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Sunday, March 23, 1997

May air of 1883 filled with picnics, rain

Kristin Delaplane

Event brought residents from Madison to Vaca Valley

The year was 1883 and a new Good Templars Lodge was established in Allendale with 23 members. But the big news that spring with the Good Templars was their May Day Temperance Picnic to be held at Oiler’s Grove. J.M. Oiler would provide water, feed and a stable for up to 500 horses at 25 cents per animal. The Good Templars were given permission to sink a well on the grounds.

Oiler’s Grove, located where Eleanor Nelson’s park is today, had three distinct sections. The first was several densely shaded acres where the speakers and musical entertainment would be centered. The Elmira String Band was set to provide some of that entertainment with two fiddles, a guitar and an organ. Over 2,000 people could be accommodated in this area.

The next section, a grove of about one acre, was across Alamo Creek. Here the group planned to build a 24-by-60 foot dance floor. In the back of this section was a larger grove of walnut trees and green grass ideally suited for the picnic grounds. The picnic would include lemonade stands, ice cream “saloons,” a restaurant and a confectionery stand. To the side of the picnic grounds was an area that could easily accommodate over a dozen croquet games. People were invited to bring their own sets.

The railway was offering a special fare for those coming from Winters and Madison. There would be a hack running from Elmira for that part of the county.

In the end, not all went according to plan. It was estimated that 2,000 did indeed show up coming from Madison, Dixon, Davisville, Allendale, Pleasants Valley and Vaca Valley. They came on foot, by horse and mule and in all manner of gigs - lumber and fruit wagons, two-horse carriages and one-horse buggies.

Other musical entertainment turned out to be a quartet, a duet, a chorus and a soloist. Judge Thompson of San Francisco gave a speech. There was some dancing, the picnickers enjoyed a good meal and croquet proved to be a popular activity. However, the baseball game between the Elmira and Vacaville teams was canceled due to rain which started at two o’clock and lasted for two hours. During this unexpected shower, Mr. Oiler opened his residence. People with muddy shoes filed in filling the house from the cellar to the garret. Others took refuge in the barns and other farm buildings.

Another May Day picnic was at J.M. Pleasants’ new residence in Pleasants Valley. And yet another was the Solano Pioneers or 49ers Picnic at Tolenas Springs where only 300 people showed. The onyx quarry discovered in 1855 was still in operation at the location. That summer it would be reported that two carloads of the stone were shipped to market.

One stormy night in Vacaville, Nelson Martin, a large and powerful man who worked with threshing machines, fell in Ulatis Creek and drowned. He had arrived from Elmira on the evening train and stopped in at A.B. Miller’s Saloon across from the depot for a sherry. That was the last anyone saw of the man. The next morning a farmer east of town found the body. He took the body to Dan Corn’s livery stable and laid it out for viewing. A number of people came by to pay their respects. It was not known if Martin was drunk when he landed in the creek. Though a highly esteemed man, it was common knowledge that “strong drink was his master.” After this sad event, money was raised to fence in Ulatis Creek.

Ulatis Creek got a good washing out with the rain storm which sanitarily speaking it was needed. The creek was the local sewage dump and all matter of materials was thrown in as though it were the local dump. The late rains that season hit another positive note for the farmers. It meant that thousands of gophers drowned.

There was a lot of activity at the Davis Hotel, which had been newly carpeted and beautified with a new sign in gilt block letters. Traveling salesmen were accommodated with a Sample Room for displaying their wares. A Sacramento nursery man auctioned off a variety of flowers and plant stock. The traveling Pacific Art Gallery set up a photography studio in the back. What was unique about their services was that the photo was completed within 10 minutes of the sitting.

M.R. Miller moved to Vacaville and immediately purchased land in town with plans to build six houses of five or six rooms each and, when completed, to build six more. The cost of each house was estimated at $1,200, but builder B.T. Reynolds of Elmira won the bid to build six houses for $5,856.

