“The Delta Waterways, as in the past, are the lifeblood of San Joaquin County.”
San Joaquin Magazine, May 2015
Historic Rough and Ready Island has a rich and fascinating history. It is currently the West Complex at the Port of Stockton with this historic location situated in the central valley delta. While the delta created a challenging environment to thrive early on due to environmental transformations (e.g. seasonal flooding and colonization), what is known as the “Port” emerged from a natural wetland, became a well-known Naval base, and eventually a thriving economic engine of the state and an international trade center: Port of Stockton.
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Agriculturally, the challenges included the sheer engineering required to retrofit the island from wetland to dry land, completely changing the landscape. Port challenge becoming the economic engine of the community, a vibrant place, the role to lift up and drive the community forward. Strife and struggle. Originally founded as a fort 1996 port took the port 2001 when the port developed the west complex. navy/ demands of WWII POWS, nurses, working on forklifts etc
The Port of Stockton’s West Complex is part of a hard-working port, bringing everything from vegetables and grains to wind energy components to the region. The Port’s West Complex, Rough and Ready Island, hosts warehouses, conveyors, railroads, and docks. But the island has a rich history that goes back to long before the first steamship of lumber arrived at the Port in 1933.
Part of the low-lying Central Valley delta, Rough and Ready Island is bounded by the Stockton Channel of the San Joaquin River and a slough now known as the Burns Cutoff. The island is dry land now, but was once part of a shifting landscape of low wetlands that were inundated in the wet season. Native American communities lived in villages on natural levees, and used the expertise of generations to optimize abundant plant, animal, and fish resources. Beginning in the Europeans and Americans plied the waterways, seeking fortunes in furs, gold, and productive agricultural soils.
Rough and Ready Island always transformed seasonally by rain, wind, and sun, but the first major permanent transformation was in the 1850s. Changes in federal law allowed states to fill wetlands and tidelands, and sell the newly created lands. Almost overnight, the delta filled with the sounds of dredging and pumping, as sediment was moved out of sloughs and river channels and deposited on land for new farms. The island, once “reclaimed,” hosted a small agricultural community and even had its own school.
The second transformation came late in World War II, when the site was selected by the Navy for a new supply annex. Built partly with POW labor, an orderly system of warehouses, streets, offices, barracks, and railroads sprung up in months. After the war, the Navy added a modern communications station to serve Cold War needs. These buildings have been designated the Naval Supply Annex Stockton National Historic District.
The third major transformation of Rough and Ready Island came in 1996, when the Navy transferred most of the property on the Island to the Port of Stockton. The historic warehouses are now filled with everything from onions to recycled glass. Many of the building renovations and replacements are in harmony with the historic character, an example of how the Port strives to balance the historic and natural environment of Rough and Ready Island with the powerful economic benefits of the West Complex.