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Road Trip, March, 2004: On a recent trip to Rio Vista, CA, Jane and I decided to try to locate the Hastings Adobe. Little known, it is the second oldest structure in Solano County--after the 1843 Juan Felipe Peña adobe, which is about 30 miles north of it near Vacaville. I knew only that it was located somewhere near Collinsville, and that it was in existence--indeed, occupied--into the 1960s.
So we drove west on Highway 12, then turned south onto the Birds Landing Road, and turning off again toward Collinsville, finally traveled along dirt roads used only by local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen as we headed toward the River. Rivers, actually, as the location is just below the confluence of the mighty Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, at the upper end of the Bay of Suisun, where the breadth of the combined waters is nearly two miles wide. In this season, the treeless, wind swept, Montezuma Hills and Jepson Prairie are brightly covered with blue-eyed grass, poppies, lupine, meadow foam, brodiaea, ham 'n' eggs. There is not a lot out there other than herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. In the 1840s, it would have been herds of deer, elk, and antelope.

The 1846 Lansford Hastings Adobe

In 1842, Lansford Warren Hastings, a young lawyer (age 23) from Ohio journeyed to Oregon as part of the Elijah White Party. He returned east two years later and in 1845 published the Emigrant's Guide To Oregon and California.

Returning to California in 1845, he and John Bidwell surveyed the town of Sutterville for Captain Sutter. I live in a part of Sacramento that was once the town of Sutterville, and the Civil War site of Camp Union Sutterville--now William Land Park.

Traveling east once again in 1846, Hastings determined to lay out a new and shorter route to California, which would avoid going north to Fort Hall on the Oregon Trail. His Hastings Cutoff, part of which he established by backtracking Frémont's 1845 route south of Salt Lake, was used by a number of immigrants in 1846, but proved too difficult for wagons. One of the groups was the ill-fated Donner Party.

Hastings returned west with the Harlan-Young wagon train in late 1846. Later that year, acting as an agent for the Mormons, he searched for a site to establish a colony and built a small three room adobe house (left in photo) on a knoll overlooking the junction of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Seen here, Mount Diablo is due south across the rivers. In anticipation of a Mexican land grant, Hastings laid out a plan for the Mormon community and named it Montezuma City, but these plans were interrupted by the Bear Flag Revolt and the war with Mexico in California. During the months of the Conquest, Captain Lansford W. Hastings commanded F Company of Frémont's California Battalion. My 2-great grandfather, William Edgington, who came overland in 1846 and married John Grigsby's daughter Teresa, served in Hastings' F Company. My 3-great Grandfather, Captain John Grigsby (Grigsby - Ide party, 1945) commanded Frémont's E Company.

In Monterey, in 1846, Alcalde Walter Colton recorded:

"THURSDAY, Nov. 12. Capt. Grigsby arrived today from Sonoma with thirty mounted riflemen and sixty horses, and joined Col. Frémont's encampment. Capt. Hastings is expected in every day from San Jose with sixty men, well mounted, and twice that number of horses. Every rider here, destined on an arduous expedition, must have one or two spare horses, especially at this season of the year."

Following Frémont's Capitulation of Cahuenga, Hastings returned to and continued to live in the adobe, running a ferry service across the river to the Contra Costa side, until 1849 when he removed to Monterey to participate in the convention to draft a constitution for the new possession of California. That 300+ page Constitution is today the Constitution of the State of California. In 1850, Hastings became the attorney for the Northern District of the new State of California.

In 1853 Lindsay Powell Marshall arrived in California from Missouri with his two sons and a herd of cattle. Hearing of the vacant Montezuma House from Dr. Robert "Long Bob" Semple in Benecia, they went there and took possession.

Robert Semple, with Alcalde Walter Colton, published the The Californian, in Monterey--the first newspaper in California. With Gen. Mariano Vallejo, Semple was the co-founder of Benicia, the second State Capitol.
He was with the Bears at the capture of Soloma, and with Frémont when Frémont and his Battalion of Mounted Riflemen entered Monterey, in July of 1846. On that occasion, Long Bob was described by Lt. Walpole of the HMS Collingsworth. "One man [of Frémont's men], a doctor, six feet high, was an odd looking fellow. May I never come under his hands!"
Semple was actually six-eight and it was said his legs were so long that he strapped his spurs to his calves.

The adobe was already in poor condition--mud walls and probably originally roofed with tule thatch--but they repaired it. The following year, Hastings attempted to reclaim the property. Marshall, not wanting any trouble, gave him some of his livestock as compensation, even though neither of them had any actual legal claim to the land other than that of possession. Marshall later brought his wife and six children out from Missouri to the then much-improved ranch. Between 1866 and 1873, he and his sons added more than 1,000 acres to their original holdings. After his death, the property passed to his wife and in 1897, to his eldest son, Lindsay P. Marshall Jr.

The original house was was 27 feet by 27 feet with 22-inch thick walls. It was divided into four rooms by 11-inch thick adobe walls. As you can see in the photos, the house does not look like an adobe. As with log houses, a common practice was to later sheath them with siding to protect the walls from erosion by the weather. But the mud brick walls can be seen where some of the siding is missing today, and in the interior of this very dilapidated house. Notice the 2 foot depth of the window caseing below. This sheathing was added by the Stratton family about the turn of the century. Lean-to additions were also added, but the rough, heavy timbers, thick wooden doors, and hand-hewn woodwork in the original three rooms and attic remain.

In 1964, the property was purchased by PG&E as the site of a planned atomic power plant. The plant was never built.

In 1972, the adobe was placed on the National Register of Historic Places through the efforts of local historian, Wood Young and the Solano County Historic Society. A corrugated metal roof was put on to protect it. Unfortunately, the structure has since suffered from continuing vandalism and fallen into further disrepair. The pile of dirt on the floor at left has flowed from the walls when rain leaked in and rodents burrowed into them.

This important historic site, the one-time home of Captain Lansford W. Hastings, one of the framers of the Constitution of California, is in very real danger of eventually disappearing forever.

One of the entrance doors; an interior wall with mud and straw plaster; an exterior wall sheathed inside and out.

Have time for another side trip?

Almost directly across the bay is the resting place of famous mountain man and explorer Joseph Walker.

The Reporter, Historic Adobe Slowly Deteriorates, by Jerry Bowen, Vacaville, 2001.

The Reporter, Early Homes Were Made of Adobe, by Jerry Bowen, Vacaville, 2004.

Historic Spots in California, Hoover, Mildred Brook, Rensch, Hero Eugene, Rensch, Ethel Grace--third edition revised by Abeloe, William N, Stanford University Press, 1966.


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham