Mid to Late 1800s1850Solano County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood.
At the request of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the county got its name directly from Chief Solano of the Suisun people. The chief was also called Sem Yeto, which signifies "brave or fierce hand." The Chief was given the Spanish name Francisco Solano during baptism at the Catholic Mission, and is named after the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Francisco Solano. "Solano" is a common surname in northern Spain.
During the 1850s, there were challenges to agriculture because there was very little wood to fence pastures, and barbed wire had not been invented yet (widespread manufacture of barbed wire began in the 1870s). Cattle wandered freely, and ate what people had planted. Luzena Stanley said in her memoirs of 1850 that roving bands of cattle were dangerous to encounter, even when on horseback, and were a real threat to people walking. Since fences were impossible, farmers had to enclose their land with ditches several feet deep to keep the roaming herds from devouring their crops.Grizzly bears were also a significant problem. The Native Americans kept the bear population in check through hunting, and when they were gone, the bears flourished. John Wolfskill had to sleep in a tree with his rifle to escape bears until his cabin was completed. Guns eventually eliminated the grizzlies.In October of 1850, Dr. John Baker and Curtis Wilson sailed up the Suisun Slough to Suisun Island, a bit of land slightly elevated from the marsh, and landed a the present site of Suisun City, where they discovered a herd of elk among the tules, which provided a source of meat. In the same year, Captain Josiah Wing began to run ships to the island.In 1850, William McDaniel, who had purchased nine square miles of Rancho Los Putos from Don Manuel Vaca for $3,000 (about $91,000 in today's dollars), began to lay out a town to be called Vacaville. He had agreed to give Vaca some town lots, and to give the streets Spanish names, which were not retained by the American settlers. The first work the settlers of Vacaville had was to cut the rank growth of wild oats and transport the hay to landings on the Sacramento River. The Vacaville Museum, located at 213 Buck Avenue, has displays from this historical period.1851The city of Vacaville was founded on December 13, 1851 by William McDaniel, on a part of the 1843 Mexican land grant Rancho Los Putos purchased from Manuel Cabeza Vaca.
The city was a Pony Express stop. This map shows local land grants, with the red arrow pointing out Vaca and Pena’s land grant.1852In 1852, Captain Josiah Wing built an embarcadero (landing place for boats) and warehouse on the Suisun waterfront, and used his schooner, the Ann Sophia, to transport produce from Solano County to San Francisco and Sacramento.1854Captain Wing and John Owen laid out the town of Suisun west of the embarcadero, just below the boundary of the Suisun grant. The Lawler house is the oldest surviving dwelling from this period. It was built in 1856, and moved to its present location at 712 East Main Street in 1982. It is now used as an office building.1855The fruit industry started in Solano County, producing early plums, prunes, peaches, apricots, Bartlett pears, cherries, nuts, wine grapes, and table grapes. The next most important fruits were figs, olives, oranges, apples, almonds, walnuts, pomegranates, persimmons.A private school called Ulatis Academy was started in Vacaville by Professor Anderson from San Francisco.1858
Vacaville had one block of commercial buildings near Ulatis Creek, which was only a small ditch through town at that time. Stores did not have big storefront windows. Few streets were paved, and in the winter, the mud was two to three feet thick. There were boardwalks in front of the stores so people could avoid the mud.
Fairfield became the county seat because Robert Waterman donated 16 acres and four additional blocks in the town to the Solano County Board of Supervisors, effectively halting a feud between Benicia and Vallejo over being the county seat.
In Vallejo, there was a parochial school called Professor William Patrick Mullins' School for Boys. Professor Mullins was a classic Irish schoolmaster who used the rod to rule his school and believed that the best way to make children behave was to hit them. His goal was to eliminate beligerency of the youths who were sent to him (none would have voluntarily attended) and to discipline them and to plant the fundamentals of a practical education. The school was conducted for about fifteen years during the early part of the 1860s.
School hours were from 9 to 4. There was no bell. The opening signal was Professor Mullins coming to the door and sticking out his hand. On entering, everyone was lined up hands out for inspection by the schoolmaster, who held a ruler. If there was evidence of grime, the boy got a hard crack with the ruler and had to go out to the wash basin by the back door. When he came back clean, he got another crack with the ruler to remind him not to repeat the offense. No barefoot boys were allowed, and if shoes were not polished, the boy was sent out the back door again where there was shoe blackening and a brush, and then on returning, the boy got another crack with the ruler, which was not given gently.
