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

Port Costa

Port Costa is a small town on the Carquinez Strait, located between Crockett and Martinez in west Contra Costa County across from Benicia, in Solano County, California. Port costa was a major grain port for merchant sailing ships, with warehouses, saloons and hotels on waterfront wharves reaching halfway to Crockett. Two of the largest train ferries in the world steamed between Port Costa and Benicia.

February 3, 1881, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California


Port Costa.Port Costa.

The accounts of the drowning of John W. Dwindle are very remarkable. It is unaccountable that such a casualty should have occurred without exciting more emotion or activity than seems to have been aroused, even though the man drowned was not then known. Nor does there appear to be any certainty as to how his death occurred. We cannot understand the story about his actions at Port Costa at all. If, as is stated, he was seen to run directly towards the water; if he failed to hear the warning shout addressed to him; and if he was seen to fall over the edge of the wharf; why was no effort made at the time to save him, by those who saw all this? Is it to be concluded that there is nothing sufficiently singular in seeing an elderly gentleman fall off a wharf into deep water, to excite remark at Port Costa? If any one saw what has been related, it must have been known to some one then and there that a man had been drowned. But no mention is made of any attempt to save him, and more than this, the stories about his death do not agree. One is to the effect that he fell off the wharf at Port Costa, and this is at once the most circumstantial and the most mysterious.

But there is another one to the effect that he fell off the boat, and it would be interesting to know how this originated. It is necessary that these stories should be traced. Who saw the missing man running towards the red light? Who saw him fall off the wharf! And who, having seen this, made no effort to save him? Who, again, says that he fell off the boat? And who, last of all, is prepared to assert that he is dead at all? The evidence thus far adduced most certainly is insufficient to prove anything of the kind. There is a very wide gap between the premise that a man is seen moving towards the water, and the conclusion that he has fallen in and been drowned. Somebody says: " I saw him hurrying towards the red light, and did not see him return." "Therefore he is drowned," is the conclusion; but though it may be true it is not logical. In fact, until the body is found, supposing that no fuller knowledge of the facts can be obtained, it would be unjustifiable to take it for granted that John W. Dwineile is really dead. He has disappeared, but this does not prove that he has ceased to live.

April 20, 1881, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


The San Francisco Chronicle publishes a table showing the proposed reductions in freight rates on grain from various points of the interior to Port Costa and San Francisco, with the purpose of fortifying the assertion that the Railroad Commissioners in making these rates have discriminated against San Francisco. We take the liberty of borrowing the Chronicle's table, which is as follows:

  Present rate Board's rates Percent reduction
Sumner to San Francisco
Sumner to Port Costa
Hanford to San Francisco
Hanford to Port Costa
Willows to San Francisco
Willows to Port Costa
Yolo to San Francisco
Yolo to Port Costa
Calistoga to San Francisco
Calistoga to Port Costa
St. Helena to San Francisco
St. Helena to Port Costa
Redding to San Francisco
Redding to Port Costa
Red Bluff to San Francisco
Red Bluff to Port Costa
Chico to San Francisco
Chico to Port Costa
Biggs to San Francisco
Biggs to Port Costa

The facts here shown are significant. Port Costa, is thirty miles nearer all the points named than San Francisco. The Chronicle has always maintained that it was wrong to charge more for a less than a greater distance. The reverse of this has been done by the new freight tariff. Port Costa is at tide-water, equally with San Francisco. It is a far more eligible point of shipment and storage, because it is not subject to municipal taxation or warehouse taxation. It is thirty miles nearer to the grain fields. Are not these sufficient grounds for preferring it to San Francisco? Or does the Chronicle hold that is was the duty of the Railroad Commissioners to discriminate against Port Costa and every other point in the interior, in favor of San Francisco?

Our contemporary's own estimates (for the accuracy of which it alone is responsible) show that the farmers will save $500,000 on freight alone by shipping to Port Costa. Add to this the saving in taxes and other charges, and it may easily be shown that they will effect a gain of full $1,000,000 upon the entire crop by the proposed change. In whose interest is it that the Chronicle objects to this saving! Listen to it. After making the exhibit we have spoken of, it says: "This is the way Beerstecher and Cone propose to aid the farmers in building up happy and prosperous homes, throughout the entire extent of the State, to quote his own reported language."

We rather think that the case of Messrs. Beerstecher and Cone in this connection has been made by the Chronicle. Is it not a very good way to assist the farmers in building up happy and prosperous homes to save them $1,000,000 in one year, or does our contemporary believe that they would be more happy and prosperous if they paid over this million for the support of San Francisco speculators and middlemen? The truth is that no matter what redactions the Commissioners had made, they would have been abused had they failed to put everything into the rapacious maw of San Francisco. At present they are abased because they have committed the high crime of giving the farmers rates on grain which will enable them to save a million of dollars by shipping to the most advantageous point at tide-water. This shows how little any consideration of the interests of the entire community has to do with the censure which is visited upon the Commissioners.

