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Monday, January 13, 1964

Historical Landmarks

Ernest D. Wichels

Credit is due those whose efforts are devoted to the preservation of Historical Landmarks in Solano County. There are many groups and many individuals interested in this work and an excellent job has been done so far. But so much remains to be done. One of the completed projects was marked, last May 30th, with the dedication of a California Historical Landmark at the century-old Rockville Church, just north of Cordelia on old U.S. 40.


Another project nearing completion is the restoration of the historic Casa de Pena one mile west of Vacaville on U.S. 40. Many of our readers have undoubtedly watched the rebuilding of this adobe structure as they motored past. With the initiative provided by the Solano County Historical Society, property granted by Mr. and Mrs. Delbert Mowers of Vacaville and Mr. William Goheen of Vallejo, and financial assistance from the City of Vacaville and from citizens of that city, the restoration is progressing. The California Medical Facility has likewise provided major support in this rebuilding. The long-range view is the establishment of a State Park on the site.

The first settlers of European ancestry to come to what is now Solano County were Juan Felipe Pena and Juan Manuel Vaca. They arrived on August 15, 1841, in Laguna Valley southwest of the present City of Vacaville and shortly commenced construction on their homes. The Casa de Pena still stands today! It is therefore the oldest structure in Solano County and can correctly be classed as one of the first homes in Solano County, and the only one which remains from the Mexican era.


Perhaps no community in Solano County has been as energetic in marking its historical spots as has Benicia. Today a citizens’ committee is engaged in a major effort to have certain portions of the vast Benicia Arsenal grounds reserved from the transfer of that property to the city for industrial purposes. It is proposed to have the State Division of Beaches and Parks accept these historical portions.

Because of the topography of the land, and industrial necessities, not all of the old buildings will be included in the proposed State Park. But there is a wealth of historical lore in those which will remain. Among these is the original powder magazine, built in 1857, with vaulted ceiling and Corinthian pillars, built by a French engineer. Then, the two famous camel barns, completed in 1854-1855, and patterned after the Harper’s Ferry Buildings. The first U.S. Military Hospital, built 1856, is also included.

Best known to Arsenal visitors is the Clock Tower Building. This was the original arsenal building, completed 1859. The beautiful Commanding Officer’s quarters, built in 1860 with materials brought “around the Horn” will be preserved in this project.


Many of our readers have been kind enough to say they enjoy the bits of stories we have gleaned from the Vallejo Chronicle of 70 to 90 years ago. These early writers were frank, endowed with a sense of humor, and certainly showed courage. Here are a few more items.

The Chronicle, Nov. 11, 1889: “The Vaca Valley Enterprise is kind enough, in recognizing our anniversary, to remark that the Chronicle is a `pretty good local paper.’ We appreciate the exuberance of flattery in this admission and would like to return the compliment, but dare not for fear of being struck dead for lying.”

The next day, Nov. 12, 1889: “The apprentice boys on the yard and the lads there have a new pastime, running up to the tops of the masts of the Frederick Billings. There is danger that some mother’s darling will by this sport become prematurely an angel.”

On Nov. 9, 1889, U.S. Senator Leland Stanford paid a visit to Vallejo, arriving by b o a t at McCudden’s Wharf, escorted up Georgia by a parade, and then to a reception at the Bernard House. There were speeches, refreshments, and politics. But on Nov. 11th the Chronicle commented editorially: “Several prominent citizens of Vallejo refused to contribute a cent to help along Saturday’s reception. When the reception was at its height, they were in the front ranks as big as the biggest. Some folks never get left, no matter how much anything costs (other people).”

From the issue of Jan. 14, 1890, front page: “Mrs. D. L. Q - - - charged with assault with a deadly weapon, was tried before Judge Shafter Monday and acquitted.” During an argument with her son-in-law at the California Hotel. (Santa Clara Street) “a wordy scene ensued, followed by some pushing, ending in Mrs. Q - - - breaking a spittoon over his head.”

From the Chronicle, Nov. 18, 1889: “Edison’s latest improved phonograph—the greatest wonder of the nineteenth century, will be exhibited at the Baptist Church tonight. It will talk, laugh, whistle, cough and sneeze. Go see it.”