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Sunday, April 26, 1998

Despite fires, Suisun thrives during 1860s

Kristin Delaplane

Growth swells throughout town

In 1868, George A. Gillespie, brother of E.F. Gillespie, was publishing the Solano Press. E.F. Gillespie had opened the first business in Vacaville and had gone on to become sheriff of Solano County.

It was a severe winter in Solano County in 1868. In January, there was a snowstorm that covered the whole of Suisun with three inches of snow. The winter rains had caused severe damage to the Knoxville Road.

The people of Napa were taking advantage of the situation to try to divert shipping traffic their way and put about 60 men to work to fix their road to the rich Berryessa Valley.

However, the people of Monticello preferred Suisun to Napa as a shipping point as it was a dollar cheaper per ton to ship freight. As the people in Suisun had already invested $20,000 on the road, it was clearly an issue for them to address.

A survey was conducted to compare the routes. The measurement began at Pierce’s warehouse in Suisun to the Monticello Hotel in Berryessa Valley and from Lawley’s warehouse in Napa to the hotel. The result was that while the route from Napa City was slightly less, the gradation in the road was much greater, making it the more difficult route for wagons.

At this time Raney and Eakle were running the Monticello Hotel, which had been originally opened by David Talley in 1867. Later in 1868 Eakle departed leaving Raney in charge.

Small pox was in the area and one case had ended in death. Immediate precautions were taken with immunizations the children in the area and many adults. Three cases were reported in Benicia. A building was procured as a “pest house’’ at Bottle Hill and preparations were made move the patients there. Plans were changed when the residents in that area protested vigorously.


Suisun City


In the early part of the year, Capt. Frank Hicks had a hunting accident, which shattered his hand when the gun accidentally exploded. Hicks had a run of bad luck. His wife had died a year or two prior and he had lost his vessel.

In the hotel business, Thomas B. Roberts sold his hotel and Marcus A. Long leased the Pacific Hotel, purchasing the fixtures and furniture from A.F. Knorp, the previous proprietor.

The face of Suisun City changed with a major fire, which caused $25,000 worth of property damage. The fire was discovered at about 3 a.m. It originated from Meeham’s boot and shoe shop on Main Street between Solano and Sacramento streets.

A Chinese man who lived opposite the shop sounded the alarm. Being situated in the center of a block of wooden buildings, the flames spread quickly. The adjoining chophouse was the first to be consumed by fire.

The Pacific Hotel next became engulfed in flames. Rearden’s harness shop on the north was soon ignited. In the course of next two hours every wood building on the block was destroyed.

Reeves Block on the corner narrowly escaped the same fate. General opinion was that this was a case of arson, due the hour it started.

The Pacific Hotel, which was owned by D.D. Reeves and Sampson Smith, was valued at $6,000. It was built in 1857 and had been leased by Wesley Marsh, Dan T. Day, A.C. Judy, W.F. Halsey, W.J. Jones and A.F. Knorp and, of late, M.A. Long, who had signed a two-year lease.

D.D. Reeves losses also included other frame buildings at a value of $2,500. Mrs. Hemsath lost three buildings worth $3,000 and a portion of her millenary stock worth $230. John Reardon lost $600 worth of sadderly and harness. Harvey Rice had a building burn worth $800.

H. Keym lost his stock of liquors and vegetables, etc. valued at $700. John Miller lost his bakery establishment valued at $2,000. W.H. Stewart lost fixtures in a barbershop and restaurant worth $600. Mrs. J.W. Pearce’s millenary establishment was damaged in the amount of $400. F. A. Reuger lost $60 barber tools and fixtures.

The goods at Reeves & Co. were damaged to an estimated value of $250. Mrs. Turner’s millenary establishment suffered a loss of about $50. Wolf Cerkel’s merchandise was damaged to about $400.

In the rebuilding process, many businesses relocated. Barber W.H. Stewart also was the proprietor a restaurant. He moved to Temple’s Building next to Roberts Hotel. The entrance to the restaurant was through the barbershop. He employed a “first-class’’ cook and was prepared to accommodate boarders and furnish meals at all hours for parties, clubs and travelers.

Though his place of business did not burn down, Perkins & Co. also relocated in Wright’s brick building, which adjoined the Herald office. Bootmaker Meeham, whose shop in which the fire started, opened a new boot shop with a new partner, Woodrough in the shop formerly occupied by Perkins & Co.

