and what is technically known as a" Lewis," an iron pin, which is
larger at the bottom end than at the top, having a wedge of iron fitted into
it, and fixed in a socket in the block. The strain of hoisting causes this
to tighten, making the hold secure, while to disengage it requires but a few
taps of the hammer. The blocks, by these simple contrivances, are moved
at will, and eventually rested on a thickness of four feet of concrete. In
connection with this undertaking, there is a concrete mixing machine, which
is fitted at the top with two hoppers, into which gravel and sand are put ;
when started, the contents of the two hoppers meet before arriving on the
second floor, where ' another one is met charged with cement; hereafter
they shoot doAvn in a zig-zag fashion towards the floor of the clock, mixing
as they descend, until it is discharged, amalgamated in proper proportions!

It was originally intended to construct the dry dock entirely of rubble
stone work, but this substitution of concrete will be a vast saving to the
Government. The building is provided at its upper end with two timber
shoots, while its sides will be constructed after the manner of a staircase.
When completed the largest men-of-war that float will be able to be repaired
at Mare Island ; no little source of pride in itself, yet it is unfortunate that
for want of sufficient appropriations by the Government the work can not
be proceeded with as rapidly as could be desired, while it is feared that a
delay of year after year may have the effect of weakening some portions of
the work when nothing but dire catastrophe would result.


Water: — Is supplied to the Navy Yard by the Vallejo City Water Com-
pany to the extent of 1,000,000 gallons a month, transmitted to the island by
means of a submarine cast iron pipe with flexible joints, a distance of two
thousand feet across the bed of the straits. Besides this quantity, which is
used in the officers' quarters and machine shops, there are thirteen cisterns,
capable of containing 1,500,000 gallons of rain water, while there is a reser-
voir, built during the time of Admiral Rogers' command, which cost $35,000
(received over and above the appropriations made during his term of office).
It is 680 feet in length, with an average width of 265 feet, a depth of 32
feet, and a capacity at present of only 14,000,000 gallons, which could be
considerable increased by further excavation. Connected with the reservoir
is a tunnel, to connect with the supply pipe, 600 feet long, which is laid in
concrete and will fill all the ditches, which are about three miles in length

Foundry and Machine SI102): — Which comprises the following divisions,
viz.: the foundry, machine, boiler, blacksmith, pattern and coppersmith's
shops, is situated at the northeast end of the island and is a magnificent con-
struction of red brick. The dimensions of the machine shop are 365x55,
and contains an upper story which is used as the pattern shop. In the lower
story of this building are located all the different appliances requisite to turn
out the very heaviest machinery which might be required for naval pur-
poses, all of which are put in motion by a condensing engine of eighty horse
power. The foundry, forming a wing of this building, has the capacity of
making castings of 100 tons, and has room to employ 150 moulders. The
floor is 300 feet long by 60 feet wide, and has a depth of 6 feet of moulding
sand, which is procured from San Francisco. Within the structure are five
cranes, these having a lifting power of 15 tons, while the others are capable
of hoisting 25 tons ; there are also four cupolas for melting iron, with the
following capacity: two of 40 tons, one of 20, and one of 10 tons ; in connec-
tion with these are two ladles of 20 and 10 tons respectively, while there are
three ovens, used for drying purposes, with tracks and carriages to match, of
the respective measurements of 20x40, 12x20, and 8x15 feet. The foundry is
also supplied with ten brass furnaces, while the elevators and blowers are
worked by a separate engine of 20 horse-power. When these works were
visited moulding for a screw propeller for the U. S. S. "Iroquois" was
being made, which, when finished, will have a weight of about 8,000 lbs.
avoirdupois. Castings of 8-inch water pipes, for the use of the yard, were
being also proceeded with.

The Ordnance Department : — Is in keeping with the other remarkably
elegant buildings with which the Navy Yard abounds. It consists of the
Ordnance Store-house of 200x60 feet, two stories in height, and built of
brick ; the Shell House, also of brick, of one story, and occupying a space


of 25x28 feet, and two Gun carriage sheds, one of brick and the other of
wood, having a measurement respectively of 150x30 and 100x45 feet. In
connection with this branch are two magazines, one of one story in height,
fire and bomb-proof, 160x50, and the other 100x45, both being constructed
of stone and brick, while in addition there are the Filling House and Shell
House, each 100x30 feet, and the Gunner's and Watchman's Quarters. The
Magazine Reservation alone occupies an area of 22.45 acres, and is situated
at the extreme southern end of the island ; in the building are included
the Filling and Shell houses referred to above, there being also tanks to
hold powder and other rooms appertaining to buildings of this nature ; the
entire structure is covered with a slate roof. The precautions against fire
are numerous and ample. In close proximity to it is a reservoir containing
one million gallons of water, which would be used if needed to flood the
magazine ; in addition, no vegetation of any kind whatsoever is permitted
to grow near the premises, for fear of ignition ; no painting is done on any
portion of the edifice, lest that the oil should by chance ignite, while a par-
ticular costume is worn by the employes, (a long smock-frock and shoes of
canvas with soles of chamois leather) so that buttons, nails or like sub-
stances may not be hastily struck and cause a spark.

