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Sunday, July 15, 2001

Bridgeport began with high hopes

Jerry Bowen

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Post office forced city name change

In my last article we explored the beginnings and demise of the original town of Cordelia. With the impending arrival of the California Pacific Railroad, residents realized the location of the town would no longer be on the route of normal travel. (In my last article on Cordelia I called it the Central Pacific, which was incorrect).

The residents began relocating and building new structures about one-half mile south of the new railroad line and named it Bridgeport.

The post office in old Cordelia had been moved to Rockville in 1854, but was relocated to Bridgeport in 1868.

There are two stories related to the initial naming of the new community. The most commonly accepted version is that it was named after Bridgeport in New York State, the birthplace of Captain Waterman’s wife, Cordelia.

The other version was given in the Suisun School Journal, dated September, 1876. In a letter to the editor, a person named Ora stated, “Bridgeport is so-called because of the long bridge near the town. Its post office name is Cordelia, but very few people know it by that name.” The 1878 Thompson and West Atlas shows the bridge on the south side of the tracks.

In 1868 Bridgeport officially became Cordelia when the post office refused to allow the name of Bridgeport. California already had a town located in Mono County with the same name.

The new town of Cordelia began with high hopes of prosperity. C.J. Pittman who had owned and operated a small hotel in old Cordelia since 1855, relocated in 1862 to then-Bridgeport and built the Bridgeport Hotel. He completed the building, but unfortunately died in 1864 before the arrival of the railroad in 1868. His wife continued to operate the hotel for 37 years.

New Cordelia quickly gained a church, railroad depot, box factory, wagon shop, blacksmith, butcher, shoemaker, harness shops and a school.

The demand for agricultural products from the area was still high, although the opening of the railroad had also opened access to new sources of supply, so the new town continued to prosper.

In addition, quarrying operations began on nearby Thomasson Hill. Olivine basalt cobbles from the quarry paved many early streets of San Francisco and almost a hundred years later supplied base rock for Travis Air Force Base runways. Today the quarry is known as Nelson Hill.

By 1872 the town had a population of about 300. Many German-born farmers began settling in the area with names still familiar to many, even today. The Siebe brothers were the first, followed by Mathias Glashoff in 1873, Nicklaus Garben in 1883, Henry and Catherine Dunker in 1892, Julius Studer, and Hans Adler.

Julius Studer built and operated a banquet room, bar, and dance hall at “Studer’s Corner” as it came to be known. The same location is known as Thompson’s Corner today. Thompson’s Bar was built in 1902 by Henry Studer after fire destroyed the original structures and is one of the oldest operating bars in Solano County today.

Chris and John Dunker owned and operated a butcher shop and saloon nearby. Henry Dunker opened and operated a blacksmith shop and hardware store. Peter Siebe built a merchandise store that became a popular social center for the town. The Pittman Hotel was renamed the Cordelia Hotel and operated until about 1928 when it burned down.

In 1883, the Green Valley Schoolhouse with its distinctive X-bracing was constructed. It continued as a school until 1926 when it closed. For several years after, it continued life as a private residence. Today it is the oldest surviving school building in Solano County.

Some efforts have been made to restore this historic old educational institution, but much more is needed to preserve it for the future. Today the building and gnarled old oak tree in the front of the schoolhouse is a photographer’s dream.

The future continued to be bright for Cordelia. By the turn of the century, Cordelia even boasted a weekly newspaper called the “X Ray,” edited by Charles A. Jensen.

Once again the railroad would have a heavy influence on Cordelia’s survival. There had been considerable opposition to the California Pacific Railroad because Vallejo was attracting a great deal of business away from San Francisco. Vallejo’s railhead and deep water port provided easier access and lower costs to ship goods to the rest of the world from the Sacramento Valley.

The Central Pacific Railroad, which was in the process of building the western half of the transcontinental rail system, was opposed to California Pacific. When the golden spike was hammered down in 1869 completing the transcontinental railroad, passengers to San Francisco had three routes from Sacramento to choose from. A riverboat trip of 17 hours, the Western Pacific route via Oakland, which took nine hours or by California Pacific, a trip of only four hours on average.

Central Pacific Railroad managed to buy out California Pacific Railroad in 1871 after a vicious battle and a very wet winter, which washed out parts of the poorly constructed rail line.

By 1879, Central Pacific completed a 17-mile branch of rail from Suisun City to Benicia. Cordelia had been bypassed once more and its rising fortunes were to sink to new lows. Fires, two world wars, the Depression and a struggle to survive have left their marks on the town.

Today, Cordelia’s historic landmarks are threatened to be destroyed by new development and uncertainty of a new route for the Interstates 680 and 80 interchange.

Some descendants of the original settlers still live in the dwindling community. There is a pride and spirit in this island of the past that wants to preserve its heritage and historic buildings. The onslaught of rampant development may once again obliterate a very important piece of Solano County’s heritage.

But don’t count the residents of Cordelia out yet. The spirit of the pioneers still holds firm and may once again save this very interesting and historic community for future generations.