It was at this time that Meehan put his one-story cottage on Union Avenue up for sale. The cottage featured a parlor, dining room, kitchen and two-bedrooms, a storehouse and a shed on a lot that was 50-by-200.The annual salaries of the postmasters were revealed. Vallejo, $1,100; Benicia, $940; Suisun $460; Vacaville, $300; Rio Vista, $190; Silveyville, $80; Maine Prairie, $80; Rockville, $40; Denverton, $32.

In other business news, David Pearce and N. Van Owen were owners of a new saloon called the Sideboard Saloon and later Dave & Van’s Taproom. It was east of Main Street. D.H. Pierce and M. Van Owen were the proprietors.

Another new business was the blacksmith enterprise of Brien & Kingsley. They built a shop on Main Street opposite Cannon’s stable.

Jules G. Corey of Suisun was selling agriculture implements and machines. In 1866, John Corey opened a hardware concern selling stoves, guns and he had a tinsmithing department.

H. F. Ross, a bookbinder, had a room over Stockmon’s drugstore.

There was a new resident dentist in Suisun. F.B. Ross Lewin and a new attorney, John M. Coghlan.

F. Frank & Co., the successful dry goods merchandizing store, expanded their business to include a branch store in Silveyville. They were regularly shipping goods off to Silveyville by wagon.


Former coroner A.F. Knorp, who had lived in Suisun since 1857, relocated to San Francisco to go into business with J.G. Knorp. Knorp Bros. were dealers in beds and bedding furnishings. They were located on Fourth Street between Mission and Howard. This business soon expanded to include all household furnishings. By the end of the year A.F. Knorp was the sole proprietor.

During the summer harvest season, the editors were sent several products of the county: Miester Bros. of Green Valley sent a box of Muscat grapes. Mr. Schultz of Green Valley sent several bottles of wine. Dr. William Jacobs of Fairfield sent a bushel of ripe plums.

That fall the railroad was fully operating and business reflected this change. The proprietor of the new Railroad Exchange at Fairfield station gave a Railroad Ball on the occasion opening the house to the public. There was a Housewarming Ball at A.E. Dale’s new hotel near the track at Fairfield station.

J.H. Mundall came from San Francisco and checked into the Roberts Hotel. Reportedly, he was suffering from hallucinations. He paid his bill the next day and later in the day was found dying on the Vacaville road. The official cause was ‘‘morphine overdose.’‘

John Helms was arrested for stealing three horses belonging to H. Boynton. They were stolen from Wetmore’s stable. Henry G. Wetmore’s ranch was at the head of the Suisun Valley. W.B. Harris attempted to steal J.W. Reser’s horse by threatening Reser with a knife. J.W. Reser was the proprietor of the Union Hotel, which was located in front of the courthouse in Fairfield.

Blaisdell’s musicians and bell ringers came to Suisun for a performance. When a black man came in accompanied by two ladies, he asked a man, who was using a vacant bench as a resting place for his feet, to please make room for the women. He was rudely and brusquely rebuffed and so he sought seating elsewhere. However, at the end of the evening’s performance, the man attacked the black man, who only weighed 100 pounds as he was recovering from an ailment.

There was a fire in an old wooden warehouse, which belong to shipper E.P. Hilborn and was thought to be the oldest building in town. It was at the rear of Shield’s blacksmith shop. At the time it was being used to store hay, which belonged to R.B. Cannon, livery stable owner. The hay was valued at $1,400. The hay and building were completely consumed by fire.

Mr. C.M. Butts was opening a penmanship school for the children in Suisun and Fairfield at a charge $2 for 48 lessons. Adults would be charged $6 for 12 lessons. A lady’s gold watch was going to be presented to the scholar who made the most improvement.

There was a Good Templer’s library and reading room opening for all that could pay the initiation and dues.

The Catholic Church was to be dedicated in November. James Hamilton built it and was also building a neat and comfortable residence for the priest on the same lot. James Hamilton had an orchard on the Suisun Creek near Rockville where he was raising plums.

Suggestions and local historical information for this column are welcome. Write biographer-historian Kristin Delaplane in care of The Reporter, 916 Cotting Lane, Vacaville 95688, or e-mail her at [email protected]

Solano County residents, who have famous ancestors or noted legends in their family history, please contact the columnist.

Also seeking volunteer to map out the locations of the changing businesses in Suisun City in the 1800s. Computer generated or hand-drawn.