California Seaports

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: ° Alameda: ° Berkeley ° Oakland
Contra Costa County: ° Crockett, ° Martinez ° Port Costa
Marin County: ° Point Reyes, ° San Rafael (China Camp), ° Sausalito, ° Tiburon
° Mendocino ° Sacramento
San Francisco (City and County)
Solano: ° Benicia (St. Paul's Church), ° VallejoMare Island
Sonoma: ° Petaluma ° Fort Ross
CENTRAL & SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: ° Long Beach ° Los Angeles ° Monterey County ° San Diego County ° Santa Barbara ° Santa Monica ° The Channel Islands

Mare Island

Spanish ship captain Don Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aranza touched on Mare Island in 1775; however, the island -- once known as Isla Plana -- got its current name from Mexican Calvary commander General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in 1830. Purportedly, some of General Vallejo’s animal stock was being moved across San Pablo Bay on an old raft when a wind squall capsized it in the bay. One of the more prized passengers on board, a nameless old white mare saved herself by swimming ashore. She was discovered later living on the island. General Vallejo removed his horse and gave the island the new name: Isla de la Yegua, or Island of the Mare.

In September 1849, Lieutenant Commander William Pope McArthur was placed in command of the US survey schooner Ewing which had been brought around the Cape Horn to the west coast by Lieutenant Washington Allon Bartlett. Upon reaching San Francisco, Ewing and the other ship assigned to the survey, USS Massachusetts were hampered from progress in due to desertions of their crews to the gold fields, including a mutiny when crew members rowing into the city from Ewing threw an officer overboard in an attempt to desert. They managed to survey the Mare Island Strait before steaming to Hawaii. They returned to San Francisco in the spring of 1850 with the coastal survey of northern California beginning on April 4, 1850 and continued up to the mouth of the Columbia River. On August 1, 1850, while still in Oregon, McArthur purchased a 1⁄16 interest in Mare Island for $468.50 then returned to San Francisco later that month to prepare charts and write reports.

The military history of Mare Island began on January 4, 1853 when the United States purchased the island for $83,491. McArthur's family share (he had died a few months after purchasing in interest in Mare Island) was $5,218.20.

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) was the first United States Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean. It is located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, California. The Napa River goes through the Mare Island Strait and separates the peninsula shipyard (Mare Island, California) from the main portion of the city of Vallejo.

Mare Island.Dvid Glasgwo Farragut.

In September of 1854, Commander David Glasgow Farragut and his family arrived on the island and Mare Island became the first United States Naval Base on the West Coast. Farragut had been sent west to personally oversee the building of a Navy Yard in support of the Pacific Squadron. Farragut later became a naval hero and our nation’s first Admiral for his victories at New Orleans, Vicksburg, and finally his capture of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

November 23, 1855, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

The Navy Yard, Mare Island.

Our citizens generally have but a faint idea of the magnitude of the enterprises that are being carried on in our State; either those of a private nature, or those under the patronage of the general government. Many of the enterprises of private individuals and companies in our cities, or in the mines, would seem gigantic to our Eastern friends, for they have but a glimmering idea of the enterprise of Californians.

It would be truly interesting for our citizens who seek pleasure, if they would but visit the mines and see the operations there. The "old prophets" foretold those enterprises when they said, "The hills shall be laid low and, the valleys shall be filled;" for this is literally true, and more is true that the prophets said. "The wilderness shall become the highway of our God," and it is so, for the church is built in the wilderness in the mountains, and the hearts of men are turned to them, as the "rivers of waters are turned,"

But to our purpose. We know the enterprises in every part of our State are gigantic, but those upon Mare Island, the site of the Navy Yard of California, are on such a scale of grandeur and beauty as we are desirous of seeing perfected, and it is the interest of every Califomian to aid in carrying out these plans. The scene at the Navy Yard, which we witnessed the last week while on a visit there, was indeed enlivening.

The island is the theatre of mechanical industry, and that is the "school of art." Hundreds, and we might almost say thousands, were busily employed in digging down the hills and filing the valleys, and in laying the foundations of these mighty structures, wherein shall be constructed the material of which shall compose the future "Navy of the Pacific Coast;" and it may be that here shall be built the very ships that shall in future years be the defenders of the city of San Francisco from an invading foe.

At this island also is the famous Dry Dock, now complete and in active use. We saw the steamer Columbia, that had been raised, repaired and ready for duty again. She was sent from her dry excursion to her native element again, the afternoon we were there, and gracefully did she make her new plunge. Like a duck tired of the shore, she dipped into the waters and gracefully steamed on her way, rejoicing to be at home again.

The Navy Yard at Mare Island will be an honor to the Pacific Coast and to our country, and we hope our government will expend from her surplus treasure liberally. No better use could be made of money than to give it to our mechanics and laborers.

We were most courteously treated by the commandant of the Yard. Commodore Farragut, who kindly explained the designs and plans now in progress.

Mare Island. Arnold S. Lott, Robert B. Carney.

The residences of the commandant and other officers standing in a line upon a broad avenue, being twenty-three in number, will, when finished, present a noble appearance. That portion of the island devoted to this purpose is being graded and laid out in squares, and will be ornamented with trees and otherwise beautified. The buildings are all spacious, elegant keeping with the general plan, which is most creditable to our government.

