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Sunday, November 02, 1997

Wild West lore and Democrats

Kristin Delaplane

The Wild West was not mere legend in Vacaville. When the P. Barker was using vulgar and obscene language in the presence of women and children at the Hodgins House, Mrs. M. Hodgins threw a glass striking him on the head. Baker picked up the glass, put it in his pocket and left for Our Corner Saloon & Billiard Hall nearby. A steaming Mrs. Hodgins followed him and entered the saloon with drawn revolver demanding her glass be returned. Barker gave up the glass. Barker failed to appear when his court date came up. Mrs. Hodgins had filed charges, vulgar and obscene language being used in the presence of women and children then being a crime. The charges were dropped.

Mr. Hodgins had been engaged in the hotel business since 1878. His boarding house had been successful despite being the center of several fights in its bar room and sometimes catering to unsavory characters. In 1884, the Hodgins House had a face lift. With the addition of a full story, those who had become accustomed to squatty look could scarcely recognize the old place. In addition, the hotel had been repainted, papered and renovated throughout and was being furnished by Bamberger & Levy. The old Hodgins House now bore the grand name, the Central Hotel. Board and lodging was $5 (a week probably). Meals were 25 cents.

General E.S. Davis, who still held the paper on the Davis Hotel, was contemplating building a two-story addition, which would make his place a four-story building - a virtual skyscraper in Vacaville. Meanwhile, Black and Powers had the contract for making a $500 wagonette for the Davis Hotel, which would seat 14 and be ideal for conveying people around the countryside to view the orchards.

In 1884, the Democratic County Convention was held in Vacaville. All the notable Democrats attended.

Businesses were changing hands at a rapid pace. Sam DeBow and Fred Robbins of Dixon purchased the Our Corner Saloon & Billiard Hall from W.P. Hamner.

John Ducker purchased the notions store, the Gem, from T.M. Bradley. Mrs. Bradley and Mrs. Artis had operated this store, which was located next to the post office. Samuel DeBow, famed as M. Blum’s clerk who was a manipulator of silks, satins, parasols and dolls, went in with Ducker as a full partner. They renamed the business ‘‘Ducker and Debow’s Palace” or “The Palace.” They would continue to carry a supply of candies, nuts, cigars and paper notions of all kinds. They would also man a newsstand.

At the corner of Davis and Main streets, was H.H. Chittenden’s new building. The brickwork was completed by the fall of 1884 and a roof was just being put on. By late October, Chittenden opened his general merchandise store. Upstairs was a hall for social and other functions.

One of the first functions held in the hall was a three-day fair with raffles to benefit the Rev. Father Beeker’s Catholic Church. The ladies of the congregation provided a supper each evening for those attending the fair. Among the articles to be raffled was a quilt in the basket design made by 70-year-old Mrs. J.L. Broughton. It was made with 1,300 pieces and measured 7-by-7 feet. A large number of fancy articles had been donated by local businessmen. These included an elegant ladies gold watch, a gentleman’s silver watch, silver tea set, a silver cake basket, a pair of gold bracelets and a gold-headed cane. There was a near disaster one night of the fair when a group of boys decided it would be fun to tear down some of the decor. In doing so, they knocked over a lamp and the oil from the lamp ignited. Thankfully, quick response by some of the crowd averted a disaster.

A short time later, a Knight’s Ball was held in the hall. The partygoers dined at the Davis Hotel, it being just across the street.

Mrs. Ellen Lawrence moved her millinery store in the “Chittenden building.” It appears that Mrs. Lawrence was the mother of the town’s jeweler, Will. E. Lawrence. W.E. had just gotten married. When he and his wife returned from their honeymoon, the Arion Band landed at their doorstep on Davis Street to serenade the happy couple. A short time later there was a reception for the newlyweds at the A.O.W.U. Both rooms were filled to capacity. At 11 o’clock the couple were escorted to the head of the hall to receive their guests. Then the dancing began.

The Arion Band disbanded but a new band was soon formed.

Another eligible bachelor was taken out of circulation when the town’s dentist N.B. Upchurch married the daughter of Elmira’s Caleb Wells. Caleb had just received the distinction of Caleb Wells being credited with delivering the heaviest and cleanest wheat of the seasons to the depot in Elmira.

Professor Theodore Ryhiner of the Vacaville College was giving instruction in vocal and instrumental music and also German, French and Spanish. Brass band and orchestra music. Prices moderate. Sheet music was also for sale. The professor was also an amateur photographer, who took a number of photographs recording early Vacaville and its residents.

