1189 Washington Street
Benicia , Ca
When the new arsenal commander, Franklin D. Callender took over in 1856,
he requested appropriations to be set aside for a new storehouse. His correspondence to the ordnance office in Washington shows his interest
in the aesthetic as well as functional aspects of the design. He wanted
a building with towers on all four sides to be used for flank defense in
the case of attack by local citizens! Two of the four towers were deleted
and replaced with turrets at the final stage of the design. This was
probably justified from a functional point of view, however it certainly
changed the monumental symmetry of the original design. The clock tower
was constructed from the fine Benicia sandstone, which was very carefully
cut and joined. The exterior was done in a rough "rock-face" finish and
the roof was of slate.
This sandstone military bastion was strategically built atop Army Point to control the key passageway of Carquinez Strait to the gold mines of the
interior and was designed to protect the post from Indian attacks, although the "Old Fort" never fired a shot in anger, even during the alarms of
Civil War days. The three-story structure was as much a fort as storehouse,
with its roof crenellated with battlements, and its two towers, like castle keeps, topped by lookouts. These were actually shot towers for the casting
of balls for cartridges. The walls were pierced by apertures for cannon,
and by slits for defensive, close-in, musket fire.
In 1912 a fire resulted in an explosion, which decapitated the building,
sending stones hurtling back to their quarried birthplaces. Red hot metal
flew through the air for a hundred yards, as spontaneous combustion on the
second floor set off a conflagration which consumed enough supplies for a
30,000-man army, over 15 million rounds of ball cartridges, 34,000 stand of rifles, an undetermined number of small arms, uniforms, shoes, blankets and leggings. The gutted fortress was rebuilt two years later as a two-story building but with one tower. The name was changed from Old Fort to The Clock Tower.
The clock is operated by a mechanism consisting of an unwinding cable
weighted by a cannonball and had to be re-wound every six days. In the 1950's
the clock stopped working and was not restored until 1979. David L Morgan,
a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors of Diablo Valley returned it to service, however today no one winds the clock.