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Sunday, November 09, 1997

Vaca Valley’s fruit industry comes of age

Kristin Delaplane

Chinese crews work the fields

In October 1884, Raleigh Barcar took over as publisher of The Reporter.
Publisher and founder, James McClain, claimed declining health made it necessary for him to leave the business. The Reporter moved to the back of Kinsmill’s harness shop and realtors Lyon and Platt moved to the Reporter’s old stand on the Triangle lot.

A plaque on Saturday was placed on the Barcar Building on Main Street that Barcar built in 1897. The lower floor of the two-story brick building was for businesses and for a time served as Vacaville’s fire station. The upper floor was used for offices and clubrooms.

An adjacent building to the west was built for The Reporter, which continued to publish there until 1993 when the operation moved to Cotting Lane.

Out in the countryside there was a meeting at the residence of R.M. Barton to discuss the construction of a road to the summit of Blue Mountain. J.G. Sturgill was nominated as overseer of the project. Sturgill, a carpenter and architect, also was employed by Barton to construct an addition to his residence.

A cyclone hit the top of Blue Mountain when A. Cass and Jeff Owens were in Cass’ house. The home, an 18-by-24 structure, did a series of gyrations and then landed 10 feet from its original location.

During the cyclone, Owens and Cass were flying around the house with the crockery, tumbling tables and a dog.

As Cass expressed it: ‘‘Some of the time I was on top and some of the time the house was.’‘

Out of the dishware, only a single cup and saucer were left intact. It would take about $150 to put the house back in position.

Cecil Walter was the agent for Rock’s Nurseries and was selling fruit and ornamental trees. William Butcher ordered 6,000 petit prune trees for the next season.

There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Vacaville and the ‘‘products of the fruit belt.” It was noted that the town had 600 residents and town lots, 50 by 130 feet, fetched in the neighborhood of $200.

Mr. M.R. Miller was interviewed for this article. He stated that he was the first person to plant peach pits. This was in 1851. Peaches then would bring in $1 per pound. He cited, by way of illustration, that an acquaintance of his realized $1,000 for 1,000 pounds of peaches in 1854.

A local real estate broker also was interviewed. He stated that the first wheat land converted to fruit raising was a 590-acre parcel sold by Mrs. Wilson to W.B Parker in 1882. Parker paid $65,000. He had attempted to purchase only 100 acres, but owners would not sell less that 500 acres.

Since his purchase, he had planted 100 acres in fruit: grapes, petit prunes, peaches apricots and Bartlett pears. He had sold off all but 150 acres and had plans to build a $10,000 residence. Mr. Parker was credited with establishing the bank in Vacaville.

One of the largest new orchards belonged to W.J. Dobbins. He had 200 acres planted with 24,000 trees: apricots, pears, prunes, 10 varieties of peaches and two varieties of plums. In between the younger trees, he had planted corn.

According to the article, the pickers were Chinese who came from the city and stayed until the crops were harvested. The fruit was gathered in two large baskets suspended from their shoulders on a piece of wood. When the baskets were filled, they are taken to the packing house.

There the fruit was sorted and packed for shipment. The Chinese were hired by the day. They worked an average of 10 hours a day for which they were paid $1. Those Chinese who lived in Vacaville permanently found work year round in the orchards and vineyards.

Thissel made a good profit on his canned goods. He put up 4,000 cans of apricots and 2,000 cans of peaches during the season. The apricots in glass were fetching $3.25 per dozen. Some of these were shipped to Australia

The changing of the guard: W.E. and J.N. Thissel bought their father’s crop of muscat grapes, which they were going to dry for raisins. At this time, they began leasing their father’s ranch. The senior Thissel felt assured that his place would be well cared for, as his sons were very knowledgeable in the culture of fruit.

The Vallejo newspaper ran an article based on one of their reporter’s visit to the Laird and Carman orchard, which was a mile-and-a-half from the town of Vacaville in the Vaca Valley. At this location, one had a view of the whole valley and the town. There was a story-and-a-half residence with eight rooms and a dining room. The house was surrounded by oak and eucalyptus trees. Monterey cypress grew on either side of the road leading to the house.

There was a cannery on the ranch capable of producing 20 dozen cans per day. Depending on the season, two dozen to one dozen men were employed. The fruit grown on the ranch included Bartlett pears, apricots, prunes, peaches, figs, quince, oranges and grapes.

The ranchers also produced sweet potatoes, melons and tomatoes. Poultry, turkeys and ducks were another a source of income and there had two jersey cows. Adjoining the orchard was the Pena schoolhouse. The value placed on the property was $50,000.

Charles Buck and others had taken a bee tree and were severely stung in the process. A few nights later Charles was asleep dreaming that he had run into a nest of yellow jackets. The next thing he knew he was on the ground, having jumped out of his two-story bedroom window.

Mrs. F. M. Gray had a flock of rock fowls and she sold their eggs at $1 for 15 eggs, which she delivered to anyplace in town.

The Bassfords were renown in the area for raising pointers for hunting. This included George W. Bassford, Joseph M. Bassford, Jr., Henry A. Bassford.

Pleasants Valley was rapidly gaining fame for its big pumpkins. A wagon load of pumpkins was taken to Dixon and every one of them was just a trifle smaller than a cartwheel.

Capt. N.C. Brooks of Vanden Station had hay was for sale. He also advertised several horses for $25 to $75 each. Brooks was known for raising quinces. A sample of his product was on view at Long’s drugstore in Suisun. He was also raising hogs, which he sold locally for folks to smoke and cure themselves, thus saving 10 cents a pound at the butchers.

The area being settled was spreading out. Peter T. Gannon purchased land in Peaceful Glen and was in the process of building a house and a barn there.

Milliner, Mrs. L.M. Lawrence, who came to Vacaville in about 1878, was offering hats, bonnets, etc. in exchange for country produce. She also sold pianos and organs.

The town only had one church, but it had four church groups. The Baptists were meeting in a room at the college.

Since September the newly formed Congregational Church had been meeting in Chittenden’s building. To witness the church as officially organized, the Rev. C.D. Barrow from San Francisco made a special trip to Vacaville.

The church committee decided to ask Rev. Rufus Toby of Helena, Mont., to be its pastor. On the 23rd of December the Sunday school was going to give a Christmas festival and the Ladies Society was providing an evening of entertainment Dec. 30.

The Vacaville Choral Union was formed at Chittenden Hall. Raleigh Barcar was the president and Prof. Ryhiner was the musical director. The Arion Brass Band also rehearsed at Chittenden Hall.

When the rains came in November, it was discovered that the newly built Chittenden building had a crack extending from the roof to the ground and the water came in under the foundation causing grave concern for the building.

Andrew Kepler apparently gave up being a baker and Mrs. Hutton’s old stand was taken over by W.H. van Marter. Van Marter baked fresh bread every morning, which was delivered and he had biscuits available every morning at 5 a.m. He also had plain cakes, iced and decorated cakes and wedding cakes. Other goodies included pies, puddings baked, boiled and steamed. Boston brown bread and baked beans was made to order.

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.