He had a violent antipathy to marbles because boys who played with them got dirt on their hands. Cleanliness as well as the three Rs were an obsession with him. During the hour spent on writing lessons, Professor Mullins walked up and down the aisles, the rod of discipline in his hand, checking the work of every pupil with an eagle eye (and he had only one eye). Any evidence of an ink blot merited a resounding whack and his students never forgot their early lessons in legible penmanship.
Weekly spelling bees were another trial for the students and the boy who spelled the word correctly, as he took his place ahead, had to take the ruler and give the hand of the boy who had missed a crack, the force varying according to friendship, but if he struck a friend too lightly, the master would take notice and immediately give him an active illustration of how to punish. This school was not a happy and pleasant place.Josiah Allison, a pioneer of 1854, planted a black walnut in 1860. The nut had been picked up by his niece, Sally Fox, when she went through Arizona on her westward journey. The nut grew into a huge tree beside what was then called Western Wagon Road, and is now Interstate 80. This became the famous Nut Tree, sheltering a fruit stand that later grew into a major roadside destination.1861News of a shortfall in the European wheat supply led Solano County farmers to put their land into grain. Ditches were gradually replaced by board fences, and rough log cabins were replaced with homes constructed of lumber. A few of the larger land owners, including Samuel Martin and William Ramsey, were able to build fine stone mansions.In 1861, Ulatis Academy became Pacific Methodist College, run by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The poet Edwin Markham was one of the students. The college was moved to Santa Rosa in 1871. The one surviving college building, located at 312 East Main Street, is thought to have been a girls' dormitory.1868This home was built by Frederick Sidney Jones, Sr. in the late 1860s. It is now being used as a dining room and clubhouse by the Green Valley Country Club. Jones’s son Sidney converted his father’s ranch into a famous cherry orchard. Jones, Jr. was also a stockholder in the Pacific Portland Cement Company and a director of the Bank of Suisun.1870sBush Stephenson build a railroad between Elmira and Vacaville. The first locomotive used on this railroad was called the Flea. Passengers and freight were carried on one end of the Flea, and the engine was in the other end. The Flea was used for one year, and then taken to Napa Valley, where it was set on ties by the side of the track and used for a train waiting room.
The next locomotive was called the Cottontail. In the Cottontail, passengers did not ride in the same car as the engine, but rode in cars drawn behind it. The first winter that the Cottontail was in operation, there was not much freight, so Mr. Stephenson, wishing to cut down on expenses, had a carpenter build a treadmill in a box car. His plan was to have a horse walk on this treadmill and furnish power to move the box car and pull another car.On the day that the horse-locomotive was to be tried out, a crowd gathered to witness the affair. The car started off to Elmira, but the brakes would not hold, and the car began to go too fast for the old gray horse. The horse fell down and rolled around on the treadmill, but the car was stopped before the horse was seriously hurt. The horse had lost some skin, but suffered no other injuries. They got the car turned around at Elmira, intending to come back to Vacaville, but the horse could not move the car up the slight grade from Elmira to Vacaville, so the horse-locomotive plan was abandoned.From Prunings from Vaca Valley, 1931.In 1870, the population of Fairfield was 329.1875In 1875, the Thomasson Quarry and Nelson quarries opened to extract basalt from Nelson’s Hill, one mile east of Cordelia. Basalt was widely used as a paving stone in the 19th century, and water transportation allowed Solano County basalt to be transported economically to San Francisco. By 1913, demand had dropped and the quarry went out of business.This is a basalt cobblestone street. Cobblestones were difficult for people to walk on, especially women because of their shoes, and horses sometimes slipped. However, the alternative was to try to move through mud that could be 2-3 feet thick in the winter. Cobblestones were wedge shaped, and pounded into a sand bed. They could be removed and replaced if something below the street needed repair.This picture shows Baker Street in San Francisco, which was paved with basalt.This picture shows the Nelson quarry.1876Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.1878
This picture shows the courthouse, jail, and offices in Fairfield in 1878.
Orchards and vineyards thrived, especially in the Vacaville area, where fruit ripened a week earlier than in other areas, allowing sales for high prices.
Teachers were paid between $60 and $75 for teaching for eight months, which would be about $1,534 per month in today's dollars, or about $15,000 per year.1890Map showing Center School District, which later became part of TUSD.
