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Sunday, July 20, 2003

Pittman handled life on her own well

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


This is a continuation of the story of the Pittman Family in Cordelia and Suisun Valley.

After roughly 10 years of residence in the United States, most of it spent in what was essentially a small frontier town, Charles Pittman’s death on Dec. 3, 1863 left Louisa Pittman widowed, in her thirties and having to support herself and her 8-year-old daughter.

Louisa’s family clearly expected her to sell out and return to England. Her brother Fred wrote on May 28, 1864: “We are all very sorry to learn by your last the death of your dear husband. I am sure every member of the family will sympathize with your great bereavement. I can myself (to keep this letter under weight) only send you a short letter ... we hope that you are berring [sic] up and that you may keep in good health as also your little daughter - whom we now hope we may soon see.

“What can I advise you if you could dispose of your property without much loss and for cash ... we all here think it would be the best thing you could do so as to allow you to come home and be with your friends - and relatives ...

Surprisingly for the time, brother Fred did not expect her to return as a dependent relative, but rather to set up another business venture.

“I should think you might make enough to come home and leave enough to go into some kind of business. I mean have enough left when you arrive here either to buy or start a business but of course we cannot here know well how to advise you ... we must hope that you have some thoroughly honest friends near you that will advise and direct you for your interest alone.

“Let me say in parting with your business be cautious not to part with your property upon any promises or false security - it will be best if you know a good solicitor to consult him. I mean a thorough good one not any loafing fellow ...”

A similar letter of condolence was written on Aug. 1 by her youngest brother Tim, who lived in the province of Castilia in Spain and from whom Louisa had not heard in years. Tim advised her to follow big brother Fred’s counsel and also expressed his hope that she would return to England.

But Louisa had decided to stay and continue to run the Bridgeport Hotel. The hotel was prospering, with many long-term boarders who worked in the nearby quarries. In addition to rooms and meals, she also provided fodder and stabling for the horses.

Throughout the years, she added land to her holdings, much of which was used to grow the hay and grain for the stables.

With all the different tasks that needed to be done to run a successful hotel/boarding house, she needed to hire reliable help. Some of the staff worked out well, others did not. Some guests paid on time, others were less prompt. Large sums of money owed her were a permanent entry in her account records. A couple of letters written by J.M. Whiteside illustrate her difficulties.

In his first, undated letter he wrote: “Dear Madam, The bearer Mr. D. Carroll is a gentleman whom I am very certain will suit your business in a superior manner. Mr. Robertson and myself will vouch for his integrity and ability - trusting that he may greatly relieve you of care.”

The second letter was written from Dixon Station on Aug. 18, 1868 and tells the end of this employment attempt: “I wonder if Mr. Carroll proved worthy. I know he has been well off and bore a good reputation. I am afraid he lets the bottle be too intimate with him.

“I am sorry that Mr. Robinson(‘s) a/c (account) is so far behind at your place. He said he wanted to settle before I should pay it. I think I shall be able to arrange it so as to bring you the money.”

Louisa must have talked about some of her challenging work to her family. Her brother Theodore commented back to her in a letter written on Sept. 23, 1866: “... well dear Lou I hope that this letter will find you and your little maid in good health & spirits. I should say you must have plenty to attend too what with your farming and other duties. If I were a young man & had the money should like very much to take a trip over the sea to see you but there is (the page is ripped here) ... I hope dear Lou that you have got some good kind friends that will stand up for you & see that you are not imposed upon. I should say you are by this time pretty well acquainted with the natives & the country ...”

Louisa did in fact have friends in the area that looked out for her and for little Carrie. One such letter was written by F. Chrisler of Suisun City on Nov. 29, 1868.

“Dear Friend, I should be very happy to have the pleasure of your company and Daughter Christmas Day if it is possible for you to leave. I am going to have a tree at home for my children. They allways [sic] enjoy it so well. You could stay over night and we would have a pleasant time. I expect Mrs. Broderick for dinner and after noon we can go to Mrs. Hey [?] to have a good laugh. If you cannot come be so kind to let me know.”

