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Saturday, August 02, 2008

The way it was: Poor road conditions in Solano

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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This story concludes the “Solano - The Way It Was” column. It has been a rewarding experience to delve into the lesser-known stories of our community. I am grateful to all readers for your suggestions, comments, critics and nice compliments. I also want to thank Reporter editor Diane Barney and its outstanding editors for their wonderful support over the past eight years.

The spring of 1890 brought Vacaville residents together in their efforts to improve road conditions.

Various Reporter articles discussed how other cities attempted to deal with road improvements.

Local roads suffered from dust in the summer and mud in the winter. The harsh transportation conditions affected fruit growers, wagons and horses

A preliminary meting on Saturday, Feb. 15 resulted in a committee, chaired by F. B. McKevitt. The discussion centered on exploring how to divide the Vacaville Road District into several sections.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for March 8. Meanwhile, the Reporter published articles discussing how Orange County had installed superlative macadam roads and that Nevada County supervisors were personally involved in selecting the most favorable bid for road construction projects on the spot, ensuring the best financial outcome for the county.

This second article appeared on March 6, 1890, and concluded with the paragraph: “Mr. Walker, who as Superintendent [of Nevada County] was in the mines years ago, built long ditches with the aid of what he terms ‘three sticks and a bob,’ says you need no civil engineer to make grades in building roads. A man who cannot with a triangle secure a good grade ‘has no head on him.’ “

This same easy-going, unregulated system was contemplated for use by Vacaville Township.

On March 13, L. M. Frick published a letter to the editor with sound suggestions on how the Road District separation and the workmanship of the proposed new roads should be handled.

He remarked that he favored bringing proposed district subdivisions to the Board of Supervisors. “Let us not be afraid of making too many sections,” he wrote. “Four would give nearly thirty miles to each division, which is too much. Better eight or even twelve, the latter would give about ten miles to each subdivision, and I think would give better results as contracts cannot be let expect to persons who reside in the section.”

He also described in detail how to prepare roadbeds for best drainage through wet grading and how to spread the gravel: “A road prepared in this manner will resist the Winter rains, which it will not do if graded and graveled dry.” His detailed, professional comments certainly provided a contrast to Mr. Walker’s quotes from the previous week.

The Reporter summarized the March 13 meeting on March 20, opening, “The oft repeated story of the condition of the roads is becoming monotonous of course, but the fact is that the road question is the absorbing theme.”

The committee received the report on the legal way to subdivide the Road District into sections. L. M. Frick “moved that a committee be appointed to prepare a petition to the Board of Supervisors for that purpose [,] also to present the same to the tax-payers for their signatures.”

The motion was seconded and carried. L. M. Frick, W. B. Parker and J. D. McClain were charged to develop the petition and divide the Road District into six sections.

At the time, the Vacaville Road District had 69 miles with a road fund of $4,500 for the fiscal year 1889/1890. This sum covered the construction of new roads and bridges as well as maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The petition was ready for the first Board of Supervisor meeting in April 1890. The proposed subdivision now included 13 sections, all defined in the petition, and signed by 116 citizens. The list was a veritable who’s who of Vacaville and was published first on April 3.

The Board of Supervisors accepted the petition, but moved the decision to the board meeting of May 5. This allowed the group to add more signatures to their document.

Despite some heavy opposition, Vacaville citizens were successful - the Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the subdivision of the Vacaville Road District into 13 sections.