Vallejo, California is the first permanent home of California's state government and is the 142-year home of the first and most famous naval ship building and repair facility on the west coast. A city whose rich history is intertwined deeply to both the state in which it was born and to the country it served through two world wars.
Prior to the 1830's, the countryside where the City of Vallejo now stands was inhabited by the Suisun and Karkin Indians. In 1835, a Mexican military officer, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, was sent to the northern California frontier where he established several land grants. One of these grants, the Rancho Suscol, included the area where the cities of Vallejo and Benicia are now located. Chief Solano, a leader of the Suisun Indians, allied himself with General Vallejo, an alliance which allowed the region to remain primarily inhabited by Native Americans until the 1840's.
In 1850, after California had been admitted to the Union as the 31st state, General Vallejo donated 156 acres of his land and promised the sum of $370,000 to create his dream of a thriving new state capital. Vallejo wished the site to be called Eureka, but his fellow citizens insisted upon naming the city in his honor. Thus Vallejo became the first permanent seat of California state government in 1852. The city's glory was short-lived though as members of the legislature quickly became unhappy with the living and working conditions in the pioneer city. As a result, the capital moved to Sacramento just a few weeks later. But inconvenienced by floods there, the restless legislature moved back to Vallejo - and then later to Benicia - before returning to Sacramento, where the capital has remained ever since.
After the legislature left Vallejo for good, the city became something of a ghost town for a brief period of time. But the United States Navy came to the rescue in 1853 with their purchase of Mare Island for the creation of the first naval installation on the west coast of the United States. Suddenly Vallejo's future once again became brighter.
The author of an 1863 book entitled The Resources of California described the budding city: "Vallejo has a magnificent site for a town. The present village is built on the slope of hills about a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet high, which rise from the harbor so gently, that a heavily laden wagon can be drawn over without an extra team. About a half a mile back from the landing lays a beautiful and very fertile plain several miles wide and extending from the lower part of the harbor. I have never seen a city provided with such a magnificent place for country residences as this."
Although the town is named after General Vallejo, the man regarded as the true founder of Vallejo is John B. Frisbie. After his daughter Epifania married Frisbie, General Vallejo granted him power of attorney for the land grant. It was Frisbie who hired E.H. Rowe, the man who designed the city layout and who named the east-west streets after states and the north-south streets after California counties.
Frisbie encouraged settlers to stay in the area and sold them lots to build houses and businesses upon. He helped establish the city's government, supported the thriving wheat-shipping business, presided over banks and founded the White Sulphur (Blue Rock) Springs Resort. It was also due in part to Frisbie's diligent lobbying in Washington D.C., that Vallejo was officially incorporated as a city in 1867.
Another interesting figure in Vallejo and Solano County history is Dr. Robert Semple. The founder of the neighboring town of Benicia, Semple is also noted as one of the state's first newspaper publishers. The first issue of the Californian in 1846 announced the declaration of war against Mexico. Semple also received from General Vallejo an undivided half interest in a five-mile stretch of land now known as Benicia, playing a key role in the development of this port city. Additionally, the first ferry service from Martinez across the Carquinez Straits was started by Semple and provided an important link for people seeking luck and fortune during the Gold Rush.
With the establishment of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1854, Vallejo began to flourish. Mare Island grew into the largest ship construction and repair facility in the world during WWII. In the five war years, as the production rate at the shipyard increased, so too did the population of Vallejo, growing from 26,000 to nearly 100,000.
Mare Island had a tremendous impact on Vallejo and the surrounding areas for almost 150 years by employing much of the city's population as it built and repaired ships. And although the shipyard was officially closed in 1996, Mare Island's future is extremely bright. Over time, a combination of reuses will bring Mare Island back to the center of Vallejo¹s economic activity.
What is today known as the city's multicultural diversity began much earlier in Vallejo than many other California cities. Many Filipinos settled in the area in the 1920's after the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. And of course the Navy's presence at Mare Island has attracted people from all over the world to settle in Vallejo making the city one of the most culturally diverse in all of Northern California.
The geography of the area has also played an important role in Vallejo's development and future. Located at the northern tip of San Pablo Bay, Vallejo's waterfront location has made it an important harbor not only for the military but also for commercial shipping, industry, oil companies and ferry transportation.
The Resources of California, again in 1863, described Vallejo¹s waterfront location: "It has a fine harbor, perfectly protected against all winds, with good holding-ground, and extent enough to accommodate all the commerce which will ever visit it."
Ferries were once a common form of transportation through the San Francisco Bay Area. They carried not only passengers but huge freight trains across the bay. The world's largest train ferries ever built, the Solano and Contra Costa, operated across the Carquinez Straits from 1879 to 1930. And riders for the Pony Express came from Sacramento to Benicia to catch the ferry across the straits.
Although ferry and passenger train service died down when America's love affair with the automobile began, these alternate forms of transportation are still used today. The City of Vallejo's four high-speed catamaran ferries carry thousands of passengers a week to and from San Francisco for work and play.
As the city entered a new millennium, the great influences of General Mariano Vallejo and John Frisbie and the contributions of Mare Island can still be seen in Vallejo today, side-by-side with twentieth-century development in downtown Vallejo with the refurbishment of the Empress Theatre and the forthcoming new waterfront development. As Vallejo continues to move into the future, its rich and historic past will not be forgotten.