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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Early grand jury focused on liquor permits

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


Government took form in Solano during mid 1950s

This is the second installment of a look back into how county business was conducted prior to the establishment of the Board of Supervisors in 1855. - Editor

On Oct. 5, 1853, 19 citizens from throughout Solano County were sworn in to serve on the grand jury, charged with the duty to conduct the county’s business.

Their first meeting occurred on Friday, Oct. 7, 1853. The grand jury was presented with five bills of indictment, followed by a presentation on the thorny issue of liquor laws and licenses. More than 70 residents were accused of not following the law in applying for a liquor license. Included among the list were the names of a few well-known residents.

The county clerk’s minutes, with the variations in spelling, inconsistent use of capital letters and lack of punctuation typical for the time period, recorded:

“The Grand Jury also filed in Court the forgoing Presentment on word as follows, to wit:

“...The People of the State of California by the Grand Jury of the County of Solano do present to the Court that the License Law of this State has been violated by divers persons of Solano County, and that there is reasonable grounds to believe that the following persons have been guilty of such violations by selling spiritous Liquors Goods Wares and merchandise without first procuring license from the proper authority so to do, to wit, Charles M. Davis, John Pursglove, Thomas Bry and Neville L Derby, James Barry, John Barry, Charles I. Stewart and James Miller, Jesse Sawyer, C. P. Howell, I. E. Sever, proprietor of the Solano Hotell ... Mason Wilson ... Capt. Wing ... D N Hastings ... James Parker, Mrs. Downs ... G H Riddell Auctioneer ... The Servitory Biliard Bar Bowling Alley ... H Norton Ulala House ...

“And the Jurors recommend that the Court direct the District Attorney to immediately proceed and collect the amounts of such License from said persons, and all other persons dealing without procuring License according to Law.”

At this point one can speculate that the reason Daniel. N. Hastings had to be excused from serving on the grand jury was related to this case.

The court finished its first session with a look at the state of the county’s jail system.

“The Grand Jury also filed with the Clerk of the said Court of Sessions their Report of the condition of the County Jail in words as follows to wit:

“... The Grand Jurors empaneled for the County of Solano respectfully report That at they have examined the Jail of said County and find the same entirely insignificant for the safekeeping of prisoners, and recommend the court to make an order to repair said Jail by lining the Cells with 1/4 inch boiler iron riveted at all the joints.”

The following meeting on Oct. 13, 1853, concerned itself with issues surrounding the creation or improvement of the infrastructure for the county and its residents. Most decisions included setting payments for services rendered, for example:

“#85.73 A I Bryant Deputy Sheriff is allowed Eighty-five dollars and Seventy-three cents for boarding prisoners in the County Jail, ordered that the same be certified to the County Auditor.

“#29.00 A I Bryant, Deputy Sheriff is allowed twenty-nine dollars for serving notice of appeal in the case of the people of the Sate of California against James Dorland et al. Ordered that the same be certified to the County Auditor.”

The sparse population numbers were scattered far and wide. Only a few maintained roads existed for public traffic. Travelers crossed many creeks at a shallow point rather than over a bridge. Creating a well-connected road and bridge system to allow goods to reach their markets easily was one of the important government objectives.

“#900.00 Ordered that an appropriation of five hundred dollars be allowed for building a Bridge across Green Valley Creek near Morse’s Hotel, and that John E Sever is appointed Commissioner to plan said Bridge, and to let out the Contract for building the same to the lowest bidder, and to take from such bidder a bond the amount of which is to be fixed by the said John E Sever, Conditioned upon finishing the bridge at a Specified time, which is also to be fixed by the said Sever and report the same to this Court immediately after the completion thereof,” decided the Court of Sessions on Oct. 13, followed by the creation of a Road District.

“It is ordered that the road leading from Suisun City to Capt. Josiah Wings on the Road leading from Benicia to Sacramento City be declared a public highway and to be numbered Road District No. 10, and that Alfred Meacham be and he is hereby appointed Supervisor of said Road District, and all persons living nearer said Road than other Public highway shall belong to said road District, and it is further ordered that Two hundred and fifty Dollars be appropriated out of the County Treasury to repair said Road.”

The Court of Session had a number of other issues to deal with during the coming years. The quickly growing population numbers necessitated continuing adaptation of voting precincts.

For 1853, Wood & Allens 1879 History of Solano County recalled that “It would appear that at this juncture the number of residents in the county had so increased, that greater facilities had to be given to the public for recording their votes. The distances from the principal locations of the townships being so great, new precincts were made; the city of Benicia being divided into two wards; the headquarters of one being at the Pacific Works, and the other at the Court House. The Vallejo township comprised Vallejo and Suscol. Wolfskill’s and Montezuma belonged to Vacaville; while Suisun and Green valley each had their polling places.

Setting salaries for top county employees such as the district attorney also fell among the court’s duties.

“At their December term, the Court of Sessions ordered that the salary of the District Attorney should be fixed at one hundred and twenty-five dollars per month, or fifteen hundred dollars per annum, commencing from the first Monday in October.”

Liquor continued to be an item, with calls for prohibition heard throughout the state. On May 4, 1855, an Act of the Legislature was approved, “To take the sense of the People of the State, at the General Election in A.D. 1855, on the Passage of a Prohibitory Liquor Law.” The proposed law made provisions “that the manufacture and sale of all spirituous and intoxicating liquors, except for mechanical, chemical, medicinal and sacramental purposes, should be prohibited. On being put to the vote in Solano County, the result was Yes 143 votes, No 378 votes.”

The Court of Sessions operated until May of 1855. At that time, it was replaced by the first elected Board of Supervisors. The first board consisted of Lloyd A. Rider, A. W. Rodgers, and John C. Fisk and met at Benicia on May 7.

The Board of Supervisor minutes under County Clerk Joseph Vaughn recorded the event:

“At a regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors of Solano, held at the Court House in the City of Benicia on the first Monday of May A.D. 1855, being the 7th day of said Month, “Present Lloyd A Rider W. Rodgers, Supervisors Elect John Fisk, Solano County, “Joseph P. Vaughn County Clerk & Paul Shirley Sheriff of Solano County

“The Board of Supervisors proceeds to Elect a President of this Board & directs that the Election be by Ballot, & upon a ballot being taken it was found that Lloyd A. Rider received for President of the Board Two votes & was thereby declared duly Elected President of the Board of Supervisors of Solano County.

“Whereupon the President took the Chair of President of the Board & declared the Board duly organized for the transactions of business.”

With the population numbers increasing, districts needed to be redrawn. This was done on Aug. 21, 1855, creating District 1 to include Benicia and Vallejo, District 2, Green Valley and Suisun, and District 3, Vacaville, Montezuma, and Tremont.

Precincts were located in the following places: “For Benicia Township The School House occupied by the Rev. Mr. Richardson in the First Ward of said City, and the City Hall or Court House in the Second Ward of said City.

“For Vallejo Township The Vallejo House in the City of Vallejo and the Residence of Messrs. Curtis & Clark.

“For Green Valley Township The House of A I White at Cordelia

“For Suisun Township The Residence of Daniel M Berry and the Residence e of Josiah Wing

“For Vacaville Township The Residence of Mason Wilson. And the Residence of Samuel I Peters.

“For Montezuma Township The Residence of Mr. Williams.”

With these government structures in place, Solano County was ready to grow.