August 12, 1882, Pacific Rural Press

Port Costa as a Shipping Point.

Post Costa, on Carquinez straits, has become one of the great shipping points for California wheat. The situation is admirably adapted to the wheat traffic, and it has been greatly to the advantage of the wheat growers that warehousing and shipping have been done there. A saving of 50 cents per ton railroad freight has been effected. Barges bringing down grain from the interior rivers have been saved from the encounter with the rough waters of the bay, which always occasioned large losses.

The popularity of Port Costa is shown by the fact that 84 ships loaded there in 1880-81, the first year the establishment was opened, and the number was more than doubled during the second year. During the month of July last, out of 32 ships cleared from all points around San Francisco bay, 22 were loaded at McNear's wharves at Port Costa. Thus it appears that Port Costa sprang at once into a leading place as a shipping point, and justified the confidence in its location manifested by Mr. G. Y. McNear when he chose it as the site for his warehouses.

The advantage of getting grain into warehouse early is often very marked. The early shipper has plenty of cars at his command, while those who procrastinate are often caught by the early rains, unable to get carriage for their grain because of the mass presented to the railways at the same time.

July 16, 1884, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Port Costa Disaster.

The recent disaster near Port Costa, in which four employes of the Pacific Bell Telephone Company lost their lives in Carquinez Straits, by having their boat ran down by the steamer Solano, was investigated yesterday morning by United States Inspectors Hillman and Freeman. John Gordon, the only man in the boat who was saved, testified that he and his companions pulled out to the middle of the stream and dropped their grapple, being assured by the Solano people that they would look out for them. After 250 feet of the grapple was run onto the Solano left her slip and bore down upon them. They cried out to stop the engines of the steamer, and a reply came to keep out of the way. The grapple became entangled and prevented the boat's party from pulling away and it was upset.

Fred. N. Friedberg testified that the steamer blew three sharp whistles when she left the slip. That statement was corroborated by deck-hands. The examination will go on to-day.

July 17, 1884, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Testimony of the "Solano's" Chief Officers.

Steamboat Inspectors Freeman and Hillman yesterday continued their investigation of the accident at Port Costa, when the Solano ran down a small boat, causing the death of several cable repairers. Captain Morton of the Solano testified that when he saw the boat he put his helm hard a starboard, stopped his starboard engine, and kept the port engine going and tooted the whistle three times for them to keep out of the way. Mr. Poole saw they had a line fast, and called out, "Stop her." The engines were stopped, but in spite of all that could be done on the Solano the boat drifted under the wheel and was capsized. They threw out life buoys, and a boat was put out from the shore, which picked up one man. William Poole, first officer of the Solano, gave similar testimony, adding that he called out to the men in the boat to cast the line loose, but they seemed confused, and did not do so. The steamer drifted down on the boat. Morgan Williams, the engineer, testified to hearing bells and stopping engines in accordance with orders. The investigation will be resumed next week.

April 9, 1885

An Experiment at Port Costa and Nevada Docks

An order was recently issued by the Central Pacific Railroad to the effect that a charge of eight cents per ton would be made by the company when it handled grain at the Port Costa and Nevada Docks. It has been customary to handle all grain at the shipping points without charge, although a like favor was not given to shippers of other classes of freight. In no case was the shipper prevented from handling his freight if he desired. In order to put grain on the same footing as other freight, the recent order was made. Not long since an offer was made the company by Mr. Depew, a Sacramento shipper, to take the business of handling grain from the company at a fixed charge of eight cents per ton, and the company granted him this privilege. The officers of the company state that this arrangement is only temporary.

October 15, 1886, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Port Costa Lumber Company has been incorporated with $600,000 capital stock. Directors: W. J. Adams, C. Hansen, C. B. Holmes, John A. Hooper, F. P. Hooper, C. A. Hooper, A. W. Jackson and F. Talbot.

December 27, 1902, Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California

Contra Costa County a Center for Many Manufacturing Industries 
Its Miles of Water Front Add to the Increasing Value of Its Peerless Soil

The large ranches for which the county has been famous for years, have been subdivided into smaller holdings, which, of course, means occupation by settlers . . .

From this county a large proportion of the hay which is exported from San Francisco to Hawaii and the Orient is raised, it having been demonstrated that it holds its food properties better than any other hay, during an ocean voyage . . .

The principal towns in the county are Martinez, the county seat, 35 miles from San Francisco, population 1,500; Crockett, 1,300; Pinole, 1,000, Antioch, 1,000; Concord, 600; Richmond, 1,500; Port Costa, Walnut Creek, Clayton . . . each a center of trade for the country surrounding it.

