Bethel Island

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Bethel Island
Aerial photo of two islands surrounded by rivers, and more land.
USGS aerial imagery of Bethel Island (right) and Jersey Island (left).
Bethel Island is located in Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
Bethel Island
Bethel Island
Bethel Island is located in San Francisco Bay Area
Bethel Island
Bethel Island
Bethel Island is located in California
Bethel Island
Bethel Island
Bethel Island is located in the United States
Bethel Island
Bethel Island
LocationNorthern California
Coordinates38°01′53″N 121°38′27″W / 38.03131°N 121.640787°W / 38.03131; -121.640787 (Bethel Island)[1]Coordinates: 38°01′53″N 121°38′27″W / 38.03131°N 121.640787°W / 38.03131; -121.640787 (Bethel Island)[1]
Adjacent bodies of waterSan Joaquin River
Area3,500 acres (1,400 ha)
State California
CountyContra Costa
Populationapprox. 3700
Bethel Island
Coordinates: 38°00′54″N 121°38′26″W / 38.01500°N 121.64056°W / 38.01500; -121.64056
Country United States
State California
CountyContra Costa
 • TypeSpecial act district
 • State SenatorSteve Glazer (D)[2]
 • State AssemblyLori Wilson (D)[3]
 • U. S. CongressJerry McNerney (D)[4]
 • Total5.82 sq mi (15.07 km2)
 • Land5.25 sq mi (13.60 km2)
 • Water0.57 sq mi (1.47 km2)  0%
−7 to −15 ft (−2 m)
 • Total2,131
 • Density405.83/sq mi (156.69/km2)
Time zoneUTC-8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)925
FIPS code06-06210
GNIS feature IDs1658045, 2407834
Contra Costa County, California Incorporated and Unincorporated areas with Bethel Island Highlighted.

Bethel Island is an island in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta of Contra Costa County, California, approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Antioch.[6] The island describes itself as "the heart of the California Delta."

Bethel Island (formerly known as Bethell, Bethell Ranch, Bethel Tract, Sand Mound Ranch, Sand Mound Tract) is also a census-designated place (CDP) on the island. The population at the 2010 census was 2,137, a 7.6 percent decline from 2,312 at the 2000 census.[7] The community of Bethel Island is governed as a Special Act District created by the California State legislature and named the Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District (BIMID). It is a popular destination for recreation seekers, especially hunters, fishermen and boaters.


Bethel Island was named for the Bethell Brothers, Frank and Warren Bethell, who formed the first successful farm on the island, called Sand Mound Ranch.

The landform known as Bethel Island was created between 1859 and 1870 by several men, see the names and survey numbers below. (Source: California State Archives for Land Patent Certificate of Purchase for Swamp and Overflow Surveys Numbers 80, 81, 82, 83, 225, 226, 227 and 250). Alonzo Stone purchased much of the property formerly owned by Warren and Anne Bethell, and the area was briefly referred to as the "Stone Tract" in the 1930s. Prior to this, it was referred to as "Sandmound Ranch", "Sandmound Tract" or "Bethel Tract" and contained an estimated area of 6,000 acres (24 km2), and did not become an island until 1911, when Dutch Slough was dredged eastward to join with Sandmound Slough. East Contra Costa Historical Society has been made aware of these inaccuracies, however has not yet updated their website.[8]

Newspaper clipping from San Francisco Call January 15, 1898

The first post office opened in 1898, and named for its first postmaster Franklin Cloud Bethell. The second "L" was dropped by a rather pious postal commissioner that reportedly felt it would be ungodly to allow the new location to be called "Bet Hell", and took liberties to change it to "Bethel" (בית אל), meaning "House of God" in Hebrew.[9] The post office closed in 1902.[9] A Post Office re-opened on Bethel Island in 1947.

Though it was common for the era to name the post office after the postmaster, and for the communities to assume the name of the post office, there are some references to the area as "Bethell" referring to the Sand Mound Ranch farm established by a coalition led by Franklin's older brother, Warren King Bethell, Nicholas Harris (Sheriff of San Jose) and James C. Smith. Prior "owners" of these lands were considered "land speculators" and only performed the minimum amount of improvements to reclaim the land in order to secure land patents. This may not be a fair assessment of all, since some did make an honest attempt to reclaim the lands only to be forced out by changes in governmental policy and financial constraints.

