History of the Vallejo Marine Terminal
In 1860 Vallejo’s founder, John B. Frisbie, chartered a ship to export wheat grown in the Vallejo area to England. This was the first time wheat was shipped overseas from California.
Map of historic Vallejo.
To capitalize on this new venture and grow Vallejo as a major export hub in California, in 1869, A.D. Starr established the first flour mill in South Vallejo while D. W. Rice, of the CA Pacific Railroad Company, J. B. Frisbie, and others built the Vallejo Elevator at the port to move the flour from the trains and barges from the interior into the ships. On June 23, 1869, the Elevator was put in service and the first wheat arrived.
Ship in Vallejo, at the port of the Sperry Flour Mill
In 1869 and 1870 Vallejo was the leading sea port in this country. Flour from the port of Vallejo was shipped to to Asia, South America, and Europe as Vallejo became the largest flour-shipping port in California. A typical six month period during that time saw over 20 ships departing carrying over $1.2 million worth of wheat.
Eventually the flour mill merged with the Vallejo Elevator to become the Starr Mills, which the Sperry Flour Company purchased in 1910, renaming it General Mills Sperry Division when Sperry and others formed the General Mills conglomerate in 1929.
Photo of the old port with Vallejo in the background.
During WWI the Sperry Division shipped tons of flour to Europe as part of the wartime relief effort. Employment at the mill increased from 125 workers in 1915 to 363 in 1919. Just after WWI, the mill hired a young, out-of-work Boris Karloff as a truck driver.
Workers at the Sperry Mill. Note the famous face in the front row, far left.
On August 30, 1934 a spectacular fire destroyed a large portion of the mill, including two marine elevators, 21 bins of grain, and 500,000 grain bags. Floating fire equipment from Mare Island helped the Vallejo Fire Department crews battle the flames. The blaze destroyed 6,000 tons of grain before the the firefighters brought it under control. A large part of the present plant, which closed in 2004, was rebuilt following that blaze.
For over 10 years the port has been vacant. Vallejo Marine Terminal will reopen and reach back out to the world with an emerging green product. Just as the Vallejo port was cutting edge in the later 1800s with the first elevator in California, it is now brining new technologies to the port with an advanced elevator and treatments system.