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Sunday, August 19, 2001

Quake doesn’t dim Vaca showcase

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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Publication brings settlers to California

During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Vacaville residents eagerly tried to promote the town and their flourishing orchard industry throughout the United States in an effort to attract new settlers to move here.

The publication of William Nutting’s and Edward Wickson’s California Illustrated No. 1 in 1887-‘88 was one of the efforts to expose residents on the East Coast to the attractions of the “early fruit district.”

Another opportunity arose in 1892, when a group of editors and journalists from newspapers across the country decided to tour different places on the West Coast and subsequently to report their impressions and experiences to their audience.

One of the places selected was Vacaville, and plans and expectations for the visit ran high.

Nature had its own plans, though, with a major earthquake in the early hours of April 19, 1892. The rumblings could be felt throughout Solano County, destroying much of downtown Vacaville. The Reporter wrote two days later: “Vacaville, accustomed to misfortune, is again tattered and torn, wearied and worn. Our calamities by fire have not been few nor far between, but the disaster which overtook us Tuesday morning at about 3 o’clock was worse than a fire.

“An earthquake of the severest possible nature is the latest misfortune, and with stern realities our people were awakened from peaceful slumbers to find the earth bounding and jerking like a tempest-tossed vessel on the briny deep.

“The strong shock which carried dismay to the hearts of all and in a brief moment caused an aggregate loss in the town and township of no less than $100,000 - was brief indeed - but terrible in consequences, though all are thankful no one was killed or seriously injured.”

Every brick building in the town had been either severely damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding commenced immediately, but a month later, when the eastern editors came to visit, downtown Vacaville still was in tatters.

Early on the day of May 21, 1892, Vacaville citizens rallied at the train depot to welcome the train bringing the editors to town.

“Vacaville Got There!,” proclaimed the Vacaville Reporter on May 26. “The Eastern Editors Well Entertained and Highly Pleased. The Representatives of 7.000.000 Readers Given an Outing by Our Citizens. A Never to be Forgotten Event.

“Saturday morning by 7 o’clock the streets of Vacaville were filled with vehicles of every description, and it is certain that not a thing happened to mar the pleasure of the visitors or entertainers. Never before had the opportunity been presented our people to entertain so large a number and especially so critical a crowd, and we feel certain that there was not a single one of the visitors but who felt repaid for coming. ...

“The arrangements made by the different committees were perfect and an abundance of transportation had been furnished for all, but a few were not inclined to take the drives provided for them as they had been wined and dined until they were tired. These strolled about the town sightseeing. They were impressed with one fact, to wit: That not even an earthquake can shake the faith of Vacavillians, as they seen on every hand evidences of building and repairing.”

Not only did residents of Vacaville bring their own vehicles to transport their visitors into the countryside. The town itself, despite its widespread destruction, was gaily decorated, with groups of schoolchildren waving at the visitors. Refreshments had been organized, too.

“Main Street was nicely decorated - the arch over the Main Street bridge being the principal one, and with numerous devices and mottoes familiar to all newspaper men, they recognized the tributes paid them. A few private individuals had made extra exertions in the way of decorations. ...

“As per suggestion of this paper, the school children in large numbers were assembled in front of the school grounds arrayed in their best, and received the visitors as they passed by with cheers waving handkerchiefs, bright eyes and happy faces. Their demonstration brought many a pleasant hat tip and nod, and one editor whose thoughts flew like lightening back to his Eastern home, where his own dear ones were, had the driver halt the team a brief moment while he addressed the children. He said this was the first time they had been received by the children while on their pilgrimage. He was showered with roses in recognition of his appreciation. Many of our visitors had personal friends here, and happy handshaking took place. ...

“The time allotted to Vacaville was too brief by hours, and yet during their sojourn here they were cordially received and entertained, and treated to refreshments in the shape of cherries, lemonade, etc., and all left hoping to “see you later.”

As usual, the Reporter journalist had to put in a little tongue-in-cheek observation: “Several of the party, presumably Southern California boomers, rushed about frantically picking up pieces of brick, with which to bombard this section in the future. The Eastern boys though, who were used to devastating cyclones, snow-storms and floods were not carrying bricks either in their hats or pockets.

“A large number of Nutting’s illustrated books descriptive of this locality and its products were given out and appreciated. Those of them who took drives could see the verification of the illustrations, hence will be able to write knowingly.”

One can only hope that this much effort by Vacaville’s residents brought them the desired result, bringing more people to settle in the area.