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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Extravaganza in 1914 dedicated courthouse

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


Two-day festivity in Fairfield over ‘4th’ drew 6,000

Solano County celebrated the dedication of its courthouse in 1914 with a grand party. Although the courthouse itself had been finished in 1911, it took until the July 4th weekend of 1914 for the community to gather and enjoy a fun-filled, two-day event.

My last column covered the festivity’s planning which had started early in the spring of 1914 and involved groups throughout the county in organizing and fund raising for this event.

Celebrations started early on Saturday, July 4. The Solano Republican gave a full report on the event on July 10, recognizing that “not only was the National Independence Day celebrated with real enthusiasm and in the ordinary sane way, but the dedication of the new court house to the use of the people added to the historical importance of the event and brought many people here to celebrate the day, who might under other circumstances have gone elsewhere.

“These visitors all seemed pleased at the appearance of the decorated building and expressed only delight at the dedicatory ceremonies and address.”

The courthouse had been lavishly decorated by “Decorator Sadler (who) surely deserves praise for his treatment of the building. Many expressed themselves as never having seen a more beautiful building and decorations at one time.”

Festivities began at 9:30 a.m. when participants for the parade gathered on Great Jones, Taylor and Madison streets to merge onto Texas Street, march past the courthouse, turn onto Union Street, wend their way to Suisun and then turn around to march back to Fairfield.

Four bands led the divisions: the Winters Brass Band, the Vacaville Brass Band, the Twin Peaks Fife and Drum Corps and the Imperial Concert Band. Much thought and work had gone into the floats, with most entries by fraternal lodges and local merchants.

“The parade was certainly one to be remembered. It was bright and beautiful and displayed the wealth of labor and some very original designs. Exclamations of delight were heard on every hand as it passed. In close ranks it was over a mile in length. ...

“The Pacific Portland Cement Company presented a beautiful industrial float, a large gilded wagon bearing a water tank made of cement, silo, and even samples of products manufactured by the company. Six fine fat mules drew the display.

“The Suisun Hardware Company and Henry Goosen had fine displays,” with the Suisun Hardware Company winning the second place for commercial floats.

A central exhibit was the float carrying the Goddess of Liberty. “The Goddess’ car, drawn by six white horses, was rich and beautiful - not over decorated, but plain and rich. Miss Sherburne and her maids of honor and little George and Martha Washington, were certainly a beautiful sight. They were garbed in royal robes not excelled by real royalty in style and richness.

“The lodges, too, displayed beautiful and original floats. The Wednesday Club and Ray McFall and Wilbur Woods drove beautiful decorated cars, and Ed Long and Mrs. Keys, but shaw! Why continue? One cannot do all of them justice.”

Our reporter clearly ran out of space and breath in his admiration of the various entries. And   the Wednesday Club ladies carried off the first prize for best-decorated auto.

With the parade back at the courthouse area, the most important part of the day’s celebration began: the formal dedication of the courthouse.

The Rev. F. M. Washburn gave the invocation, followed by Chairman J. S. Brown, who introduced Supervisor H. J. Widenman. He in turn gave a full outline of all the courthouses of the county from 1850 to the present date with costs and other interesting data. “He was applauded generously at the close for his neat manner and pleasing address to the people.”

Then keynote speaker Charles F. Stern, a commissioner of the State Highway Department, was introduced, “and followed with a stirring, loyal, enthusiastic, patriotic address. It was a splendid oratorical effort and he held his audience in rapt attention to a man, while frequent applause evidenced the interest taken, until a well rounded period closed the address. Many new admirers pressed about to meet the orator and nothing but expressions of delight were heard in the throng.”

The highlight of the ceremony was the moment when Brown, after “a short and neatly turned talk” turned over the keys of the courthouse to the people of Solano County. The throng then dispersed for luncheon or decided to watch the horse cart races.

Afternoon entertainments opened with the much-anticipated Grand Rodeo and Wild West Show from 1 to 4 p.m. Events included bull riding, bull dogging, broncho busting, relay race, potato-sack race, Roman race, goat-tying contest, and trick and fancy roping. The same program took place again on Sunday. This time, prizes were awarded, drawing an even larger crowd.

“The Wild West riding and broncho busting event was a splendid attraction. Lewis Pierce, the chairman of this event, surely gave our visitors some sights not often seen. He gathered here the best riding talent on the Pacific Coast and the horses and cattle used were strong, splendid specimens of their kind.

“It required skill to win any of the prizes given and the spectacle was all that could be desired. There were some twenty-five riders and they earned every prize obtained giving full value. Tex Crockett was hurt bull dogging and later in broncho busting and secured no prize, yet he did much toward the success of the event all through.”

For those not interested in the rodeo, other entertainment was offered. Track and field sports took place at the ballpark. Suisun’s new Deep Water Harbor hosted the water sports, including swimming races and high dives. And somewhere somebody climbed a greased pole, a competition eventually won by Frances Harrington.

The evening’s entertainment continued with a band concert in the ballpark conducted by the Vacaville Brass Band from 8 to 10 p.m., followed by American and Japanese fireworks.

And finally, the two grand balls commenced at the Open-Air Pavilion in Suisun and the Majestic Hall in Fairfield. The Liberty Goddess and Miss Delia Sherburne led the Grand March while the Winters Brass Band and the Union Imperial Concert Band provided the music for the dancers.

“The afternoon and evening dances were   well attended. The dance pavilion 75x110 feet, lighted by numerous strings of electric bulbs and given lively dance music by full bands, was a crowded and animated scene where young and old thoroughly enjoyed themselves and for the time being lost all care and responsibility. Enterprise Hall in Fairfield was also well patronized by pleasure seekers.”

The only disappointment was the planned Horribles parade, a show of the worst costumes imaginable and very popular at the time. The Republican mourned that it had been too small. “This feature was not given proper attention for the chairman gave the matter up just a day or two prior to the celebration and Bogie Roberts took charge too late to make the features the event it should have been.”

On the positive side, the newspaper also pointed out that “No disputes, loud talks, or fights occurred during the two days of celebration. That fact, also, sounds well for those having that matter in charge.”

Even more impressive is the immense turnout when one considers the number of people who lived in Solano County at the time. Fairfield had roughly 900 residents at the time.

“It is estimated 6,000 people visited us and took part in the event. Vallejo was here in large numbers. The Northern Electric brought over 500 from Vacaville, making nine round trips to accommodate the people, which they surely did. From Benicia, Rio Vista and Elmira came large crowds, but Dixon did not show up largely and not many Dixonites were visible. People noticed it but thought it was because of the late festivities at their own town.”

In   an age without television, this event also presented an opportunity for political aspirants to get to know their constituents. “All the candidates for office were present and lent a glad hand to the voters there gathered.”

With the extensive planning beforehand, everything went well and visitors and residents enjoyed this unique historic event. Nonetheless, one can discern the relief in the Republican’s closing comment on July 10.

“Altogether the day in Suisun and Fairfield brought together the largest number of people ever gathered at this place for a similar celebration and was a success from every standpoint. The people may now rest a year or two and visit with their neighboring towns before acting again the host on July Fourth.”