Civil War Barracks, Santa Catalina Island
Civil War Barracks, Santa Catalina Island were built by troops during the Civil War (1861-1865) when a detachment of 83 U.S. Army soldiers sailed from Wilmington Harbor to take possession of Santa Catalina Island on January 1, 1864. Their purpose was to secure the island for a proposed Indian reservation. Phineas Banning was employed to construct barracks at the Isthmus to house Civil War soldiers. (Years later, in 1892, Banning’s sons, William, Joseph and Hancock, purchased Santa Catalina Island for $128,740 from George Shatto, except for Avalon lots already sold to individuals by Shatto, and one previous mining claim.)
Catalina Island was occupied by the Union Army (Captain West and Company C, 4th California Infantry) from January 1, 1864 until September 14, 1864. When the troops arrived at the Isthmus, Sven Larsen had already been squatting on the island for a number of years, and he owned ten head of cattle.
Although the Indian reservation plan was never completed, and the Civil War military personnel left the island in September 1864, the barracks built remain as a monument to the Civil War, World War II, and even a little Hollywood magic. Several people stayed at the Isthmus, including Ben Weston and Tom Gallagher.
James Lick began buying interest in Santa Catalina Island in 1864, and by 1867 had managed to merge the ownership back to one person. By the time he had acquired ownership, various ranchers and stock raisers had moved onto the island and claimed squatters’ rights, including:
- H. Boushey
- Juan Cota
- D. B. S. Diltz
- M. W. Grady
- Thomas Gallagher
- Francisco Guerrera
- William Howland
- bachelor brothers John L. and Charles Johnson
- Swain [Sven/Swayne] Lawson
- Thomas O’Hara
- William Walker
- Benjamin Weston
- Spencer Wilson
- Thomas Whittley
and several others.
In 1882, Thomas William Whittley was born at the Civil War barracks in 1882.
At the end of the 19th century, two wings were added to the Barracks, and the original north side of the barracks became the central front portion of the building.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood film crews used the Two Harbors Barracks as housing while they transformed Santa Catalina Island into the South Pacific for movies like Mutiny on the Bounty and Old Ironside.
During World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard used the barracks as a training station for new recruits.
Since 1951 the barracks have been leased and managed by the Isthmus Yacht Club, Santa Catalina Island.
> Kornweibel, Jr., Theodore. The Occupation of Santa Catalina Island during the Civil War in California Historical Society Quarterly, 46:4 (345-357) Dec. 1967
In the News~
November 26, 1863 [Henry Hancock to Lieut. Col. James F. Curtis]: “Sir: I have the honor to report that at 8 P.M. of the 22nd instant I arrived at Fisherman’s Harbor, Island of Catalina, with two enlisted men of Company C… having sailed from the port of San Pedro on the sloop Ned Beal, burden 17 28/100 tons, owned by Spencer W. Wilson of Wilson’s Harbor, Island of Catalina… The population of the island is about 100, one-half of whom are miners… The present number of sheep is about 15,000, nine thousand of which belong to Mr. Spencer W. Wilson. Of goats there are some 7,000 or 8,000. Of cattle and horses there are not many… John Johnson, ten years a resident, 200 head of cattle… Spencer H. Wilson, five years a resident; 10 head of cattle… Juan Cota, 400 head cattle… Swain [Sven] Lawson, 10 head cattle…”