Actual "ownership" of the lands was accomplished through a long process of applications, surveys, improvements and Patents, as defined by the frequently amended Swamp and Overflow Lands Act. The first applications for land patents for what is now Bethel Island, Jersey Island, Franks Tract and Webb Tract, were secured by early California pioneers (the patent number precedes the name, and the date of application follows): 80-H. L. Henderon (1859), 81-Jabez Hatch (1859), 82-Elijah Hook (1859), 83-Stephen C. Vaughn (1859), 221-Edward P. Paine (1865), 222-John F. Arnold (1865), 223-John P. Curtis (1865), 224-Jessa Cheney (1865), 225-William Nye (1865), 226-Stephen L. Piper (1865), 227-D. J. West (1865), 250-Benjamin Taylor (1865), 284-Thomas Murphy (1868) and 297-C. C. Web (1868). Through the remainder of the 1860s and most of the 1870s, interest in several of these lands were traded or sold, passing to Cheney (who later partnered with Van W. Phillips), Hatch, Piper and Taylor. Also, interest in some of the lands were acquired by such notable names in the Delta as J. B. Haggin and A. E. Davis, and by G. D. Roberts and A. G. Kimbell. It might be of interest to note that Elijah Hook later helped establish the city of Oakland to be a distinct and separate entity from San Francisco, and Van W. Phillips was instrumental in the creation of the city of Antioch. Jabez Hatch's wife, Mary, was sister to Elijah Hook.


Warren King Bethel was born in 1823 in Indiana to the Reverend Cloud Bethell, served in the Mexican War, and then came to California via the Isthmus of Panama in 1854. There, he engaged in mining for a few months, then settled in Santa Clara County, buying 250 acres on Almaden Road. On Aug 15, 1856, Warren married Ann Youree Hamilton. In 1871, Warren and Ann moved to San Jose and ran a Livery business. In 1872, along with Nicholas Harris and James C. Smith, Warren purchased the 3500 acre Sand Mound Ranch from Jessa Cheney and Van W. Phillips (Phillips went on to help establish the town of Antioch, California.)

Warren encouraged his younger brother, Franklin, to move West to assist in this new venture. Franklin C. Bethell (born: Cloud Franklyn Bethell) was born in 1833, 10 years junior to Warren, married Lucy Maria Hazen on June 2, 1857 in Indiana. Frank and Lucy had no children. There, Franklin did not appear to prosper in any noted occupation. Newspaper records of the time show Franklin as a frequent occupant of several of the finer hotels in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Brentwood. It is unclear if Franklin was employed by the Sand Mound Ranch, or if he had other means of income. After the death of his brother Warren, Franklin did purchase the lands that were previously held by Nicholas Harris, presumably using money inherited from his brother. Lands that were specifically titled to Warren went to his wife Ann. Frank Bethell and Warren Bethell's widow, Ann Youree (Hamilton) Bethell sold their interest in the island in 1901, much of it to Alonzo Stone. Ann went on to form a successful ranch in Almaden Valley and established the Bethell Block in downtown San Jose (site of the current Federal Building). The portion of the land along the levee of Taylor Slough were held by James C. Smith stayed with his descendants until 1941.

In 1898, Franklin was appointed Post Master for the local post office, run out of his house near Horseshoe Bend. Prior to 1898, mail was delivered to the Post Office at Jersey Landing, and special service carried mail to the Sand Mound Ranch from there. A pious clerk at the U.S. Postal office did not want the name "Bet Hell" and dropped the additional "L" to make it "Bethel", like the Hebrew term בית אל beth el which translates to "House of God,"[10] Franklin's post office closed in 1902, however the name Bethel(l) was now officially tied to the locality.[9]

20th century[edit]

A one-lane wooden bridge was built in 1911, but was removed by order of the Army Corps of Engineers. After litigation, it was ordered to be replaced in 1921. In the late 1930s a resort was created by Houston (Jack) Farrar and his wife Blanche (Ruby), with a recreational area for picnics and swimming. Known as Farrar Park, it was the first recreational business on the island. Hunters, fishermen, and boaters began buying property after World War II.

California Delta at flood stage, 2009. Bethel Island is at bottom left of image.

Remsburg Marina was started by Warren Remsburg in 1938, and in 1944 a fishing resort called Frank's had gained popularity on the island. The resort was built by the Andronico family.

Electricity was first supplied in 1946, and telephone service arrived in 1949. From then on, Bethel Island became an increasingly popular recreation spot.

By the 1950s the area became popular with sport fishermen and the rich.[11]

It is now the most densely populated island in the delta. The community calls itself, "The Heart of the Delta."[8]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 5.1 square miles (13 km2), all of it land. It is located on an island of the same name 9 miles (14 km) east of Antioch.[9] The island is surrounded by Taylor, Piper, Dutch and Sandmound Sloughs, and protected by 11.5 miles (18.5 km) of earthen levees. The only land access is a bridge that connects Bethel Island Road to Cypress Road in Oakley.[12]

Other nearby communities are Oakley, which adjoins Bethel Island on the west-southwest, and Brentwood, which is south of the island.


According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Bethel Island has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csa" on climate maps.[13]


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[14]


At the 2010 census Bethel Island had a population of 2,137. The population density was 384.1 people per square mile (148.3/km2). The racial makeup of Bethel Island was 1,843 (86.2%) Caucasian, 40 (1.9%) African American, 15 (0.7%) Native American, 46 (2.2%) Asian, 4 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 119 (5.6%) from other races, and 70 (3.3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 280 people (13.1%).[15]

The census reported that 2,123 people (99.3% of the population) lived in households, 14 (0.7%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and no one was institutionalized.

