MUSEUMS AND HISTORICAL SITES
There are several historical museums and attractions to visit on foot or by car.
Benicia boasts four museums where you can discover artifacts and hear stories from Benicia’s colorful past:
Benicia Capitol State Historic Park
115 West G Street
Benicia was the site of California’s third seat of government and served as the state capitol for 13 months during 1853 and 1854. Its classically designed capitol building was built in just three months from bricks and architectural materials salvaged from abandoned ships in San Francisco Bay. The building, with its formidable white columns, is the historic anchor to the downtown.
The park is open Thursday, 12 to 4 p.m., and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for self-guided tours, purchases in the small gift shop or to make arrangements for reserved school or group tours. Please call before your visit for updated tour times, additional tour dates, or to reserve a school or group tour. Tickets are $3.00 for adults and $2.00 for youth ages 6-17 years; ages 5 years and under are free. (707) 745-3385.
Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns
2060 Camel Road
Benicia made an unusual contribution to U.S. Military history in the 1850s and 1860s. During that time the Army experimented with the use of camels as pack animals. However, because of the outbreak of the Civil War, the project was shelved and 35 of the camels were shipped to the Benicia Arsenal to be sold. The museum, which itself is designated a historic site, houses a variety of exhibits and displays recounting the history of both the City of Benicia and the U.S. Army Arsenal. Museum hours are 1 to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Tours for school groups and for adults and senior groups are by appointment. (707) 745-5435.
Benicia Fire Museum
900 East Second Street
The museum houses many treasures of fire service equipment and hundreds of related items, including the “Phoenix,” an 1820s double decker hand-pumper requiring 45 men to operate – one of the first fire engines to arrive in California in 1847. The museum is open the first three Sundays of the month, from 1 to 4 p.m. Guided tours are available by appointment for groups, schools, and individuals. Call the museum to make arrangements. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. (707) 745-1688.
115 West G Street (part of the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park)
The house was originally a hotel on another site in town, and after extensive fire damage, Joseph and Catherine Fischer moved and remodeled the building for their home in 1858. The house was occupied by successive generations of the family for 110 years until it was donated to the State of California in 1968. It has been restored as a completely furnished home representative of middle-class living in the late 1800s in Benicia. The Victorian garden features heirloom varieties of trees and flowers, including a wisteria plant over 100 years old.
The Fischer-Hanlon House is open for guided tours on the first Sunday and third Saturday of each month at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and all other Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m for guided tours by request. It is also open the third Thursday of each month for tours at 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours are limited to seven visitors on a first-come, first-served basis and are lead by docents. Additional tours are available with a reservation. (707) 745-3385.
OTHER HISTORY-RELATED ACTIVITIES
Historic Walking Tour 2018: It’s easy to visit the historically significant sites in downtown Benicia on foot. You can download a copy of the “Historic Walking Tour 2018” brochure or pick up a hard copy at the offices of Benicia Main Street, the Benicia Historical Museum, or the Benicia Chamber of Commerce. Produced by the Benicia Historical Society, the tour points out 25 different locations within a few blocks of each other, including the Southern Pacific Depot, the former site of author Jack London’s favorite hangout while he lived in Benicia, The Union Hotel, the Pony Express stop, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the Frisbie Walsh House, the oldest residence in Benicia.
Docent-led Historic Homes Tour: The Benicia Historical Society sponsors a historic homes tour nearly every year on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend in May.
“This Place has History!” QR code tours: Visitors can look for the small, yellow plaques on poles near historic sites around Benicia, and use a QR code reader on their smart phones to get instant information about that location. The same details are available for mobile devices at m.HistoricalBenicia.org.
OTHER HISTORICAL SITES
Benicia’s Proud Military Past
Military operations played a significant role in Benicia’s history, from 1849 to 1964 and many reminders of its martial history remain. Most prominent is the Benicia Arsenal, east of East Military and south of Oak Road. In 1849, Benicia’s founders gave 345 acres of land near the Carquinez Strait to the army. One year later, the Arsenal became the first ordnance supply depot on the West Coast, supplying equipment and munitions for conflicts from the Civil War through the Korean War. The Arsenal is home to the following historic attractions:
The Clock Tower Fortress
1189 Washington Street
Built in 1859, this sandstone military bastion was strategically built atop Army Point to control the key passageway of Carquinez Strait to the gold mines of the interior and was designed to protect the post from Indian attacks, although the “Old Fort” never fired a shot in anger, even during the alarms of Civil War days. It is located in the Arsenal and is available for the public to rent for special events through the City’s Parks and Community Services Department.
Commanding Officer’s Quarters Mansion
1 Commandant’s Lane
Built in 1860 by Col. Julian McAllister, the two-story, 20-room Greek Revival mansion was used as a residence for the Commander of the Benicia Arsenal. Now owned by the City of Benicia, it is listed on the National Register of Historical Buildings. The Quarters was recently restored by the City of Benicia and is located in the Arsenal across the parking lot from the Clock Tower Fortress. It currently houses Carter’s Biz Cafes.
Jefferson Street Mansion
1063 Jefferson Street
Built in 1861 and designated as the Captain’s Quarters, this fully restored three-story Arsenal building, surrounded by an acre of formal gardens and garden pavilions, is used for weddings and social events. The mansion has received the prestigious California Heritage Council Preservation Award. For more information visit Wedgewood Weddings; to make an appointment to visit the privately owned mansion, call (707) 206-7356.
HISTORICAL ORGANIZATIONS AND RESOURCES
Proud of their city’s heritage, Benicia residents spend countless hours helping to maintain and restore Benicia’s historic sites, serving as volunteer docents, and coordinating seminars on local history. Among the organizations involved in preserving and highlighting the history of Benicia is the Benicia Historical Society, formed in 1973, and the Benicia Historical Museum, founded in 1985.
Here are some additional resources that offer information about Benicia’s history and historical sites: