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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Solano County jumps to help after quake

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

Residents happy to provide food, shelter to refugees

On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, at 5:15 a.m., the earthquake that devastated San Francisco also shook up local residents.

While damage to the area did not destroy much more than windows, chimneys, causing structural damage to the Fairfield Courthouse and similar occurrences, the impact on the local residents themselves went deeper.

The Board of Town Trustees held a special meeting on the Monday following the earthquake. With the news of the cause of the San Francisco fires fresh, Mayor Ernst Luehning had ordered all chimneys to be inspected for damage.

“Mr. Foy reported that he had inspected the chimneys as instructed, and found twenty-nine badly damaged, so much so that it would be dangerous if fires were used. They directed that owners and occupants of buildings having defective chimneys exercise the proper precautions by not building fires.”

Public health was another concern “Dr. W. E. Downing, health officer, appeared before the Board and suggested that as a precautionary means of preventing the possible spread of any contagious diseases, an ordinance be enacted requiring the people of the town to be vaccinated. After some discussion of the matter the Board decided not to take any action in the matter at this time.”

The Solano Republican continued its reports on April 27, 1906, providing an extensive look at the quick response from local residents who rushed to help support the flood of refugees who tried to get out of the devastated Bay Area.

This is what the newspaper’s headline declared:

“Relief Work For The Refugees: Suisun Among the First to Forward Supplies.

“About $1,000 Worth of Food Sent to San Francisco and Distributed to Refugees on Outgoing Trains.”

On Thursday evening following the earthquake, a mass meeting of residents of Suisun, under the guidance of the Women’s Improvement Club and the Board of Trades, converged at the town hall “for the purpose of devising ways and means of collecting supplies of food and clothing for the relief of the homeless people of San Francisco.”

George A. Roney and Parker Frisselle headed a finance committee. Within minutes, more than $250 had been collected. The committees immediately set out to purchase supplies.

“Many of the ladies set to work cooking various articles of food, principally eggs,” wrote the Republican reporter. “Hams and bread were cooked by Anderson Bros. at their bakery and within a few hours over two tons of food ready to eat was ready to be shipped. At 7’oclock Friday morning the cargo was loaded aboard the launch ‘Gwendolyn’ which was soon on its way to the scene of hunger and desolation. Z. T. Spencer, Geo. A. Roney and S. H. LaShelle were appointed as a committee to take charge of the supplies and see to the distribution of the same. The supplies were delivered to the proper authorities in Oakland, having arrived in good time to feed a large number of people who were hungry, as at that time but few supplies had reached the scene of disaster from outside points.”

The outpouring of generosity did not stop there. “In addition to the supplies purchased, a large number of people donated food of various kinds, everybody being eager to give assistance to their fellow beings in dire distress.”

The Earl Fruit Company packing house, situated along the railroad tracks at the end of Union Street, was established by Saturday morning as the relief headquarters.

“The intention at first was to send another consignment to the city, but a messenger was received from the relief headquarters in Oakland asking the local committee to keep their supplies here to be distributed to the hungry people passing through on the trains.”

Citizens continued their efforts, preparing and delivering more food supplies for the expected refugee trains.

“Supplies came in in abundance. Sandwiches were made by the hundreds, eggs cooked by the dozens and milk was put up in bottles for the children. A number of ladies, men and boys responded to the call for help and worked faithfully in the preparation of the food. Miss Nellie King deserves special mention for her work. She was the first lady to arrive at headquarters and rendered valuable assistance in receiving the supplies. She worked steadily for about twelve hours. Later many other ladies arrived and all worked faithfully.

“The first train arrived Saturday evening carrying about a thousand hungry people, as had been telegraphed ahead. O. R. Sheppa, local railway agent, asked for and was granted permission to hold the train for half an hour in order to give time to distribute food among the hungry passengers. It is estimated that not less than eight hundred people were fed in that half hour. The food was placed in baskets and handed out to the people by the members of the relief committee who passed through the train. Later trains were treated in a like manner until all food prepared had been given out.”

Many residents also opened their homes to take in friends, relatives and strangers who had evacuated San Francisco.

“Victims Of The Great Disaster Who Have Sought Refuge in Suisun Homes. Most of These are With Relatives and Friends, But Some are Strangers With no Other Place to Go,” ran that story’s headline. Typical for the time, the article not only talks about the efforts, but adds its own editorial comments.

“Quite a large number of people, who were driven from San Francisco last week by the severe earthquake and the subsequent conflagration, are being cared for by relatives and friends in Suisun and several strangers are also here under the shelter of hospitable homes. Each day adds to the list. Some have means and are willing to pay for the accommodations, while others are entirely without means and have to depend upon the charity extended to them until they can find employment. Some are destitute from the loss of all their earthly possessions and others are temporarily embarrassed until the city banks open their vaults to those who have money on deposit. Many persons have no clothing except that worn by them. Some express a willingness to accept any kind of work, while a few manifested no disposition to work. This may be expected, for in a city having nearly a half million population, as San Francisco had, there are hundreds of people who scout at the idea of making an honest living by labor. This class, however, composes but a small percent of the homeless sufferers, many of whom will need assistance for several months to come, necessitating the expenditure of millions of dollars.

“The entire county is responding generously to the call for assistance, the general relief fund amounting at the present time to about five million dollars.”

The many local residents listed as being in the city during the earthquake had all made it home safe or had found refuge somewhere else.

The only local victim was Mrs. Banks, wife of Emmanuel Banks of Suisun, who died in Oakland, supposedly from the effects of fright and excitement caused by the earthquake disaster.

Others were also affected by the disaster. In an age before the definition of post traumatic stress syndrome, the labels attached to survivors of the harrowing event sounded grim.

“A man named Allen B. Williams arrived in Suisun from San Francisco Monday morning. He at once sought Constable C. H. Downing and asked to be locked up for safe keeping, stating that he felt that he was losing his mind as a result of the excitement growing out of the great calamity. He said that he had been employed in the piano house of Wiley B. Allen Co., and had lost his all. He was well dressed and had some money in his possession. Constable Downing placed the unfortunate man in the county jail, and he exhibited evidence of insanity.”

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My next column will explore some of the local fundraising efforts.