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Sunday, June 25, 2000

Some communities only existed on paper

Jerry Bowen

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Over the last 150 years, towns and small communities have come and gone. Some only existed on paper and never got off the ground. There were many reasons for the rise and fall of these communities, including war, railroad and highway placement and changing industry, among others.

Most of these communities have disappeared completely, but some still retain a little dignity with stately old homes that have been lovingly maintained by descendants and owners over the years. Northeastern Solano County was home to several old towns and would-be developments.

Binghamton

Binghamton - also spelled as Binghampton on various documents, maps, and a cemetery monument - began life after the great flood of 1862 wiped out Maine Prairie and other river towns.

During the Civil War, loyal citizens of Maine Prairie supported the Union cause and thought it was their patriotic duty to organize a military company. They formed a loose group and called themselves the “Maine Prairie Rifles” in 1862. Under the laws of California, they registered as a company of the State Militia under the same name on Sept. 19, 1863, with 72 men enrolled. Although they had just received new arms, including the Springfield rifle, they had no armory, but plans were soon in the works to build one. A 2-acre lot was purchased and the company built a one-story brick armory about three miles northwest of Maine Prairie.

The construction of the armory was the catalyst providing the start of the community of Binghamton. The new town was named after O. Bingham, who was responsible for forming Maine Prairie Township in August 1863.

The company met regularly for drills, target practice and picnics. It acted as a social arm of the community in bringing the scattered township together.

Binghamton established a post office in 1864 and by the end of the war had a Methodist-Episcopal Church, a school and a Templars Hall with 125 members.

In 1866, D.L. Munson purchased the armory and added a second floor. The lower floor of the building served as a store and the upper story a public hall. In 1871, he sold the building to the school district and the old armory served out its remaining years as a school and finally a meeting hall for the local Farm Bureau. The shaky old building was torn down in 1950 and its bricks salvaged.

The problem with Binghamton was it never had a viable economic base and for all intents and purposes the town died in 1871. Its inhabitants gradually drifted away to other thriving towns nearby. Today, the only reminder of the town is a cemetery with a recently dedicated monument. You can visit the cemetery and the monument by traveling south from Dixon on Highway 113 to the intersection at Binghamton Road. The names of the pioneers buried in the tree-shaded graveyard are engraved on the monument.

Batavia

Several homes dating to the late 1800s still exist at the location of this once-thriving grain-shipping community. Batavia is located on Batavia road about a mile south of Dixon between Midway and Weber Roads. Established on the California Pacific Railroad, Batavia became a shipping center for grain after the demise of Maine Prairie.

It had a train depot and hearsay evidence says there may have been a couple of saloons along the roadside.

Coulter and Co. constructed three large warehouses near the intersection of Batavia Road and Weber Road close to the train depot. The first two were built in 1872 and the third in 1880. Combined, they could house as much as 7,000 tons of grain, making it a fairly large operation.

George Manchester Coulter built a stately home near the warehouses in 1876 and it still exists today. The current owners, Mr. and Mrs. Seyman, whom I had the great pleasure to meet in 1991 while taking photographs of the area, have taken excellent care of the home. The Seymans provided a little history of the area over apple pie as well as a tour of their historic home.

Batavia was granted a post office in 1890. It served the community until 1913, when the town began to decline as highways replaced the railroads as the primary means of transportation. Today, some of the old homes remain, but the rails, depot and warehouses are just another memory of the past.

Yolano

Most people have never heard of Yolano, but it bears a short mention in this series. It was to be located in the northeast corner of Solano County, but in fact was never built.

The Yolano Townsite map, Unit No. 1 was filed in April 1928. The county supervisors approved the prospective town being promoted by developers Cutler Paige and J.A. Love and the site next to Sacramento Northern Railroad tracks. The Sacramento Northern ran 12 electric trains a day from San Francisco to Sacramento at the time.

The plan for Yolano Unit No. 1 shows 20 blocks with various numbers of lots. One block was reserved for a central plaza. A very wide street through the center of town named Domingo Boulevard was also planned and would have ended at the Yolano Train Depot.

But the railroads were losing their shipping and transportation dominance to motorized vehicles. Major highways were built to the west and Yolano died before it got off the ground. Only two lots were ever sold and today even the remnants of the railroad are gone.