History of Ryer Island, Solano County California, and The Delta watereways of Steamboat Slough, Sacramento River, Sutter Slough and Miners Slough. Also includes the history of road and ferry access to Ryer Island, state route 84 and state route 220.
In 1850 Commander Ringgold of the US Navy made the first official navigation chart of the travel route to Sacramento, the new state capital, via boat from San Francisco. The navigation chart and Commander Ringgold written description and sketches on the map are very helpful for understanding what the Sacramento River Delta area looked like at that time. In addition, the natural islands of the north Delta are named in some of the maps of that time period. What we call Ryer Island now actually started out as two islands in the 1850s. One of the islands was called Sutter and the other Priest. To see many Delta maps from this time period go to http://SaveTheDelta.org or go to the David Rumsey Map Collection and Archive.org also has historical maps available to view online.
Commander Ringgold referred to the Sacramento River as splitting into several “forks”. The Middle Fork was later referred to as Steamboat Slough because it was the preferred travel route for steamships-deeper water and faster travel time between Sacramento and San Francisco. The West Fork later was renamed as a portion of Cache Slough, and when Ryer Island was leveed, ended up being a stream in the middle of Ryer Island labeled Elk Slough. Note the city shown on the map was called “Suisun City” but all later maps call this area Rio Vista. The island called Gillespi was later referred to as Wood Island. The Island shown as Taylor is referred to as Grand Island after the surveys and sales of the lands. Brannan Island still uses that same name.
Note the sketches on the map. Those sketches give the viewer a first official glimpse of the natural environment of the North Delta in 1850, when California became a state. The water was always fresh, the tall trees along the natural levees were oaks, sycamores, willows and cottonwoods. Wild blackberries were abundant. Middle Fork of the Sacramento River ended up being the boundary line between Solano County and Sacramento County.
Two great references of books written about the Delta and Delta travel are available online through historical websites and by the links here. First you might want to look at “Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity…” by James M. Hutchings. Mr. Hutchings was the publisher of the California Magazine-a gold rush days newspaper. He spent two weeks traveling the Delta, with local guides, and compiled his experiences and what he observed into many news articles that later became a popular book. Look for the chapter on salmon on the Sacramento River, traveling by Steamboat to Sacramento and to Stockton, and note the description of the “snug little cabins” on Steamboat Slough.
The second reference gives you a glimpse of just how WILD the west was in the early days!! The shenanigans reported in the papers about steamboats and travel are sometimes humorous, often sad, and makes me really glad there are laws to protect commuters in the USA! See Paddewheel Days written by … in 1935. Part 1Part 2 If you want to read more about steamboats and paddle wheelers and shipping in the Delta from 1840’s to 1900s, the state of California did a good study in 1986 Hard to find online, so here are links to the full 400+ page document scanned, and then links to the same in smaller sections if you go to http://snugharbor.net and look for the Delta History pages. Sacramento River and Steamboat Slough Shipwrecks
For a look at many early sketches of the Delta, go here and also here.
As of 1865, a map of the area still indicated the island names of Sutter and Priest had not changed, but note the waterway changes in the below map.
Surveys and Land grants 1855 to 1800’s provides good official records of who bought what when…
Looking at original deeds or grants, the name WM Ryer and Blanche Ryer show up alot. Then Blanche became Blanche Erskine-Bolst. There is also Blanch Fletcher Ryer, and Blanche Ryer Nixon. Blanche’s life sounds like something to research!
All the larger Islands of the Delta have their special family stories. Many of the farms have stayed in the same family for five generations. To learn more about the history of the Delta, as told by maps, books and sketches, please look at the information found at SaveTheDelta.org
And even in the 1870’s plans were being made to alter flows and create a conveyance route to irrigate as much farm land as possible.