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Monday, June 12, 1995

Solano townships boomed, then went bust

Kristin Delaplane

Denverton was once bustling, now is deserted

Information for this article came from the Vacaville Museum, Vacaville Heritage Council and Vacaville Public Library.
Solano County was one of the original 27 counties organized when California became a state in 1850. Providing water transport by the Sacramento River and its many sloughs and with some of the richest farming land, it was an ideal place to establish town sites. The towns were settled by men from the gold fields and those who came to California as pioneers.

Prosperity was enjoyed for a number of years in those early-day settlements, but as many had been situated to accommodate stagecoach traffic or the shipping of grain by waterways, many suffered with the coming of the railroad. These included the townships of Maine Prairie, Montezuma and Denverton. All were part of the Lucco Mexican Land Grant of 50 square leagues, which was originally claimed by Juan and Jose Lucco. They said they purchased it from a Mexican vaquero, who had received it from the Mexican government. This claim was rejected in U.S. courts and in 1855 it was declared public land and was opened for settlement in 1862.

Vacaville’s Jerry Bowen, a recreational gold miner, seeks out the old town locations and has provided the most up-to-date information on how to locate these towns and view what it is like now.

Denverton Township: Only the town of Denverton made up Denverton Township located 10 miles east of Fairfield. It was founded by Dr. S.K. Nurse. Dr. Nurse was born in Monroe, N.Y., in 1820. In his early days, he worked as a teacher and a laborer doing various farm jobs. He then furthered his studies taking up the field of medicine and eventually became a dentist. He pursued this calling as a “traveling” dentist arriving in San Francisco in 1849.

Nurse first ventured to the gold fields for a summer. He briefly resided in Benicia, operating a stage and then he went to South America for a year surveying for the railroad. He returned to Benicia in 1852. In 1853, he moved to the Denverton site.

He built the first house in that vicinity and named his place, appropriately, Nurse’s Landing. The site was at the head of a waterway he called Nurse’s Slough. For as far as the eye could see, wild oats grew so tall they would reach a man’s shoulder line - some reminisces would have us believe a man’s shoulder line - while astride a horse! Large herds of elk, antelope and deer fed on the bountiful and rich oats.

Shortly after Nurse’s arrival, D.K. Barry built his home about a half mile east of Nurse’s. To establish a meaningful shipping port, Nurse in 1854 erected a stone building as a storehouse for grain and built a 100-foot wharf. It was later increased to 300 feet. With these constructions, Nurse’s Landing was set as a shipping point for the local farmers’ grain.

The town’s name change to Denverton occurred in 1858. It was chosen to honor J.W. Denver, the congressman who played a key role in opposing a bill that would have confirmed all Mexican land grants under 10 leagues.

That same year, a post office was established and existed until 1911. Nurse was the postmaster, and he held that prestigious position for the next 21 years. It was at this point in time that a number of people began building homes in the township. An 1858 census shows at least 50 inhabitants.

In 1866, Nurse built a brick store. It was highly praised as a building that would do credit to any town. On a roll, the next year Nurse built a brick warehouse measuring 60 by 100 feet with storage capacity for 2,500 tons of grain. Eventually he added a hay warehouse to serve the local growers.

The next major events were: The startup of a school, one teacher being able to teach the number of children in the area.

The building of the Presbyterian church in 1870, which became known as the Shiloh Church. In some accounts this church is credited to the folks in Denverton, in others to the people of Bird’s Landing. Yet it is also associated with Collinsville. It was probably a joint effort and served all three communities.

The church burned down and was rebuilt in 1876. As fire tale goes, the adjoining cemetery grew faster than the congregation, regular services ceased and the building fell into disrepair. In 1955, it was restored as a historic landmark.

In 1875, Nurse constructed the telegraph line to Suisun City, and in 1876 the line merged with the Montezuma Telegraph Co. It ran a total of 35 miles, extending to Rio Visa.

Denverton was seven miles by nine miles in size. By now it was regarded as some of the best farmland for growing grain in Solano County. Being prairie land, it was especially suited for growing wheat and barley.

The gentlemen who farmed this area hailed from the Midwest, the East Coast, France, Ireland, Norway, Scotland and Prussia. A principal landowner was Samuel Stewart, who had 3,000 acres. Nurse owned 1,200 acres. Most of the town’s merchants were also farmers.

The town grew to provide many services for the local populace. There was a store, blacksmith shop, wheelwright, butcher market, hotel, and the schoolhouse. A church was erected for the Methodist congregation.

In 1871 the Good Templars, which were founded in 1863 in Binghamton (Maine Prairie Township), built a hall in Denverton. Membership at one time totaled 125.

What happened to Denverton? It slowly lost ground as a destination. River traffic fell off to Collinsville, in the Montezuma Township. Collinsville was located on the Sacramento River and proved to be a better equipped shipping port, catering to bigger boats. And of course, the railroad changed everything by offering more shipping points with faster service. Railroad tracks did pass through Denverton and a depot was established, so some shipping was done from there.

But eventually the station was abandoned by the railroad and the town’s businesses dwindled to a store-gas station that survived up to the ‘40s, when Highway 12 was rerouted and completely bypassed Denverton. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the last business closed down. Though Denverton appears on the Solano County map, there is nothing really left.

About five years ago the railroad depot on Lambie Road was torn clown. However, the Shiloh Church remains. You can go out on Shiloh Road and see the church and visit the graveyard where some pioneer folk are buried.