A Brief History of Mare Island

Mare Island has a long and colorful history. The island celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004. For a detailed history of the island, be sure to visit the Mare Island Historical Museum, located in Building #46 at 8th and Railroad. The Mare Island Historical Parks Foundation also conducts guided tours by appointment and coordinates the rental of historic facilities for special events. (707) 557-1538


Pre-1775:
The region including what is today known as Mare Island is occupied by the Patwin, descendents of the Miwok-Costanoans. Historians believe the Native American presence on the island dates back 2000 years.

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.

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:
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.

1854:
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.

1864:
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.

1868:
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.

1869:
The island's Naval Hospital is built. During World War II, it will gain international acclaim for its work in prosthetics for veterans.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pre-1775:
1852:
1859:
1892:
1898:
1901:
1918:
1939-1944:
1965: