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July 18, 2019
Blog

History of Benicia

Mandi Renshaw

The restored Benicia Capitol building
Credit: Frank Schulenburg

Benicia, also known as the “jewel of Solano County”, has a fascinating history that has shaped it into the beautiful and diverse community that it is today. The city got its start in 1947 when General Mariano Vallejo sold a large portion of land to politician Robert Semple and a businessman named Thomas Larkin. Given the generous grant, the only condition was that it was to be named after the general’s wife, Francisca Benicia. After being officially founded in 1949, Benicia became relevant in matters surrounding California politics, the United States military, and even the Gold Rush.

By 1953, Benicia became the third State Capitol. Unfortunately, this position was short lived and after 13 months, Governor John Bigler moved the California Capitol to his hometown of Sacramento. The restored brick building is the only pre-Sacramento Capitol building that still exists in California today and you can see the building for yourself by visiting Benicia Capitol State Historic Park on West G Street. The museum is within walking distance of the City Park stop on the Yellow Line and is open Thursday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. The restored interior, interpretive exhibits and guided tours will surely amaze you!

It is also important to note that Benicia is famous for aiding in American battles and wars. In 1949, the town was home to a waterfront arsenal that provided U.S. troops with necessary weapons. The famous Union Army general Ulysses S. Grant was actually assigned to the Benicia Arsenal early in his career. However, Grant wasn’t the only unique visitor to the arsenal because camels were also corralled at the arsenal after a failed attempt to utilize them in the army as pack animals. The arsenal can be easily spotted by the iconic sandstone Clock Tower near the entrance to the port of Benicia. If you are lucky you can spot the landmark as you go over the Benicia-Martinez bridge on the Yellow Line.

Benicia is not only known for its political history, but also for the city’s role in the California Gold Rush. People rushed to the Sierras for years to follow and Benicia became a popular pit stop on gold miners’ journey. In fact, the Fischer-Hanlon House had once been part of a fire-damaged, gold-rush-era hotel. The landmark is located next to Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and is open to visitors.

Overall, Benicia is home to rich California history and offers much to explore. Make it your mission to visit some of Benicia’s historical sites this summer and use our buses as your transportation around town and throughout Solano County!

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