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Bethel Island
Location in Contra Costa County and the state of California
Location in Contra Costa County and the state of California
Country  United States
State  California
County Contra Costa
 • Type Special act district
 • Total 5.564 sq mi (14.411 km2)
 • Land 5.564 sq mi (14.411 km2)
 • Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)  0%
-7 to -15 ft (-2 m)
 • Total 2,137
 • Density 384.08/sq mi (148.29/km2)
Time zone UTC-8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 925
FIPS code 06-06210
GNIS feature IDs 1658045, 2407834

Bethel Island (formerly known as Bethell, Bethell Ranch, Bethel Tract, Sand Mound Ranch, Sand Mound Tract) is a census-designated place (CDP) on Bethel Island in Contra Costa County, California, United States. The population was 2,137 at the 2010 census. 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 seeker, especially hunter, fishermen and boaters.


The landform known as Bethel Island was created in 1860, when a man named Stone reclaimed a tract of the southern shore of the California Delta. The reclaimed land was thereafter called "Stone Tract." Stone Tract contained an estimated area of 6,000 acres (24 km2), and did not become an island until more than 30 years later, when Dutch Slough was dredged eastward to join with Sandmound Slough.

SanFranciscoCall-Jan15-1898 Bethell
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. The post office closed in 1902. A Post Office re-opened on Bethel Island in 1947.

Though it was common for the era to name the post office after the post master, 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.

Back to the Bethell's: 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. Both Ann and Franklin sold their lands in 1901. The portion along the levee of the lands held by James 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. Franklin's post office closed in 1902, however the name Bethel(l) was now officially tied to the locality.

A one-lane wooden bridge was built during the 1920s, 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. Electricity was first supplied in 1946, and telephone service arrived in 1949. From then on, Bethel Island became an increasingly popular recreation spot. It is now the most densely populated island in the delta. The community calls itself, "The Heart of the Delta."

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


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. 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.

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.



The 2010 United States Census reported that 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%) White, 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 persons (13.1%).

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 0 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 1,026 households, out of which 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 made up of individuals and 166 (16.2%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.07. There were 540 families (52.6% of all households); the average family size was 2.66.

The population was spread out with 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 years of age 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 805 (78.5%) were owner-occupied, and 221 (21.5%) were occupied 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.


As of the census of 2000, there were 2,312 people, 1,113 households, and 605 families residing 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.

There were 1,113 households out of which 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 all households were made up of individuals and 13.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.08 and the average family size was 2.66.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 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% who were 65 years of age 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 income for a household in the CDP was $44,569, and the median income for a family 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.

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