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Sunday, August 16, 1981

When “TR” Came To Town

Ernest D. Wichels

Last weeks column told, in detail, of what happened locally when President Theodore Roosevelt came to Vallejo on May 14, 1903, to lay the cornerstone of Vallejo’s Navy YMCA on Santa Clara Street - a landmark that existed downtown for some 60 years until razed before the redevelopment program.

This reminds us that much of Napa and Solano history has been recorded for posterity, for which we are thankful.  The complete files of the Vallejo Evening Chronicle are intact from June 1867; and the files of the Morning Times-Herald from 1921. It, is - also fortunate that Mare Island possesses the daily logs from Farragut’s arrival on Sept. 16, 1854 to the present nearly 127 years.

In addition Munro Fraser wrote a History of Solana County in 1879; Tom Gregory wrote the History of Napa and Solano Counties in 1912; and Marguerite Hunt of Vallejo and Harry L. Gunn of Napa wrote the Napa and Solano County History in 1924.

In 1954 Lt. Cmdr. Arnie Lott wrote the 100-year history of Mare Island and vicinity (A Long Line of Ships, published by Naval Institute), and in 1977 the 123-year-old pictorial essay of Mare Island and vicinity (From Sidewheelers to Nuclear Power, published by Leeward Publications) was co-authored by your columnist and Sue Lem-man.  The need for recording events and names of people involved was seen by the editor of the Chronicle in 1904, who wrote: “Someone to collect a detailed history of our great Navy yard and put in in such form that it will be in demand from one end of the land to the other.

Fifty years were to pass before “A Long Line of Ships” was written, and another 23 before the “Sidewheeler” book was printed. The former is now out of print and a collectors’ item, the latter is available in local bookstores.  As an example of record-keeping in earlier days, the type of items recorded, the Mare Island Log Book for the week when President Teddy Roosevelt visited Vallejo. proves to be very interesting.

“Tuesday, May 12, 1903. Tug Active left at 9:30 a.m., with Marine officers and a number of Marines to take part in street parade (in San Francisco) in honor of the president and party. Schooners Heckla and Harvest Queen departed. Suscol arrived with one case of paper, 50 kegs of white lead, 68 pieces of hardwood and 126 boxes of cans and fittings. Arrived at 7:45 p.m. Str. Herald with seven bales of cotton waste, one coil wire rope, 4,000 bricks, four pieces of pipe, one blower and 253 packages of stores; also one lot sacks, shovels and picks.”

“Wednesday, May 13, 1903. Tug Unadilla left at 5:30 a.m. for San Francisco to bring the secretary of the Navy to this yard. Unadilla returned at 11:30 a.m. with commandant and the secretary of the Navy and party, and received military honors. After inspection, the secretary of the Navy boarded the torpedo boat Paul Jones and left for San Francisco at 4:10 p.m, At 5:20 p.m., str Suscol arrived with one case of varnish, one case of printed matter, one box of key blanks, one box of stationery, 50 cases of linseed oil, 50 kegs of white lead and two bundles_ of handware. Str. Herald arrived with a case of lamps, 14 sacks of copper ingots, 243 pieces of W.I. Pipe and 20 cents sheet-iron.

“Thursday, May 14, 1903. USS Paul Jones. left early for San Francisco with Rear Adm. Miller, commandant, to accompany President Roosevelt to this yard. Paul Jones arrived in Vallejo at 4:10 p.m. with the president and Rear Adm. Miller. The president laid the cornerstone of the building for the Sailors’ Home, after which he visited the yard where he was met by the officers of the station and received military honors. He then boarded the Paul Jones and left for San Francisco. Received salutes and other marks of respect and good wishes.

And then followed the customary arrivals of sternwheelers and quantities of drugs, oil, letter paper, cotton waste, hawsers, nails etc. Can anyone imagine the size of the log book today, if all of the incoming freight was itemized?  Today’s log books are no longer a detailed diary.  Teddy Roosevelt is credited, in history, with the rebirth of the U.S. Navy in the early years of this century. Today, with a record-breaking defense budget under consideration in Congress, the Navy seems to be on the threshhold of another major expansion.  Is this anything new?

Let us read the preface to Chapter I of “A Long Line of Ships,” where author Lott quotes the following excerpt from President John Quincy Adams’ First Annual Message to the Congress on Dec. 6, 1825 156 years ago:  “It were, indeed, a vain and dangerous illusion to believe that in the present or probable condition of human society a commerce so extensive and so rich as ours could *exist and be pursued in safety without the continual support of a military marine. A permanent naval peace establishment, there-fore, adapted to our present condition, and adaptable to that gigantic growth with which the nation is advancing in its career, is among the subjects which have already occupied the foresight of the last Congress…

And it was Mare Island’s founder, and once Vallejo’s first citizen Adm. David G. Farragut, who at the end of the Civil War, wrote: “Not by our own choice, but by a necessity which foreign powers have imposed upon us, by aiding the rebellion (Civil War), we have become a great military power, and the attitude of Western Europe. will compel us to remain so, if we would maintain our national rights and honor, and these must be intrusted hereafter in a great degree to the Navy.”