Dr. Upchurch moved his dental office from the back of Miller’s drug store to the Odd Fellows Building. Miller now had drug stores in Suisun and Vacaville. Edgar E. Long had been operating the one in Vacaville while Miller set up the business in Suisun. Once the Suisun store was established, Miller had Long taken over and he moved back to Vacaville. It was while Miller was in Suisun that he invited friends to attend a drama there entitled “Ten Nights in A Barroom.”

Vacaville certainly did not lack saloons. The Gem Saloon had a new sign and a large watering trough for horses. Jeff Owens, the proud proprietor, wrote a little ditty to fit his ad. “Whiskies, Brandies, Choice Wines for those to drink who have a mind; And if to smoke you feel inclined, the best Havanas you will find.”

Plasterer H.H. Clarke was seeking business and advised would-be customers to leave their orders at Platt, Stice & Co. or address orders by postal card.

William F. Steve opened barber shop complete with bathrooms with hot or cold baths cost 25 cents. Steve also offered his services of hair cuts and shampoos to the ladies.

Donoho Bros. had a contract to build B.R. Howard’s water wagon. Howard’s wagon was important. The sprinkler on the wagon operated twice a day in the summer keeping the dust on the street at a manageable level. There would be more to water down as Mason Street was going to be 60 feet wide and extend to Merchant Street.

The Bank of Vacaville building was finally completed. Now in business, the bank boasted a capital stock of $100,000. R.D. Robbins was the president of this bank, as well as the Bank of Suisun. Notary Public Edward Fisher moved his office to the bank where he was cashier and seller of insurance policies.

Gordon, whose carriage painting shop was on the second story, was adding a platform and planned to put in an elevator to hoist work up to his shop.

Mrs. Fulton sold her millinery business to Miss Long and Mrs. P. Wiley. The ladies relocated the shop to Robinson’s building.

The butcher shop was sold to Rogers & McKinney who had been operating a meat market in Elmira. L. Warner took over the meat market.

There was still no bakery in Vacaville so Mrs. F. Hutton was taking orders for fresh bread and offered to contract for family baking. She was located three doors from Cernon’s blacksmith shop.

There were several egg shipments to San Francisco by the three major general stores. Morgenstern & Milzner sent 600 dozen eggs. Platt, Stice & Co. also sent 600 dozen eggs while M. Blum delivered 720 dozen.

Isa Blum was now the bookkeeper at his father’s store. They did a brisk business because the telegraph office was also located there.

Young Willie Davis went about selling milk at five cents per quart. Other boys were also in need of work. For example, there were two boys whose father had died and they were trying to help their mother. Young girls could also find work. Fruit rancher McKevitt was looking for one to do cooking and housework

It was noticed that the town character, Happy Jack the “rag man,” was not about. Children missed him because he usually handed out candy to them.

C. Hale was setting a nursery near Dr. Dobbins place. It was thought he would do well at selling the preferred home grown trees. His competition was to be H.M. Swasey who was also just opening a nursery with 30 acres under cultivation.

F.B. McKevitt brought a tree limb from his peach tree to the editor’s office. It had 30 peaches clinging to it. McKevitt explained that there should only be four peaches and that was why the farmers were busy thinning their trees.

P. Maviscan, a Portuguese farmer, was shipping his beans to market as was Ah Jaw shipping his potatoes.

W.W. Smith had hired 40 men for the cherry season. He was shipping out a ton of cherries a day. One day 14 buggies arrived in town with ladies and gentlemen from Madison and Winters who had come to view the cherry orchards. Frank Bassford shot and wounded one Chineseman for stealing his cherries.

It was noted that many Chinese workers were arriving daily on the train. While out collecting poll tax, the road overseer saw what he thought was a Chinese worker in the middle of a field. However, on going out to collect the tax, he found only a scarecrow.

