Vallejo – Our History
Nestled in the rolling foothills, where the Carquinez Straits meet San Pablo Bay, is the City of Vallejo. Vallejo has a varied and colorful history. First a state capital, then home to railroads and a major naval installation, Vallejo’s growth is reflected in her building patterns. The following is a brief history of the growth of Vallejo
The Ranchero of Mariano G. Vallejo
In 1775, a party of Spanish explorers crossed San Pablo Bay and found an excellent harbor at the Carquinez Straits, which they christened “Puerto de la Asuncion de Nuestra Senora”… Port of Our Heavenly Lady. Although excellent reviews of the area were received, settlement of the location was considered some- what premature; no attempts were made to improve the site until it was deeded as part of Rancho Soscol to General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in 1844. Vallejo was familiar with the area; finding his favorite horse had survived drowning in the Carquinez Straits by swimming to an island, he named the spot “Isla de la Yegua (Mare Island) in her honor.
Tenure As State Capital: 1851-1853
With the onslaught of Americans participating in the California Gold Rush, General Vallejo saw that the territory was destined to pass from the hands of the Mexican government to become part of the United States. He made a strong attempt to become involved in the establishment of a state capital on his lands. With statehood in 1850, the new California State Legislature considered Vallejo’s offer to move from San Jose. He offered to lay out a city, to be named “Eureka” or a name the Legislature might suggest, and to donate to the state 156 acres for the construction of a state capitol, university, botanical garden, state penitentiary, schools, hospitals, and asylums. In addition to the free land, General Vallejo also promised to give $370,000 to pay for construction of the buildings. A state-wide referendum on the matter was held in late 1850, and General Vallejo’s proposal was accepted, with one change-the city would be called “Vallejo,” after its founder.
In 1851, the State Senate appointed a commission to layout the new state capital. They reported back that they had placed the capitol, the governor’s house, the university and several other public institutions on an elevated hill “immediately above the secure and commodious harbor of Napa Bay, from which, on a clear day might be seen the city and shipping of San Francisco.” The lunatic asylum was to be placed nearby, and the penitentiary on the nearest prominent hill to the Carquinez Straits, to serve as a warning to “rascals” on their way to the goldfields. By late 1851, all was in readiness, and the California Legislature convened in 1852 in Vallejo.
Unfortunately for the legislators, the State Capitol promised by General Vallejo had not been built, and they were forced to meet in a leaking old structure, using barrels for seats and boxes for desks. Motions were immediately introduced to move the state capital out of Vallejo, and, after meeting for only eleven days, the Legislature moved to Sacramento for the remainder of the session. The following year, the Legislature again convened in Vallejo, for the purpose of moving the capital to Benicia, and on February 4, 1853, exactly two years after the seat of government came to Vallejo, it was moved to Benicia.
Good-bye Capital, Hello Navy: 1852 - 1865
While the state government was looking for a permanent capital site, others, including the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, became interested in the fine harbor between Mare Island and the mainland. In July, 1852, the U.S. Congress purchased Mare Island for use as a naval shipyard, and on September 16, 1854, Mare Island became the first permanent U.S. naval installation on the West Coast.
Captain David G. Farragut
Captain David G. Farragut was assigned as Commandant of the new shipyard. An experienced naval officer, Farragut oversaw the shipyard’s first formative years, before being assigned to command the West Gulf Blockading Squadron at the out- break of the Civil War. He would later distinguish himself during the Battle of Mobile by rallying his men with the cry “Damn the torpedoes- Full speed ahead!” then successfully leading them through the mined waters of Mobile Bay. With a stable employment base, the tiny township of Vallejo was set to begin growing into city hood.
Railroads and “Boosterism” 1865-1880
Sustained Growth: 1890 -1930