Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mare Island Names

The story of Mare Island’s naming is a well-known one: General Mariano G. Vallejo’s favorite white mare falling overboard into the wind-swept waters of the Carquinez Straits. The horse was feared lost, but later turned up on the shores of Isla Plana… “the flat island,” and the General, relieved that his favorite horse had survived, renamed the island Isla de la Yegua… “Island of the Mare.”

But there are other names associated with Mare Island that have more obscure origins. The Mare Island Grapevine of March 27, 1953 ran an interesting article explaining the origins of some of those names.


“Gishville, Snake Ranch, Little Siberia and Dublin all are, or were, names of areas of Mare Island --- and where they came from makes for some interesting reading into the history of the West Coast’s greatest naval shipyard.  Most simple to trace down were the names “Snake Ranch” and “Little Siberia.” The Snake Ranch is that area from which the finger piers extend at the southern end of Mare Island.  Back in the days prior to the filling in of that section to turn it into workable area, it was, according to old timers, alive with snakes of many and varied descriptions, including rattlesnakes.

“The fact that in recent years a rattlesnake or so has turned up dead on the ammunition depot grounds, just south of the area in question, bears out the statement.

Mare Island's "Elephant Train"
“Little Siberia in the days BET (Before Elephant Train)* was just what its name implies---an outpost, a haven for exiles, and a heck of a place to get to and from if a person were relegated to shanks mare. Now well built up and full of buildings, the Siberia of yesterday no longer is little, for it fills most of the north end of the shipyard---but it holds its name.

“After all, you have to go “far” north to get there.

“Siberia once was all marsh and water. Old timers (the same ones as mentioned before) recall getting into boats around what is now Third street, and going duck hunting in the area around the lumber storage yard and on north.

“Dublin was a real, live settlement of a dozen or so families which strung out up a hill that no longer is there. The hill stood where the dispensary and supply building 483 now are located and was leveled in the not too distant past.

“Families who lived in Dublin---so named for its large Irish population---included the Horns, Jamison’s, Pearcy’s, Knowland’s, O’Brien’s, McGee’s, Tiernans and Baker’s. There were others, too.

“The Wards and the O’Briens “belong” to the “city,” but actually lived near where the old stables now stand.

“Times were good for the residents of Dublin. The youngsters had the run of the place and went swimming on the “sandy” beaches on the west side of the island.  Yes, we said “sandy.” They had sports teams which competed against town teams from Vallejo and the Navy ran small tugs back and forth across the channel to town --- free for nothing.

“If they couldn’t get a tug, Dublin’s townspeople usually could get a ride with a Mare Island worker who was rowing to work. It was not uncommon to see 10 or 12 men in a longboat making with the oars on their way to or from work.

“Groceries ordered in Vallejo were delivered by ferry to the shipyard and then to the houses by one-horse buggy. The large fruit orchards which once stood behind “officers’ row” were fine places to supplement a lagging menu.

“Gishville, on the other hand, is of fairly recent birth as far as names are concerned. It did not exist by name until World War II.
“During the war the area bounded by Shop 31, Shop 51 and structural shops on the south and west, were used for layout and prefab work of all kinds and was under the supervision of the shipfitters.

“The man who was in charge of the area was Griffin R. Gish, a leadingman shipfitter, who had charge of the “assembly field.”  Gish, who now works in supply joined the shipfitter shop in August,1927. He was promoted to leadingman in 1940 --- just in time to lend his name to Mare Island’s history.”

* The “Elephant Trains” were used at the Treasure Island World’s Fair of 1939-40 to transport visitors around the Fairgrounds. When the Fair closed, the trains were transferred to Mare Island where they were used to convey workers around the Shipyard.


  1. The NHL building that used to be my office, Qtrs 29, was moved from Dublin Hill. We found a great photo of the hill with a steam shovel in front of it tearing into the hillside and the building peering out over the top. My understanding was that before the bridge the USN had to, as a matter of practicality, find a way for some of the civilian employees to stay on the island 24/7, so they looked the other way and allowed these homes to be built.

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