There are nearly seventy miles of water front in Contra Costa County on the Bay of San Francisco, which offers some of the best facilities for manufacturing lo be found in California. At Point Richmond the Standard Oil Company has its terminal for its pipe lines . . .

The fishing industry is one which has not been thoroughly recognized. There are nearly 1000 boats engaged In this industry representing, I suppose, an inPort Costa. Port Costa.vestment in the way of boats, nets, scows, etc. of over $500,000. This means that upwards of 2000 men find employment in this industry who increase the output of the county each year by possibly a million and a half to $2,000,000 and contribute very largely at both the trade and the wealth of the county. They ply their vocation from Point Richmond to the San Joaquin County line...

We have the best of markets the home market. San Francisco and Oakland are but a few miles away. They take all of our products excepting grain. The market for grain is right at home. Port Costa being the greatest grain shipping point in the entire West. It is said that you can judge a community by the state of the farmers' pocket books.


At Selby's is a plant which is known throughout the world, that of the Selby Smelting Works. It is the largest private gold refinery in the world, where 400 hands are employed refining the yellow metal. During 1901, $45,000,000 worth of bullion was refined. Every facility for its enormous business is in evidence and the work done during the year shows that the gold mining industry is not lagging on the Pacific Coast. A mile beyond Selby's is Vallejo Junction, where the Southern Pacific Railroad brings the products of the great Napa Valley for shipping to Oakland and San Francisco.

January 16, 1891, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Loading Record Broken

Marvelously quick work was done lately at Port Costa in loading the British steamer Strathclyde with a cargo of wheat, when the record for quick loading was broken, as the following shows: On Monday, January 12th, eight hours were consumed in loading, during which time 41,898 sacks, or 5,832,506 pounds of wheat were stowed in the steamer's capacious hold. On Tuesday it only required six hours to complete the stowage of the cargo, during which time 23,509 sacks of wheat, or 3,287,304 pounds, were stowed. On Monday, for a short time only, a barge was discharging into the steamer from the river side, but with this exception the whole work was done from the warehouses. The total cargo was loaded in fourteen hours, and footed up 4071 long tons, or 65,407 sacks, weighing 9,119,811 pounds, which, if shipped from an Eastern port, would be figured in bushels, and in that measurement would make a total of 151,997 bushels. It would require fifteen trains of thirty cars each to carry this enormous cargo if transported by land.


One of the most important shipping points in the United States is Port Costa, where for many years the surplus of the grain crop of California has been shipped to all parts of the world.

Sea going vessels of the greatest draft can land there with ease and safety. Here the great wheat shippers, such as Geo. W. McNear & Co., Balfour Guthrie & Co., and Eppinger & Co., have millions of dollars invested in wharves and warehouses, where the grain crop of a whole State can be housed and where in the height of the season a couple of hundred thousand tons of wheat and barley are stored. The celebrated Port Costa Flour, manufactured by Geo. W. McNear & Company takes its name from this place.

The Port Costa Lumber Company supplies the Sacramento, Napa and San Joaquin valleys is located in the Port.

Not far from it at Crockett, on the straights of Carquinez is the great refinery of the California-Hawaiian Sugar Company, which has a capacity for 1,000 tons of beets and 500 tons of cane every day. It is one of the most flourishing industries of the State. The town of Port Costa is one of the most prosperous in Contra Costa County and has a great future before it.

Port Costa.Port Costa.

View of SP Steamer Contra Costa.
Port Costa, California

Immigration.Merchants of Grain: 
The Power and Profits of the Five Giant Companies at the Center of the World's Food Supply
Five Companies at the Center of the World's Food Supply.
Dan Morgan
Details how a handful of families have controlled the worlds grain trade for centuries. A great piece for families that till the soil, but one that is even more important to the people who live in the city; and have no idea of the power and control that these families wield. 
From Captain John R. Sutton: "I am a captain on Mississippi River towboats. I have pushed millions of tons of grain down the Mississippi River for years. But I never really understood the gobal impact of the world's grain company's until I read this book."

Immigration.Family Skeletons: Exploring the Lives of Our Disreputable AncestorsFamily Skeletons.
Simon Fowler, Ruth Paley
Most families have a skeleton. You may have already discovered yours via the grapevine or your own research. Or you may simply be intrigued by the dark side of our past. This popular history explores the behaviour of our disreputable ancestors from the unfortunate to the criminal, and introduces a host of colourful characters including 17th century witches, 18th century 'mollies' and Victorian baby farmers. Thematically arranged by skeleton, the text also describes how society punished and provided for its 'offenders' - as well as the changing attitudes that could ultimately bring acceptance.

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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