Over the years, Louisa kept records of cash transactions, inventories and other information in her little black calendar and on various bits and pieces of paper. One such list is an inventory of the hotel, recorded on May 9, 1868. It gives a good idea of the supplies on hand to conduct a boarding house: “House Linen, 30 Pillow Slips, 20 Large Sheets, 18 Small Do (ditto), 21 Chamber Towels, 13 Round Towels, 7 Good T Cloths, 3 old do, 16 Table napkins, 6 White Counterpanes, 6 Colored do, 8 Ms (miscellaneous) White Blankets, Colord (sic) do, 6 Cloth Table Covers, 2 Lamp Mats + Tydies.”

A monthly washing expense of $8 during the 1860s attested to the amount of laundry the hotel generated on a regular basis.

The Bridgeport, or as it later was known, the Cordelia Hotel, had an excellent reputation, both for its table fare and for its high standards. An anonymous writer undertook an explorative tour through the area in 1879 and detailed his experiences farm by farm and business by business in the Weekly Solano Republican on April 10. Under the heading of Bridgeport he included: “Mrs. C.J. Pittman is the proprietor of the Bridgeport Hotel. She keeps an excellent house, and we tried the merits of her tables, and can vouch for them.”

Besides the boarding house, the bar room proved another source of revenue. Another inventory, this time written on a sample ballot on Jan. 3, 1879, recorded its outfitting: “Furniture in bar room: 8 Wooden chairs, 2 Tables (covered), 8 Wooden benches, 5 Pictures, 2 Lamps, 1 Reflector, 1 Tub for washing glasses, 1 Whisk broom, 1 Mirror, 2 Large Decanters, 1 Small Do (ditto), 1 Glass bowl + 4 spoons, 2 Wine glasses, 6 Ale Do (ditto), 13 Beer Do, 6 Bottles Liqueurs, 3 Do (ditto) Riesling Wine, 3 Bar bottles (Initial), 7 Whiskey glasses, 1 Water Pitcher, 1 Beer Pitcher (no lid), 1 Broom, 3 small decanters, 3 bottles partly full off (sic) wine (Reisling) (sic), 2 Fancy bottles ...” The list is torn off here. In addition, the washroom featured a mirror.

While the number of items stocked seems small compared to today’s hotel and bar operations, the sums generated tell of a lively customer base. An entry for the period of March 7 to April 7, 1868 recorded bar cash coming in as $ 94, with another $25 owing. Expenses for the bar came to $76 for liquor, $30 for the bar keeper (who may have been the above mentioned Mr. Carroll), $4 for a license and $4 for insurance, leaving a profit of just $4. The main income seems to have come from the hotel and the operation of the stable.

In an era where available cash on hand was still a rarity, and banks located far and wide, Louisa Pittman also operated as a small-scale lender. Several notes exist from different neighbors, such as F.S. Jones in Suisun valley, who owed money to a person and asked her to advance the sum and put it on their account.

Like any good landlord and citizen, Louisa took care of her surrounding areas. In 1867 for example, she petitioned the County Board of Supervisors and was granted $5 on May 8, $10.50 on Aug. 7, and finally $60 on Feb. 4, 1868 “on the road fund for work on roads.”

On April 6, 1878, she also submitted a declaration to homestead her property, which included approximately 80 acres and was appraised at a cash value of $4,000.

The final document in the collection is a deed of sales to her daughter Carrie, dated Nov. 12, 1885: “Between Louis J. Pittman of Solano County, State of California, widow, the party of the first part and Carrie E. Martin, wife of Henry martin, of the same county ... all the land now owned by the said party of the first part or in which the said party of the first part has any interest situated lying and being in Solano County ... ” for the sum of “five dollars, gold coin, of the United States of America.” Carrie’s husband Henry Martin witnessed the deed.

Louisa lived a few more years, likely with her daughter, until her death in 1889. A small note in the Vacaville Reporter of Nov. 21, 1889 reports the court appointments regarding her estate. Henry Martin was appointed as the administrator, John Neitzel, J. R. Morris and Mat Glasshoff as the appraisers.