This grammar school was constructed in Suisun in 1890.1892At 2:50 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, 1892, a town watchman was walking down Main Street in Vacaville holding his lantern when he heard a noise like distant thunder or the roar of water rushing out from a dam. The noise increased to a roar, and the ground began to heave like the deck of a ship. The watchman put his hands on the ground to keep from falling. Brick walls and chimneys began to crash to the ground, creating a deafening noise and a cloud of dust.At 9:43 a.m. on Thursday, April 21, another earthquake occurred, causing more damage to already unstable structures. Damage in Winters was heavy, and there was one fatality. Jeff Darby had been standing behind the brick Cradwick Building when the earthquake occurred. He was pounded by the falling bricks, and died the next morning. In Vacaville, the second quake brought down most of the rest of the standing walls, and people panicked.The first earthquake had a magnitude of 6.5, and the second had a magnitude of 6.0. Local brick structures were not reinforced, and were therefore heavily damaged. Several local schools were damaged so badly that they had to be torn down. Whole fronts of stores on Main Street fell, and had to be rebuilt.At Allendale, partway between Vacaville and Winters, several buildings in the area collapsed. Others shifted on their foundations, or were wrenched apart. Ground fissures formed near Allendale, which suggests possible faulting. In Vacaville, almost all brick structures were destroyed. Many frame buildings were heavily damaged, and chimneys were twisted or knocked to the ground. There was similar damage in Winters. In Dixon, several school buildings were damaged.Local residents were shocked at the failure of the brick buildings, which were considered to be more modern and safer than wood buildings, which were vulnerable to fire. Rebuilding began immediately. Bricks that had fallen from destroyed buildings were sold to people who were rebuilding, and the town was reconstructed with walls no safer than than before. Modern building codes prohibit unreinforced brick.What caused the earthquake? That is a bit of a mystery, but the most likely culprits are either the Midland Fault, or a fault along the valley margin. An issue of California Geology has maps and interesting information about the faults, shown on the map below.1894Jewels and gold, rigged voting, and a mysterious theft surround Solano County's victory and the $5,000 gold cup won as first prize at the Mid-Winter Fair of 1894. $5,000 in 1894 dollars would be the equivalent of over $135,000 in today's dollars.Here's the gold cup:Solano County was determined to win the grand prize for its agricultural exhibit. The local fruit looked wonderful, and the votes started rolling in. Alameda County was Solano's closest rival, with Sacramento County a distant third. As the votes were being counted in May, near the beginning of the fair, accusations about buying votes started to fly. By July, it appeared that votes were being bought for both Solano and Alameda Counties, and neither side seemed to have an advantage, so the final tally stood, and the cup was awarded to Solano County.Newspapers described the cup: "“The cup is of solid gold, embellished with precious stones. On the stem, in relief, are draped flags, the Bear Flag and the Stars and Stripes, their colors being brought out in enamel work. Above the flags and forming a band around the cup, are four medallions, showing the Fine Arts, Manufacture and Liberal Arts, Mechanic Arts, and the Agricultural and Horticultural Buildings. The four ornate arms, or handles, spring from a band bearing the inscription, ‘California Midwinter International Exposition.’ On the opposite side from the inscription of the purpose for which the trophy will be given is the Great Seal of the State of California. Above the goddess the motto ‘Eureka’ is set in diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires and the stars in the field above are formed of single diamonds. The cover is a half globe in two colors of gold, surmounted by a golden grizzly bear. The eyes of the bear, like the eyes of the bears’ heads on the central girdle, are flashing rubies.”On August 25, there was a giant party in Suisun when the cup was presented to the county. There was a parade where Solano County made fun of Alameda County by having a float labeled Alameda that was a falling apart wagon pulled by a bony horse and a mule with exceptionally long ears. After an argument about where in the county the cup should be displayed, it was finally decided that it should be displayed in a glass case in the Ferry Building in San Francisco in a trade exhibit.In 1910, the cup was stolen from the glass case, and has never been seen again. There is speculation that the gems were pried out of the cup and the cup was then melted down into unidentifiable gold.1885This photo of downtown Vacaville shows one challenge of early residents: muddy streets in the winter. It was hard to get through downtown with a horse and buggy, and merchants build boardwalks so pedestrians could get to businesses.