From the early 1850s until the mid-1960s, the arsenal was the dominant fact in the life of Benicia. Located about a mile from the center of town, the arsenal was built on a hill site jutting dramatically out into the Carquinez Straits. Today it is no longer active, and the buildings are in both private and public hands. Although they are now set among sprawling World War II structures, new industrial facilities, and the ramps of two interstate highways, the buildings are larger and more ambitious than anything in Benicia itself, and they still convey a sense of the arsenal's importance during a period of operations that lasted over a century.

(Source: "Benicia, Portrait of an Early California Town" by Robert Bruegmann.)

Information on the Arsenal's Historic Places Designation:

NO. 176 BENICIA ARSENAL: Captain Charles P. Stone, with 21 enlisted men, established Benicia Arsenal as an ordnance depot in August 1851. The first building, a small wooden powder magazine, was erected in September 1851. Between 1853 and 1863, Congress authorized $550,000 to be spent on the establishment, and some 15 stone and frame buildings were constructed. The arsenal was first called 'California Ordnance Depot,' then 'Benicia Arsenal Depot,' and finally, in the spring of 1852, 'Benicia Arsenal.' Location: Intersection of Adams and Jefferson Sts, Benicia. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places:NPS-76000534

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View of the Arsenal from the southwest, c. 1878. In this view the two buildings in the foreground are the machine and blacksmith shops. In the background are the Commandant's Residence and the Lieutenant's Quarters with the formal parade ground and flagpole between them.


The Clocktower

Built in 1855, the Clocktower was constructed throughout of fine Benicia sandstone very carefully cut and joined. It was the main storehouse for armaments and is the only 19th century Gothic stone fortress in the United States!

The exterior has a rough finish, emphasizing the building's massiveness and defensive character. The interior consisted of three large floors. The ground floor was divided by two rows of cast-iron columns. The entire second floor, 50 by 160 feet, was open and clear of columns because the third floor was suspended from the great timber roof trusses by long iron rods. This was an extraordinary feature for the period and probably one of the most ambitious examples of this kind of construction anywhere in the country. In 1912 an explosion and fire badly damaged the structure. The building was rebuilt, but with the removal of the damaged third story.


The Commandant's Residence

In 1860, a new 20-room Georgian mansion was built on a hilltop at the Benicia Arsenal across from what then was the Old Fort and today is the Clocktower. The home of the Arsenal's commander, US Army Capt. Julian McAllister, became the Benicia Arsenal's headquarters and a popular social center for the prominent army and civilian society leaders. Steamboats were often chartered to shuttle high-society members from San Francisco to attend a variety of social functions at the mansion. The Commandant's home has 14-foot ceilings and 24-inch-thick brick walls. Wood was in short supply when McAllister had the home built, and he had most of it shipped around Cape Horn. From 1905 to 1911 Lt. Col. James W. Benet lived in the mansion. His son, Stephen Vincent Benet, who lived there as well, would go on to become a poet, best known for his epic on the Civil War, "John Brown's Body." When the Army pulled out of the Arsenal in the early 1960s, the Commandant's quarters began a slow process of deterioration. It was refurbished in the early 1980s when a restaurant opened. But the business closed after a couple years. Since then the building has been slowly deteriorating in the elements.





The Lieutenant's Quarters

Built in 1861, today, the Lieutenant's Quarters has been lovingly restored and preserved by its current owner. Known today as The Jefferson Street Mansion, it serves the community as an enchanting site for weddings, corporate functions and private parties. This amazing historic treasure also features an antiques and collectables gift shop and a fine dining restaurant that is open to the public on weekends. The gift shop is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday after 1 pm and the restaurant is open after 4pm. Located at 1063 Jefferson Street, it is a fitting home for The Friends of Benicia Arsenal. Our office space is graciously donated by the Mansion's owner Reed Robbins.


The Command Post

Arsenal Building No. 47, The Command Post is a very sober brick structure with stone trim for the windowsills, lintels, and quoins. It is nearly cubical in shape, with a high basement, two floors above, and a hipped roof crowned with two large chimneys stacks. The ground around the building on all sides was excavated, leaving a kind of dry moat bridged by the front stairs leading up to an entry porch. Today this structure is privately owned and maintained.




The Guard House

The Guard and Engine house, built in 1872, represents an unusual attempt to combine two very different functions into one structure. The engine house required a large open space, the guard house required a series of small cells. It was rumored that Ulysses S. Grant spent time here while stationed at the Arsenal, however, since Grant served at the Arsenal some 20 years prior to the construction of the Guard House this rumor is just that, a rumor! Currently, this structure is privately owned and maintained.


The Officer's Duplex

Built in 1872, the Officer's Duplex is similar to the other two officer's homes, though it was built as a double house, with two entrances in the south facade and two hallways running side by side down the length of the building. It was constructed of brick, now painted, with stone quoins, lintels and trim. The three officer's quarters line the ridge behind the clocktower and form a harmonious, formal military unit. This structure, beautifully designed in the Italianate style, is now privately owned and has suffered from neglect as seen in the current photo at right.


Important Events

1849: 345 acres are donated to US government Benicia Barracks is established on 99.5 acres

In 1849 William Tecumseh Sherman, at the time a young lieutenant, surveyed the boundaries to supplement his pay

1850-51: First wood-frame buildings are erected at the Benicia Barracks

1852: The Benicia Arsenal is established in the northern portion of the reservation

1858: Arsenal installation takes over the Quartermaster's Depot land

1870s: Army grants right-of-way to the railroad along shoreline

1898: Last soldier housed at Benicia Barracks

1941-42: Arsenal is expanded from 345 to 2,192 acres

1960: Decision to close Benicia Arsenal is announced

1964: Arsenal closed

Source: Arsenal Historic Conservation Plan