There were 1,026 households, 153 (14.9%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 409 (39.9%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 77 (7.5%) had a female householder with no husband present, 54 (5.3%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 86 (8.4%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 7 (0.7%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 384 households (37.4%) were one person and 166 (16.2%) had someone living alone who was 65 or older. The average household size was 2.07. There were 540 families (52.6% of households); the average family size was 2.66.

The age distribution was 260 people (12.2%) under the age of 18, 132 people (6.2%) aged 18 to 24, 326 people (15.3%) aged 25 to 44, 845 people (39.5%) aged 45 to 64, and 574 people (26.9%) who were 65 or older. The median age was 52.8 years. For every 100 females, there were 115.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 118.3 males.

There were 1,327 housing units at an average density of 238.5 per square mile (92.1/km2),of which 1,026 were occupied, 805 (78.5%) by the owners and 221 (21.5%) by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 5.6%; the rental vacancy rate was 17.0%. 1,616 people (75.6% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 507 people (23.7%) lived in rental housing units.


At the 2000 census there were 2,312 people, 1,113 households, and 605 families in the CDP. The population density was 449.5 people per square mile (173.7/km2). There were 1,345 housing units at an average density of 261.5 per square mile (101.0/km2). The racial makeup of the CDP was 90.10% White, 1.43% Black or African American, 0.99% Native American, 0.95% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 2.90% from other races, and 3.55% from two or more races. 8.78% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.[16] Of the 1,113 households 17.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.2% were married couples living together, 7.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.6% were non-families. 35.8% of households were one person and 13.9% were one person aged 65 or older. The average household size was 2.08 and the average family size was 2.66.

The age distribution was 15.9% under the age of 18, 4.6% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 34.4% from 45 to 64, and 20.9% 65 or older. The median age was 48 years. For every 100 females, there were 104.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 109.3 males.

The median household income was $44,569 and the median family income was $53,929. Males had a median income of $47,431 versus $26,786 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $26,739. About 5.3% of families and 8.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.5% of those under age 18 and 8.7% of those age 65 or over.


The state created Swamplands Districts #1, 102, 107 and 183 in 1894 to raise money for maintaining the levees in the California Delta. These became part of Reclamation District (RD) 1619, which was created in 1915.[8] The Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District (BIMID) was created from RD 1619 in 1960, and provides some of the same functions as a city government. BIMID currently provides levee maintenance and repairs, habitat mitigation, park services, as well as storm drain maintenance and repair. BIMID has five directors who are elected for four-year terms by registered voters living on Bethel Island.[17][18]

The BIMD relies on the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) for fire protection. The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department provides police services. They are responsible primarily for maintaining the levee around the island. They also have responsibilities for water supply and drainage; parks and playgrounds; and the local airports.[19]

BIMID owns 100 acres (40 ha) of land in the center of the island between Bethel Island Road and Piper Road. Appropriately 85 acres (34 ha) is used for sourcing sand to maintain the levee; plus approximately 15 acres (6 ha) used to plant new trees to mitigate for tree removal elsewhere on the island. The BIMID property on Stone Road consists of the District offices, a meeting room and a small equipment yard.


The island is mostly below sea level, with a 14.9 mile perimeter levee. The area is home to approximately 3,700 people, with 1,300 residential houses on the island, plus four mobile home parks, 13 commercial marinas, a commercial business area and agricultural land.

Parks and recreation[edit]

Bethel Island Golf Course designed by Bob Baldock, is home to Bethel Island Men's Golf Club, which is affiliated to Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) and offers official USGA handicaps.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Bethel Island
  2. ^ "Senators". State of California. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  3. ^ "Members Assembly". State of California. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  4. ^ "California's 9th Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
  5. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 30, 2021.
  6. ^ "Bethel Island". Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  7. ^ Bethel Island, California Population Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Leighton, Kathy. "Bethel Island History." East Contra Costa Historical Society. 2001. Accessed February 15, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Clovis, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. p. 602. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
  10. ^ Erwin G. Gudde; William Bright (10 May 2004). California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. University of California Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-520-24217-3. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  11. ^ Carol A. Jensen (29 October 2007). The California Delta. Arcadia Publishing. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7385-4787-9. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  12. ^ "Welcome." Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District. Accessed February 15, 2017.
  13. ^ Climate Summary for Bethel Island, California
  14. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  15. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Bethel Island CDP". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  16. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  17. ^ "About BIMID." Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District Accessed February 15, 2017.
  18. ^ "Countywide Reclamation Services: Municipal Service Review/Sphere of Influence Update (2nd Round) – FINAL" (PDF). Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission. 18 November 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2012-01-03.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]