Mare Island has a long and colorful history, celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2014. Visit the Mare Island Historical Museum, take a guided tour, or rent a historic facility for your next special event.

History

Mare Island has a long and colorful history, celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2014. Visit the Mare Island Historical Museum, take a guided tour, or rent a historic facility for your next special event.

Mare Island Then and Now

As the first United States Naval installation on the west coast, Mare Island and the now closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard, has a long and colorful history. From its inception in 1854 until its closure in 1996, the Shipyard played an important part of Vallejo history and was recognized as the one of the busiest shipyards in the world and the second largest Navy Yard in the U.S. 

St. Peter's Chapel

 

1775
1800
1825
1850
1875
1900
1925
1950
1975
2000
2025

 

Mare Island History

1775-1799

1775:
The low, sandy island in San Pablo Bay is discovered by European settlers when explorer Don Felix Ayala sails into San Francisco Bay. He names the land "Isla Plana" or Flat Island and claims it for King Charles II of Spain.

Mare Island History

1800-1824

No significant events.

Mare Island History

1825-1849

1835:
General Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican Commandant for Northern California, renames the island "Isla de la Yegua," or Mare Island. According to legend, the general's white mare had fallen overboard from a barge during transport across the Carquinez Strait, only to reappear days later ashore.

1852-1854:
Commodore John Drake Sloat recommends to President Millard Fillmore that 800 acres comprising Mare Island be purchased to establish the first Naval yard and ammunition depot on the Pacific Coast. With Commodore David Farragut as commanding officer, the Mare Island Naval Yard begins to support the United States Naval Fleet.

1859:
The first ship built at Mare Island, the Saginaw, is a paddle-wheel gunboat constructed of white oak from Petaluma. Over the next 123-plus years, 513 vessels will be built. Another 1,227 will be repaired or overhauled at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Mare Island History

1850-1874

1864-1869:
Returning to the Navy fleet during the Civil War, Admiral Farragut commands the Hartford up and down the Mississippi against the Confederacy. He utters his famous "Damn the torpedoes...full speed ahead!" at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Commandant James Alden encourages captains to bring trees back from their cruises to plant on Mare Island. This tradition results in the island's wide variety of horticulture, with exotic species from the East Coast, New Zealand, Australia and many other ports of call. The island's Naval Hospital is built. During World War II, it will gain international acclaim for its work in prosthetics for veterans.

Mare Island History

1875-1899

1889:
Electrical lights come to the island.

1892:
The Mare Island Golf Course is built, initially with sand greens. Today, it is the oldest course west of the Mississippi

1898:
The March 30th earthquake causes significant damage to some island structures, including the original brick officers' quarters along Walnut Ave. The street is rebuilt with the white Italianate mansions you see today.

Mare Island History

1900-1924

1901:
St. Peter's Chapel is dedicated. Now the country's second-oldest naval chapel, it has the largest collection of Tiffany windows on the West Coast and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

1904:
The first radio message transmitted on the Pacific Coast is sent from Mare Island to the hospital ship Solace. Contact lasts 75 miles. Submarines or "divers" begin exercises in San Pablo Bay. The underwater trips are short and crewmembers are required to file a will before diving.

1906:
San Franciscans are evacuated to the island following the Great Quake.

1910:
The Department of Agriculture uses the island as an arboretum for the testing of new plants, introducing many rare species.

1911:
Mare Island builds the Navy's first aircraft landing platform on the deck of the Pennsylvania. Aviator Eugene Ely successfully tests it by landing on the ship while it is anchored in San Francisco Bay.

Mare Island History

1912:
The island launches Jupiter, which would later become the Navy's first aircraft carrier and rechristened Langley.

1914:
Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt, accompanied by his wife Eleanor, visits Mare Island to discuss increasing the yard's ship building capabilities. The first automobile arrives on the island.

1918:
Mare Island's Ward sets a WWI record for shipbuilding speed when she is completed in 17 days. Shop leagues in baseball and softball become popular with highly competitive play. The Mare Island Marines defeat the Army team from Fort Lewis, Washington 19-7 in the Rose Bowl on New Year's day.

1919:
During the launching of the yard's only battleship, California, the huge ship breaks free across Mare Island Channel towards Vallejo, swamping boats and the ferry slip in its wake. Locals describe the ship as "heading up Georgia Street." No repair bill is ever submitted to the Navy.

Mare Island History

1925-1949

1930:
The yard launches its first submarine, Nautilus, as well as its first cruiser, Chicago.

1933:
In lieu of the traditional champagne, the cruiser San Francisco is christened with water from the newly completed Hetch Hetchy Dam. The Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides," visits the island on its last voyage.

1939-1944:
Mare Island reaches its highest productivity during World War II and is one of the busiest shipyards in the world. Employment peaks at 41,000 workers, including 9,000 women. Over 1,000 Quonset huts are built to help house the growing workforce.

1941:
The Grapevine, Mare Island's longest running newspaper, is first published.

Mare Island History

1950-1974

1954:
Mare Island celebrates its 100th anniversary with an extravagant, four day affair, attracting thousands. The Navy announces the yard's future role in building and repairing nuclear submarines, the island's primary work until closure.

1959:
After declining a dress rehearsal, Alice Roosevelt Longworth misses the bow with the champagne bottle during the launch ceremony for the nuclear submarine Theodore Roosevelt, named after her father.

1965:
In a cost-saving measure, the Navy combines Mare Island and Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard under one command. The new San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard is the largest shipyard in the world.

1966:
In honor of her birth city's founder, the nuclear submarine Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is commissioned to great fanfare. Many celebrants wear Spanish costumes at the launch ceremony, while the sub dons a sombrero.

1970:
The Navy dissolves the Mare Island - Hunter's Point joint-operating arrangement.

Mare Island History

1975-1999

1975:
The National Parks Service names 45 Mare Island buildings historic landmarks. Revenue from submarine overhaul and refueling totals $288,229,000.

1988:
The Mare Island workforce numbers approximately 10,000. It is the second largest Navy Yard in the U.S.

1989:
Downsizing begins.

1993:
Mare Island is included on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's closure list. President Bill Clinton approves the recommendation, which is then accepted by Congress. At the time, there are 5,800 civilians employed at the shipyard.

1996:
Mare Island Naval Shipyard is officially closed on April 1.

Mare Island History

2000-Present

2001:
Development Agreement between LMI and City of Vallejo approved

2002:
Parcelization, infrastructure, and building upgrades begin

2002:
Commercial building rehabilitation begins

2003:
Residential construction begins

2004:
Mare Island open for public access for the first time in over 150 years

2005:
Residential construction began

2013:
Mare Island Dry Docks Re-opened

2016:
Ferry facility opens on Island; Facility now provides service to and from San Francisco