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Monday, April 26, 1982

Nearby Points of Interest

Ernest D. Wichels

This weekly historical column is meant to deal with Napa and Solano counties, but there are nearby places that have had a direct relationship.

Port Costa, for instance a small town nestled in a little canyon on the south side of the Carquinez Strait, and today, little more than a popular tourist attraction.

Thanks to author Doug Urbick (for the, Pacific Historian edition of winter 1978), we have added to our own information of this one-time important town.  An early bay pioneer, George McNear, in the 1870s formed a milling, shipping and grain company, and purchased the bay front in Port Costa. Then, in 1878, the Central Pacific (now the Southern Pacific) purchased a right of way along the strait to transport entire trains across Carquinez to Benicia, and connect with the Central Pacific tracks running from Benicia to Suisun City.

Finally, on Dec. 28, 1879, the world’s largest train ferry, the Solano, began operating. Later, another giant ferry, the Contra Costa, also carried trains across the strait - both operated until the Martinez Railway bridge was completed in the 1930s.  Then, about 1872, two men by the names of McKay and Flood, who had made their for-tunes in the Comstock Lode in Nevada, built the largest grainery in the West. Later, about 1882, another huge grain shipping terminal was built in Port Costa by the Balfour-Guthrie Co.

Vallejo was vitally affected, and disastrously so, because until 1874 or so we were the nation’s leading wheat export port. In 1872, for example, our two elevators in South Vallejo loaded 112 clipper ships for England.

By 1882. the railroad company also established a roundhouse and repair shops in Port Costa. It was truly one of the bay area’s bustling towns.

Also, early in this century at a nearby spot called Ozol was an oil reduction plant, which. processed thousands of tons of sardines.  But all things must end: the railway built a bridge, the sardines disappeared from California waters, and California’s agricultural emphasis turned from grain to vegetables, fruit and vineyards. A visit to Port Costa is still worth the time and effortÂ? eventually, the thousands of pilings also will disappear.

Vallejo has a street named Branciforte Street; most of our citizens do not recognize the origin of this Vallejo name.  In 1797, a small village was established by the Spanish on Pajaro River across from the Mission de Santa Cruz. The place was called Villa de Branciforte for a Spanish viceroy named Branciforte.

The villa’s original purpose was to house the prisoners sentenced in early days by the presidios at Monterey and in San Francisco.

When California became a state in 1850 and the first 26 counties were designated and named, one was Branciforte County. Vallejo’s founder, Capt. John B. Frisbie, named our first north-south streets for these counties.  Several years later, the residents of Branciforte County, apparently embarrassed by the prisoner-origin of the town, changed the name of the county to that of the Spanish mission: Santa Cruz.

The early city trustees did not go along with the idea, so today we retain Branciforte Street, but do not have a Santa Cruz Street.  An entire volume could be written about the history of our 21st mission, the last in the chain and only one built under Mexican rule.  Father Jose Altimira, a young priest from Mission San Francisco de Asis (which we call Mission Dolores), obtained permission from Mexican Governor Luis Arguello to build a mission in Sonoma Valley.

Although a site was dedicated on July 4, 1823, it was deemed to be too windy, and a second site (the present one) was selected on the east side of the valley. It was dedicated on April 4, .1824, and named for the apostle of Peru, San Francisco Solano. Thus, its first name and the only name it has ever had is Mission Francisco de Solano. Many of our citizens continue to call it Mission Sonoma which is incorrect:  The original mission has more than 550 Christian “neophytes,” as the Indians were called. Many of these were Miwoks from the Tomales Bay area.

Within 10 years the mission complex in-eluded some 20 adobe structures, numerous workshops, etc. The mission church was completed in 1832.

Then, in 1834, the Mexican government secularized all missions and declared that Mission de Solano would no longer be considered a mission with any control over land and Indians, but instead would be a parish church for the pueblo of Sonoma.  A young Mexican lieutenant, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, was placed in charge of mission properties as administrator.