The great iron machine shop, with its wings, is to be a splendid brick building twelve hundred feet in extent, and two stories high. The wooden machine shop is, if we remember correctly, about eight hundred feet, with its wings, and two stories; and all other buildings in proportion. All to be erected with care, of the best materials, and by the best mechanics.

We saw hundreds of men busily excavating, laying out streets, building foundations, and in all other departments of work requiring rapid progress. We were pleased to see the Artesian Well Borer, Messrs. Myers & Co., at work. We learned from them that they had reached 137 feet. They struck blue clay at 130 feet, then a small strata of rock, next soft strata, then sandstone, and were working then at 137 feet depth upon shale rock, and had 115 feet water. They informed us they had sanguine expectations of finding an abundance of pure water; but probably by the course of the dip of rocks observed thus far, it would require boring to the depth of about 500 feet. Messrs. Myers & Co. are the contractors for the Artesian at Hock Farm, for Gen. Sutter, and we hope soon to hear that they are at work on it, for we learn from the General that many weeks since he had advanced $1,000 upon it, and it was not yet begun.

Among the important improvements at this grand naval depot, with public squares and broad avenues, we trust we shall see a wise, judicious display of the trees of California we mean the indigenous mountain glories of California. Heretofore our squares and streets have been planted with imitation trees, or bean poles, (as around the Plaza at San Francisco;) but we hope a better taste will hereafter prevail, and our evergreen oaks and other stately trees in all their beautiful varieties will be selected to adorn our cities and public thoroughfares. We have seen no place where the science of arboriculture could be better displayed that at the new grounds at Mare Island; where to make it beautiful it should be mapped and designed with full reference to the trees to be planted, and their appearance in future years when matured. From the taste already displayed, from the order and dispatch we noticed, and from the reputation of the present commander, Commodore Farragut, we can in faith look forward and anticipate that the Navy Yard of California shall occupy a proud position in the annals of the future of our country.

Although Farragut dreamed of building the first naval vessel to be constructed in the west, authorization for the ship was not received until after he left Mare Island in 1856.

The USS Saginaw, a four-gun, wooden-hulled, steam-driven, side-paddle-wheel gunboat was launched March 3, 1859. The Saginaw was the first of over 500 ships built at Mare Island Naval Shipyard during its 142-year history.

Mare Island illustrates the Nation's effort to extend its naval power into the Pacific Ocean. The first U.S. warship (1859) and first dry dock (1872-91) constructed on the West Coast were built here. To this day, Mare Island holds the record for building the destroyer USS Ward in 17 days during World War I.

The shipyard was also home to many other "firsts" in U.S. Navy and west coast history. Dry dock #1 was the first permanently constructed dry dock in the west. The dry dock, built with granite blocks, took 19 years to construct and was finished in 1891.

Mare Island Naval Cemetery

The Naval Cemetery is situated on a hillside overlooking the Napa River and Mare Island Strait, on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. In April 1872, Scribner’s Monthly Magazine described the cemetery this way: “And just above, on the hillside, peeps out from a ravine filled with trees (almost the only ones to be seen in the whole landscape) a little enclosed cemetery.” In this small cemetery are also six Russian sailors who served aboard the Bogatyr, the flagship of Admiral A. A. Popov’s Pacific Squadron during his 1863 visit to San Francisco Bay and Mare Island.

In 1861, the longest lived of the clipper ships, Syren, was brought to Mare Island Navy Yard for $15,000 of repairs. Syren had struck Mile Rock two times while trying to sail out of the Golden Gate.

Marines first arrived for duty in 1862 under the command of Major Addison Garland, who was the first officer to command the Marine barracks on the island.

April 19, 1889, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Commodore Benham Inspects the Charleston's Machinery.
Three Little Stowaways Pound on the Steamer Farallon
Number of Men at Mare Island

The number of men working on Mare Island on April 15th was as follows: Yards and docks, 111; construction and repairs, 306; steam engineering, 195; equipment and recruiting, 56; ordnance, 16; navigation, 4; provisions and clothing, 20; total, 708.

The Mexican gunboat Democrats, which has been in port about four months, has nearly completed her improvements and repairs and will leave for Guaymas next week. She has received a new armament since coining here and now carries two 100-pound guns, two 20 pounders and one Gatling gun. She has a crew of 125 men.

G. F. Lanteri, the boat-builder at Fisherman's Wharf, launched another large coffee lighter yesterday afternoon. It is for Parrott & Co. and will go to San Jose de Guatemala. This lighter is the largest yet launched by Lanteri, being quite able to carry fifty tons. The dimensions are: Length 47 feet, beam 14 feet, depth of hold G feet G inches. She is of extra strong build and copper-bottomed.

St. Peter's Chapel

St. Peter's Chapel on Mare Island was built in 1901 under the guidance of Chaplin McAllister. An addition was made two years later, to add space for the Organ Pipes and the blower which provides air pressure for the organ. The twenty-nine stained glass windows were installed over a thirty year period to honor individuals and groups such as the "Women of the Navy and Marines." Of course, there is a window dedicated to McAllister. Twenty-five of the windows are known to be from the Tiffany Studios, one by the Cummings Studios, and three from Ingerson and Glaser of San Francisco.

MINSY was the premier US West Coast submarine port as well as serving as the controlling force in San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilding efforts during World War II. The base closed in 1996 and has gone through several redevelopment phases. It was registered as a California Historical Landmark in 1960, and parts of it were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1975.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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