H.K. Wallace of Sacramento purchased tinner Carl Roskie’s stock and fixtures. H.K. Wallace expanded on the merchandise and was selling stoves, kitchen and house furnishing goods and pumps. Meanwhile, Carl rented a residence while he was decided about his new residence.

In 1883, saddle and harness storeowner, Kinsmill, sold his store on Main Street to David Dutton. This then became known as the Dutton Block. In 1884, R.L. Stafford opened the Eden Drugstore in the building that housed the A.O.W.U. hall upstairs and was the space formally occupied by G.N. Platt’s grocery store. Stafford carried a stock of pure drugs, patent medicines, notions, toilet articles, perfume and cigars, etc.

An old harness shop in the Dutton Block next to the Eden Drugstore was opened by B. F. Staler. The Reporter moved from the Triangle lot to the rear of Slater’s harness shop. This afforded the newspaper more room.

James N. Jackson was a new merchant tailor in Vacaville. He not only made clothes, but specialized in cleaning them as well.

A first-class photography gallery was going to open on Main Street in McKay’s building. A.S. McKay operated a custom boot and shoe shop.

Dave Glenn was building a place of business, 432 square feet, on Dobbins near Main for Hay Sing’s washhouse. Hay Sing specialized in washing and ironing done by hand.

The bridge crossing Ulatis Creek near Sam Sing’s washhouse was in terrible condition and an accident was predicted if it wasn’t fixed.

Originally, it was stated that Miss Elliott was building a cottage in town as a rental. As it happens, she was building this cottage for her residence. When finished, it was deemed one of the handsomest cottages in Vacaville.

D. Creighton moved to Vacaville. He completed his addition to his residence near the depot.

The fate of Emil Brokowsky was related to Morgenstern & Milzner. Emil, who had worked as a clerk for the firm, absconded having taken money and goods from the store. He eluded capture on a couple of occasions, but he was to meet a worse fate. He was traveling from Arizona to Mexico with some companions when they all perished from thirst on a desert in Mexico. The pack mule carrying their water had become frightened and in running off burst the cask carrying the water it was hauling.Mrs. L. Baca (Vaca), of Martinez, the sister of Mrs. John Pena, was riding through the streets of Vacaville when her horse attempted to lay down with her. Being a savvy horsewoman, she immediately went to dismount, but her foot became tangled in the stirrup. Alarmed the animal started off at a lively pace dragging her along the ground. Fortunately the saddle cinch broke and she was able to break free with minor bruises.

When not attending to business the many of the citizens occupied themselves with hunting. Many had come to enjoy the roller skating rink at Oiler’s Grove. Andrew Skillins, manager of the roller skating rink, ordered 20 more pair of skates to accommodate the increase in patrons.

J.M. Miller, the druggist at the Criterion Drugstore on Main Street was a bicycle enthusiastic. He had an odometer attached to his bike and had measured the distance from his store to the livery stable in Winters as 14 miles, which took him two hours and 10 minutes.

There was a Sunday school picnic that attracted a large crowd. By 9 a.m. the wagons were loaded with children and food baskets. After a ride of a little over a mile, they reached their destination. There was a pleasant cooling spring and they were not far from the mountain home of Mr. Gates’. (This would be in the area of Gibson Canyon and Serenity Hills Road). During the morning hours, the area was explored. At noon, a lunch was spread beneath the trees. A swing was hung in a large oak.

In the early part of the fall, meetings held on the construction of the new school building. In short order, the contract for the new schoolhouse was awarded to Mr. McKenzie of Benicia. The building was going to be 78 feet by 68 feet with six schoolrooms and a room for the library. The cost: $11, 925. It would take 320, 000 bricks burned in Vacaville by Merwin and Walker of Chico and some 80,000 feet of lumber.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, a plaque will be placed on the Barcar Building on Main Street in historic downtown Vacaville built in 1897 by newspaper publisher Raleigh Barcar, second owner of the Vacaville Reporter. The lower floor of the two-story brick building was for businesses. At one time it served as Vacaville’s fire station. The upper story was used for offices and clubrooms.

The adjacent building to the west was built for The Reporter, which continued to publish there until it relocated in 1993. The plaque being donated by John, Grace and Richard Rico will serve to recognize this building as one of Vacaville’s leading historic buildings. Members of the Historic Markers Committee and leading city officials will be on hand for this dedication.

Volunteers are needed to research old newspapers for the Vacaville Museum’s project on the fruit industry. Call Layton Damiano at 447-6063 or Kristin Delaplane at 447-6604.