The Chinese community made the news and sometimes suffered from local prejudice. Newspaper publisher McClain was guilty at fueling such sentiments. When the temperatures rose one June day to an unprecedented high, it was reported that the Chinese labor force refused to work. McClain seized this opportunity to point out the “laziness” of the Chinese.

Other items included rumors of 10 Americans frequenting the Chinese wash houses to smoke opium. When a group from the Chinese community met at the AOUW Hall one night, the event was given an air of mystery as a meeting that was “profoundly secret.” (This AOUW Hall was also the site for a few soirees with supper and dancing.)

One evening Chinatown was saved from devastation when some boys coming down from the swimming hole saw laundry man Sam Sing’s roof on fire. When notified, his neighbors went into full action saving the building.

Ah Tom was wounded by Louis Sohn, Mrs. Broughton’s manager. Tom had worked as cook for Arcules Hawkins for three years and Hawkins took the injured man to Dr. Cunningham who dressed the wound. Sohn was arrested. Mrs. Broughton and Mr. Blum post the $1,000 bail. Sohn immediately had Ah Tom arrested and Hawkins posted his bail. The case went to court but was dismissed. Sohn’s story was that a Chineseman was in the creek below Mrs. Broughton’s house. Sohn told some boys to get rid of him. Their method was to pelt the individual with pebbles. Tom came along the road and on seeing this, shot his revolver in the boys’ direction. At this Sohn told Tom to get off the premises and pointed the way. According to Sohn, Tom merely sneered and proceeded to leave in a preferred direction. At this, Sohn got his shotgun and the two men shot at each other, ending with Tom being wounded.

Following this incident, Mrs. Nap Brougton ran a notice warning Chinamen and invaders to stay out or risk getting shot.


Soda maker kept busy with orders
News in other parts of the county:
F. Kane opened the Dixon Soda Works where he manufactured soda sarsaparilla, ginger ale and cider, and filled orders for picnics, parties and balls.

The five-act juvenile operetta “Red Riding Hood’s Rescue” was performed at the Academy Hall in Dixon by local students. They were accompanied by the town’s orchestra.

Because there was no Catholic church in Dixon, a funeral procession from that place passed through Vacaville on the way to the Catholic cemetery in Suisun.

J.S. Marx of San Lorenzo had a friendly rivalry with A.T. Hatch of Suisun Valley as to who would get their currants to market first. They tied in 1883 when currants were selling for $24 per 100 lbs.

Vacaville’s J.M. Dagget, contractor and house builder, completed a mansion for W.W. Scarlette six miles northwest of Suisun City. This magnificent two-story home had 18 rooms, closets and a bathroom. On one of his trips to Suisun, Daggets’ buggy overturned and he injured his kneecap.

O.P. Dobbins, attorney and notary public, had his office in Fairfield at the courthouse.

An intoxicated African-American accidentally started a fire in the Roberts House in Suisun when he dropped a cigar stump in one of the rooms. Fortunately, the fire brigade saved the building.

A despondent 60-year old W. Austin killed himself in Fairfield at John Reams home. Austin was from Missouri where he had been quite successful until he was burned out a number of years prior. He never recovered and finally, fully discouraged, he left his family and came out west.

In Benicia, the citizens were outraged at the railroad company for charging the exorbitant and unjust fare of 15 cents to ride the Solano train ferry between Benicia and Port Costa.

In Binghamton, John Anderson, who had settled there only recently, accidentally was shot with his own revolver. He had just purchased some land and was taking a nap in his hay loft. He had been shooting rabbits and had stuffed his revolver in his pocket. When he turned over in his sleep, the weapon went off. The wound was so severe that he died 20 hours later.

In Vallejo at the Star Flouring Mills a worker Brent Kemper got caught in the machinery and died.

A ball was held in Madison in Yolo County to raise money to send a resident who suffered from consumption to a spa. The music was provided by the Elmira String Band. Many from Vacaville attended the ball which was held in a warehouse. They were able to raise $75.