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Sunday, January 19, 1997

Vaca streets named for earliest settlers

Kristin Delaplane

Three Vacaville streets were named for some of her very earliest pioneers: Mason and Luzena Wilson, and I.F. Davis.

In 1852, Mason Wilson and his wife, Luzena, a North Carolina native, arrived from the gold fields to harvest the wild hay in Solano that was selling for $150 a ton in San Francisco. Traveling in a covered wagon, they arrived in Vacaville and set up their rig on Main Street.

During the day, Mason Wilson went out in the fields - probably a matter of feet from Main Street - and cut and bundled oats. Luzena Wilson meanwhile set up a “prairie hotel,” putting up a sign reading “Wilson’s Hotel” to welcome travelers. The innkeepers provided their guests with campfire meals and the comfort of a haystack for sleeping. Vacaville’s Main Street was on the main trail to and from the gold fields, so business was no doubt brisk.

By the end of the year, the couple had enough saved to buy lumber in Benicia and they built a proper homestead that was located three-quarters of a mile from Juan Manuel Vaca’s adobe.

In her memoirs, Luzena Wilson recalled life at Vaca’s ranchero. Vaca was the “lord of the soil,” she said, “over which roamed cattle and mustangs. . . . A whole day’s hard riding about the grant would not reveal half the extent of their four-footed possessions.”

By the close of 1853 Luzena Wilson was ready to entertain. She invited the town’s entire English speaking population for Christmas dinner - five people. The guests were served onion soup, roast elk and lamb, boiled onions, radishes, lettuce, parsley and dried apple pie and rice pudding.

By 1858, Mason Wilson had prospered in Vacaville, probably in ranching, and owned a fair bit of property in town. That year, when the politicians were deciding where to locate the county court, Mason Wilson offered four blocks of lots in Vacaville and $1,000 for the county to locate in Vacaville. Vacaville was probably never really a consideration and Fairfield won out.

That same year Mason Wilson re-entered the hotel trade erecting a commodious brick house for his family as living quarters and as a public house. It was named Wilson’s Hotel. It was one of the few buildings in town and certainly the most predominant. The estimated construction cost was at $7,000 or $14,000 including fixtures. The hotel fronted Main Street and was at the corner of what is today Davis Street. The two-story building measured 30 feet by 65 feet. There was an L-shape extension measuring 18 feet by 45 feet with another extension for the kitchen measuring 12 feet by 16 feet.

In 1874, Mason Wilson sold his hotel to Gen. E.S. Davis of Oakland. Davis’ brother, I. F. Davis, a Canada native operated it as the Davis Hotel. Davis was born in 1826. In 1868 he had moved to Vermont where he kept a hotel. In 1873, he left for California and lived with his brother in Oakland for four months before moving to Vacaville where he was to become a successful hotel man. In 1888, Davis advertised his house as, “The Best Hotel in Vacaville.” The grounds had been improved and in the rear was a garden with walks and shade trees and flowers. To the east was a grove of eucalyptus trees fronting Davis Street.

One of the hotel’s attractions was that it was a nightly gathering spot for old-timers who congregated around the fireplace and swapped stories of the early days in Vacaville and told tales of their experiences rounding the Cape Horn, crossing the plains, mining camps and Indians. This appealed to the Eastern traveler who ate up first-hand accounts of the pioneer days. While the hotel was of “brick”, it was still predominately a wooden structure and as such subject to the ravages of a fire. It was lost to the demon fire at some point.