On the Yard there is altogether stored about 500,000 pounds of powder ;
100,000 projectiles (shot and shell) varying from 12 to 400 pounds ; 644
ordinary cannon, howitzers and large guns, the largest size being 15 inches
in diameter, the smallest 4f inch or 12-pounder howitzers ; of small arms,
i. e., rifles, bayonets, cutlasses, boarding pikes, etc., there are 2,722, all of
which are intended purely for the fitting out of United States vessels- of -war.

This establishment is the very perfection of neatness, indeed so are all
of the others, and finds continuous employment for thirteen men, while it
is the only department on the Yard that has telephonic communication with
the office of the Commandant.

Construction and Repair Workshops : — Are of two stories in height, built
of brick and cover an area of 400x65 feet. The first of these is used as a
block, boat and cooper's shops, with convenient tool-rooms attached. The
upper floor of the building is occupied by the office for this department, as
also the workshops of the pattern makers and shipwrights.

The Construction and Repair Store Houses : — Are also of brick, of two
stories, and occupy a space of 400x65 feet. It is used entirely for the
storage of all articles of ship chandlery, with the exception of a small space
in the east end of the second story, which is occupied by the store clerks,
and the

Bureau of Navigation : — Whose particular duties are to supply such ship's
gear as charts, compasses, chronometers, nautical instruments generally,




lanterns, and all lights and flags. In this office are stored the charts of
every known survey in the universe, while there are on its shelves a large
and complete collection of the best works bearing on nautical lore.

The Smithery : — Is one of the first buildings erected after Mare Island be-
came the property of the United States Government, and is thus appor-
tioned ; the main structure is 268x55 feet, and has, two wings, each of
145x55 feet. The first named, and the northern wing, is used by the Bureau
of Construction and Repair as Blacksmiths' and Coppersmiths' shops, while
in the south wing are contained the Blacksmith shop and Gas Works, under
the direction of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.

The. Blacksmiths' Shop: — Is a marvel of cleanliness and neatness. Its
capacity is sixty fires, the forges being all of cast iron with improved water
backs. There are three steam hammers in use : the first with 100 pounds of
steam has a striking force equal to 30 tons ; the second, under like circum-
stances, 10, and the third 5 tons. In addition, there are two hollow fires,
or forges ; 4 feet 4 Blooming furnaces with a capacity of 600 pounds per
hour ; 2 large cranes capable of raising 30 cwt. each ; 1 Sturtevant blower
with capacity for 60 fires ; 3 eyebolt steam dropping hammers used for
stamping work, the whole machinery being driven by an engine of 24-horse

Blacksmith's Shop, (Yards and Docks): — There are eight forges with
Sturtevant blowers, and here is done all iron work used in the building of
ships, houses, derricks, and general work required on the Yard, including


Gas: — Is manufactured on the Yard* from gasoline, a substance which was
formerly procured from rosin and fish oils, but now it is the first running
from petroleum. The consumption of the oil is about 850 gallons a month,
producing 175 cubic feet of gas per gallon, with a quality of light, clear,
good, and safe, of fifteen candle power. The manufacture of this gas, on
Mare Island, is entirely effected by one man, although there is employment
for four ; while he has in his charge the supply of meters, lamps, etc. The
works are well supplied with all the necessary gasfitters' tools. The

Store House: — One of the earlier erections, is a brick building of 400 feet
in length by 55 in width, and has, besides two stores, a cellar underneath.
This erection is divided, the southern half being occupied by the stores
necessary for the bureau of provisions and clothing ; while the northern
end contains the requisite impedimenta for the bureau of steam engineering.
Directly east of the above stands the splendid



Workshops for Equipment and Repairs: — Also a two-storied building with
cellar, and covering an area of 190x55. In the cellar are stored such arti-
cles as tar, oil, etc., while the two upper floors are respectively used as a
rigging and sail loft. This is without doubt the finest erection on the Yard,
built, as it is, entirely of compressed bricks.

The Equipment and Repairs Store House: — Is. a brick building two stories
in height, of the area of 200x60 feet, and used entirely for the storing of
sails, cordage, and general running gear.

Yards and Docks Workshops: — This erection occupies 400x60 feet of
ground, is also of two stories, the first being used as a machine shop, lumber,
and store room ; while the upper is apportioned into joiners' shop, paint
shop, and offices.

Iron Plating Shop: — Is a one-story brick building of 200x70 feet dimen-
sions, with a wing 58x60. It is erected on the site of the old ordnance
building, but is at present unfinished.

Saiv Mill: — The main building of this establishment is 150x55, having
two stories, with a cellar. There is also a brick wing attached 55x55, one
story in height. The cellar and first story of this building are used as the
saw mill, and the second as a mould loft.

Timber Shed:— -Is a one-story brick edifice 200x70 feet, used for the pur-

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 29 of 57)