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Sunday, August 22, 1982

Across the Strait

Ernest D. Wichels

Exactly 30 years after the founding of the city of Vallejo¬? primarily to be the seat of state government,¬? a sister community was surveyed and took form on the opposite side of the Carquinez Strait.

Until July 4, 1918, however, the two communities were completely strangers even though separated by less than two miles, part of which was the water barrier.  While it is true that beginning in the 1890s the Southern Pacific ran ferries, El Capitan and Bay City, from the Georgia Street wharf to a slip on the Contra Costa side called Vallejo Junction, these daily runs were principally to transport passengers and mail from Solano, Napa and Lake counties to the Southern Pacific main line on the opposite shore.

Whether local residents were booked for San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York or Seattle, this was the “outlet” from Vallejo; by the same reasoning, this was the “inlet” from all parts of the country.  Whether it was cash for the local banks, or the Mare Island payroll, or officers and sailors reporting for local naval duty, all came via the ferry to Georgia Street if by rail. Otherwise, beginning in the 1890s it was by ferryboat between Vallejo and San Francisco, and although this route didn’t take one to the east, south or north, it was the fastest way to Marin County as well as to San Francisco.

Then on July 4, 1918, the little steamer Issaquah, built near Seattle, began operations as an auto ferry between Vallejo and Valona. Both Valona and Vallejo Junction are now part of present day Crockett. Vallejo (Morrow Cove) was then the terminus of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway and later US-40 (running on Broadway, Alameda Street and Fifth Street). But Crockett and Vallejo were really “married” on May 21, 1927, when the Carquinez Bridge was completed, a dedication with speeches that was interruped when a passel of newsboys descended upon the bridge with the afternoon dailies, screaming “Lindbergh reaches Paris!” during the centennial of Crockett, the Crockett Improvement Association published a history written by David A. Billeci and researched by Celia Carmichael. It is undoubtedly the, most interesting and authentic historic description of our sister city that has been produced:

Titled “Crockett and Its People,” it covers everything from the Karkin Indians, the first house, the first white settler, churches and schools, early prominence as a grain shipping port, the C and H Sugar Co., and all of the interesting citizens and events that go to make up 100 years.  Both David Billed and Celia Carmichael are natives of Vallejo. David is a graduate of Hogan High School and Solano Community College; Celia is a graduate of Carandolet High School in Concord and did graduate work at Holy Names College in Oak-land, where she worked on the history of Vallejo.

The first white American settler to come to the south side of the Carquinez Strait Was Thomas Edwards Sr., with his wife and five sons, in 1866 after having crossed the plains in a covered wagon in the summer of 1849.  This is where he met a young man practicing law by the name of Joseph B. Crockett, later to become supreme justice of California and in whose honor the town is named.

Crockett had come into possession of 1,800 acres of land on the strait. 1867 he and Edwards entered into a partnership, and in that year Edwards built his home, the first. He farmed the land until the 1870s when he moved to San Francisco.  In 1880 Edwards purchased Crockett’s interest in the land for $30,000, and in 1881 he and John L. Heald (who earlier had a foundry and machine shop in South Vallejo) surveyed the Crockett town site.

In a future column we will describe in detail the building of the Carquinez Bridge one of the largest cantilever bridges in the world.  We have frequently heard the strait was named for the Spanish word for “crab.” One of our historical books insists on this source.  That is only partly true. Back in 1775, Don Jose de Canizares wrote a report to Don Juan de Ayala (who came to Mare Island in August of 1776 and named the place “Isla Plana,” which was later changed by Mariano Vallejo to “Isla de la Yegue”) describing the village of Indians located at the present site of Crockett.

These were the Karkin Indians, so named by the Mexican commandante at Monterey from a like Greek word meaning “crab,” because of the great number of crabs found in the strait. So actually, the strait and bridge trace their names to the early Indian tribe of the region.  Edwards’ original 1867 home is now a Calnia Registered Historical Landmark, No. 732, called the “Old Homestead.” The Crockett .Women’s-Club has worked endlessly to preserve the grounds restore the structure.