1860’s, 1870’s, 1880’s & 1890’s

The original land grants gifted to General Vallejo in 1843, incorporating much of Solano and Sonoma County, were ultimately invalidated in the 1860’s. This was due in part due to their sheer size as well as the fact that they were granted by the Mexican Governor, under the Mexican government which occupied California in 1843. After California joined the United States in 1949 the U.S. government considered the grants void as Mexico now lacked the authority to make such grants. Of course, this invalidated the land titles of Larkin, Semple and their heirs and agents purchased from General Vallejo. This caused an influx of squatters eager to snatch land from their rightful owners.  In 1863 a bill was signed giving the original settlers the first chance to purchase land they already occupied and claimed.  The volume of squatter’s claims in “The Great Land Grab” caused the original claimants to file a petition to the Supreme Court. Squatters would put up claim shanties overnight on the very grain fields and orchards of properties that had been held and cultivated for 14 years by their true claimants.   Many farmers and citizens dared not protest some of these actions for fear of having their homes or barns burned to the ground.  In 1870, the Supreme Court finally handed down its final ruling in favor of the original claimants, defeating the squatters claims and ending the disputes. 

The 1860’s saw an influx of settlers opening new businesses in Benicia.  The famous Benicia Cement plant was opened in 1860. It specialized in a hard, water-resistant product used for bridges, dikes and sea walls like the San Francisco Embarcadero.  In 1864 the Hume Carquinez Packing Co. later known as Hume Cannery was opened as a Salmon packer.  The Hume Cannery operated as a commercial cannery until 1955 when commercial fishing was no longer allowed in the inland waters due to pressure from sports fisherman. The cannery shifted to packing asparagus, fruits and tomatoes from local farms as well as fertilizer production.


Brown & McKay Tanners was started in 1865 starting one of the most important industries in Benicia.  This, along with the canneries, cause a distinct odor to be a constant presence in Benicia and was the cause of continual complaints from Martinez across the water.  The tanneries can be credited for the expansion of the city’s water resources and supply.  The Benicia Water Company was formed in 1879 largely due to the demand of the tanneries.  Water rights were acquired, dams and reservoirs built and pipe lines laid to deliver the water needed for Benicia’s residents and industries.   

In 1884, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company offered hand-cranked, long and short ring, party line telephone service to Benicia.  Lansing B. Mizner, Sr made the first telephone call to San Francisco.  This was the 21st telephone exchange in the state and was purchased by Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in the early 1900’s.

DW Hastings Mansion

DW Hastings Mansion

In 1881, the mansion of Daniel Hastings appeared to share the hill with St. Catherine’s.   This 3 1/2 story, 40 room mansion cost over $85,000 to build and another $265,000 to furnish. There were 21 bedrooms but only 3 bathrooms, 88 doors and 85 windows all topped by a 15 foot tower.  He installed speaking tubes and call bells and the “Harvey Method” hot water radiators for heating.  A gas engine pumped water from a 50,000 gallon cistern in the cellar which was fed by a spring 10,000 feet away and a tank on the roof held another 2,000 gallons.  The house was insulated by two inches of sand between double flooring and wall laths which made it almost sound proof and draft free.   There were marble floors, onyx and marble fireplace mantels.  The kitchen tables, counters and drain boards were all marble-topped.  The walls of the library, games room and billiard room were beautifully paneled and the staircase alone cost $8,500.

The Hasting’s family consisted of only his wife and five children so the real reason for Mr. Hastings to build such a castle was to upstage his rival, Lansing B. Mizner.  In the 1870’s, he had gotten into an argument with Mr. Mizner  and Mr. Goodyear and swore to show them up.  Interestingly enough Mr. Mizner never got around to building his mansion.  This didn’t matter to Mr. Hasting’s who was obsessed and ended up spending his entire fortune on the house causing it to be known as “Hasting’s Folly”.   

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