Julian McAllister was the commanding officer of the arsenal from 1860 to 1886 and built a great deal of the buildings at the arsenal at that time. He was the son of a prominent Savannah, Georgia family, the brother of New York society leader Ward McAllister and Hall McAllister, a prominent San Francisco lawyer. He was closely involved with Benicia social life and was instrumental in the planning and construction of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. During these years, the arsenal played a strong roll as the social and cultural center of Benicia.
The first building that McAllister built was the commanding officers house. Built in 1860, in a severe Greek Revival style. This photograph shows the home as it appeared in 1915, which clearly shows the major renovations that were made to it sometime after 1876. It is now owned by the City of Benicia and plans are to restore it.
There were many buildings constructed at this time such as a storehouse, magazine, barracks, duplex officers quarters, a large new set of shops and the office building and guard/engine house shown below which were taken about 1915.
By 1862, the Arsenal was almost a complete town within a town and life was comfortable enough. The one major complaint of the men was that of slow pay. The army at times had to meet payroll by issuing notes to the men however, these were heavily discounted in town, as much as 50%, making it very bad for the morale of the men. McAllister did his best to deal with the situation by urging Wells Fargo agents to cash government drafts in coin in order to help pay not only the soldiers, but for the civilian employees.
It was also during this time that the army ended its experiments with camels. They had been purchased by Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he was the US Secretary of War in 1855. He purchased 77 bactrian (two hump) and dromedary (one hump) camels in the Near East for southwest desert transport. Some were used in surveying a wagon road in Navajo country while others were used to carry freight at Forts Mohave, Tejon and Yuma. Some liked the camels, but most of the soldiers detested them. While they could carry 600 pounds for 30 miles in desert conditions without water, they were stubborn and mean.
The Civil War distracted the army from the experiment and the Deputy Quartermaster General for California got permission from the Secretary of War to sell off the animals. A corral was built on the southern part of the arsenal property and all the camels were gathered from all over California to be auctioned off. The local youngsters of Benicia earned extra money hauling water to the barns. The 34 camels which were auctioned off brought a total of $1,495 in 1864 and were purchased by Samuel McLeneghan to haul freight to Nevada mining camps. On April 7th he held a Dromedary (Camel) Race at Agricultural Park as a benefit to help a poverty-stricken Benicia resident. This gave him the idea to sell a few of the camels to Wilson’s Circus near Sacramento as well as running several more races in Marysville and Sacramento. They were resold again but only a few were purchased and the remaining camels were released into the desert where they startled travelers for years. The last surviving camel died in 1934 in the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles.
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