History of Benicia

Founded on May 19, 1847, Benicia has a rich and celebrated history. From serving a short stint California's third capital to its lineage as the location of the only camel corps in the U.S., Benicia has been the home of innovators and industrialists for 170 years and counting. 

The Kullman-Salz Tannery Office. Photo: Benicia Library Collection

The Kullman-Salz Tannery Office. Photo: Benicia Library Collection

benicia's bustling economy

During the 19th century, canneries and tanneries formed the core of Benicia's economy. The Benicia Tannery (now The Tannery Building: Food, Spirits and Shops) included a 3 story high currying shop, drying rooms, a bark mill and an immense bark shed holding up to 600 cords of tan bark. It produced 18 different kinds of leather, employed between 30 and 40 people and had a payroll of more than $2,000/mo (in the late 1800's).

Camel Barns at the Arsenal  Photo: Benicia Historical Museum

Camel Barns at the Arsenal

Photo: Benicia Historical Museum

The great camel experiment

Opened in 1849, the Arsenal was designated by Abraham Lincoln as the first military arsenal on the West Coast. It served for over 100 years as the primary U.S. Army Ordnance facility for the West Coast. It served as a staging area during the Civil War for Union troops from the West. In the 1850s-1860s, the U.S. Army experimented using camels, imported from the Middle East, as pack animals. After the advent of the Civil War, the experiment was abandoned and the animals were auctioned off.

Ceramic Tile Muralist Guillermo Wagner Granizo captures the Benicia landscape. Courtesy: Benicia Historical Museum

Ceramic Tile Muralist Guillermo Wagner Granizo captures the Benicia landscape. Courtesy: Benicia Historical Museum

a history of art excellence

Benicia has been inspiring authors, sculptors, painters and other visionaries for more than 170 years. Some say a magical combination of elements came together to make Benicia what it is today. Take a stroll downtown and you'll find the arts are alive and well, attracting those who excel in an environment teeming with creativity, energy and a commitment to excellence. The renovated Arsenal is now home to a thriving artist community.

 

Historical Highlights

  • Keeping the "Express" in Pony Express: Benicia was involved in the Pony Express from 1860-1861. When riders missed their connection with a steamer in Sacramento, they would continue on to Benicia and cross over to Martinez via the ferry.

  • Ferries Carrying Trains: In 1879, the Central Pacific Railroad established a major railroad ferry across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Port Costa. The world's largest ferry, the Solano, later joined by the even larger Contra Costa, carried entire trains across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Port Cost up until the 1930s.

Learn more about Benicia's intriguing history by visiting VisitBenica.org and the Benicia Historical Museum. History buffs will enjoy exploring the city and learning what makes Benicia a true center of excellence since its inception.