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Sunday, October 05, 1997

Vacaville downtown marked boon in 1884

Kristin Delaplane

Families also came to town in late 1800s

Snow capped the Vaca mountains and the 1884 New Year was rung in with the ringing of the college bell. There was a party in Pleasants Valley at G.W. Thissel’s. Guests were treated to a supper and indulged in singing and games to a late hour.

Samuel DeBow, one of M. Blum’s eight clerks, shot himself through the hand while attempting to give 1883 a parting shot. DeBow put his artistic abilities to work at M. Blum’s as a “manipulator of silks, satins, parasols and dolls.”

Vacaville was perking along at a phenomenal growth rate. It was estimated that within the last six months at least 75 new families had located in the immediate area. Thirty-three acres of land was being sold 2 1/2 miles north of Vacaville for $3,000. This fenced land was advertised as well timbered with plenty of running water.

A road was being built through Dutton Canyon as many people were locating their farms in the hills. The major work of cutting trails and locating the best route was proving to be a perplexing problem. It was suggested by Mr. Morgenstern, the proprietor of another general store, that the county’s prisoners be brought to the vicinity to work on the roads as they were currently doing in Fairfield and Suisun.

One of the recent arrivals in the area, Mrs. E.P. Buckingham, had purchased land in Lagoon Valley and had out the entire ranch in fruits. Her son T.H. Buckingham was in charge of the land.

Her neighbor, Demetria Pena, son of the original pioneer, was building a new residence and large barn.

With so many people passing through Vacaville looking for land and business opportunities, a 20-room hotel in the “Western Addition” of Vacaville was being contemplated. The rumor was that E.P. Williams was going to build it on Main Street west of Dobbins. The structure, with a bar, billiard room and dining room attached, would cost between $5,000 and $6,000.

Real estate tycoon M.R. Miller purchased four lots from W.B. Parker. He proposed to build a two-story building, 50-by-38, with 16 rooms to be used as a lodging house. By March the foundation was finished.

Meanwhile, the Davis Hotel was upgraded with the addition of a barbershop.

There were two rooms with feather bed, towels, etc. available for rent at $4 per week. One could apply near the depot at D.G. Scoggins.

To induce more passenger traffic, there was a reduction in the fare between Vacaville and Elmira from 50 cents to 25 cents. A notice went out that the Vaca Valley and Clear Lake Railroad would no longer stop at other than regular stations to take on passengers. The stations were Madison, Elys, Scotts, Winters, Allendale, Vacaville and Elmira.

Many merchants were taking advantage of these boom times and building new and larger places of business.

G.N. Platt & Co., which had been a successful general merchandise business for some time, was moving to the new brick Platt Building, fronted by a 12-foot sidewalk. It was located at the corner of Main and Dobbins. (This has been identified as probably being the Crystal Building where Amphlett’s Interiors is located.)

Walker and Merwin did the brickwork. Inside was a department for notions and dry goods that measured 23-by-93. The grocery department was entered from the dry goods department though an arched way. A large warehouse, 22-by-115, adjoined the grocery department. There was a sizable furniture department where an upholster was at work. People were encouraged to bring in their mattresses, chairs and anything else that needed fixing up. The east side of the building was used to display agriculture equipment, buggies, etc.

Blacksmith Hugh Cernon bought a building or a lot from John B. Merchant for $1,400.

Powers and Black arrived in town and were building another blacksmith and carriage shop on Dobbins Street. The frame of the building, 30-by-40 and one-story, was near completion by March.

Blacksmiths and carriage and wagon makers, Donoho Bros., was proposing to tear down their building and put in a new shop 50 feet deep and two-stories high. The upper story would be the paint shop.

B. Avenue Court was selling buggies, carts, carriages and the celebrated Milburn wagons “hollow iron.”

D.K. Corn, a third partner of Platt’s, was planning to build an office and warehouse at his lumberyard.

Wooderson and Dutton were getting their building ready for a meat store. G. L. Parker was to run the slaughterhouse department.

H.J. Perkins arrived in town with the purpose of setting up a photography studio. Temporarily he set up shop in a tent on the Triangle.

To accommodate the growing population, Miller, postmaster and drugstore proprietor ordered a mail rack from back east that had 240 general mailboxes and 32 lock boxes.

John Ducker, owner of a Vacaville livery stable, was trying to raise money to bring the mail over form Elmira every morning. He figured he needed $80 to $90 to perform the service for six months.

Technology arrived with the Sunset Telephone Company running a line to Vacaville.

Dr. N.B. Upchurch was frequently moving his dental office. In 1883, he moved from Miller’s drug store to the Odd Fellows Building. In 1884, he moved into Kinsmill and Williams new building located at Main and Dobbins.

The local shoe trade seems to have been disrupted a couple of times. In 1883, A.S. McKay, formally of Suisun, opened a custom boot and shoe shop in town. In 1884, his store was taken over by Mrs. A. Williams, who carried an assortment of ladies, children’s and infants’ underwear made to order, as well as hosiery, laces and ribbons.

James Currie, another local shoemaker, had gone back to his native Nova Scotia and was there for 10 months. While gone, both his wife and baby died there. He had plans to return to Vacaville.

Vacaville’s building tradesmen were also kept busy with jobs outside of Vacaville. The Odd Fellows Hall in Dixon was estimated to cost $12,000. J.C. Donoho had the contract for the woodwork, A.B. Ellis the ornamental plastering and Murray and Nelson the painting.

Saloons were active. There was even talk of a brewery being established by a man from Napa.

There was Miller’s Depot Saloon’s. H. Boucher started up a saloon in the place formally occupied by G.N. Platt’s store. William Hamner was leasing John Ferguson’s “Our Corner Saloon & Billiard Hall.” The Kilei Saloon, located in Elmira or Vacaville, was being sold together with stock and fixtures and a new billiard table. The building was 20-by-42. The reason for selling was that the proprietor wanted to take up farming as a business. The price for the saloon was set at $2,700.

M. Oiler announced he was going to build a pavilion in his grove. He had received a letter from a Sacramento military company asking his terms for using his grounds for a picnic party.

However, not everyone was enjoying prosperity. J.P. Watson, who had signed a two-year lease for the Hodgins House and renamed it the Windsor House, was arrested at Sacramento as he was purchasing a ticket for back East in an attempt to allude his creditors.

The Chinese community had just starting celebrating Chinese New Year with an array of firecrackers and “bombs.”

But not all was well in the Chinese community. It was determined that the wash water from the Chinese washhouses ran into the creek at the head of town and it was deemed that was the reason for a great deal of sickness along the creek. It was shortly after this that Constable Parker raided the Chinese washhouses resulting in 14 Chinese men were arrested for opium smoking. All were released immediately except for Sam Sing.

Culture was alive and well. Mrs. M.E. McClaim was selling sheet music.

The people of Pleasants Valley formed the Pleasant Valley Lyceum. (It should be noted that Pleasants Valley was referred to as Pleasant Valley in all accounts during this era. To prevent confusion, however, this writer will use the current-day spelling). Twenty-five members had enrolled for the purpose of debate. The subject chosen for one meeting was “Fire is more destructive than water.” The meetings were held at the Oakdale Schoolhouse. G. W. Thissel was president, A.P. Pleasants vice president.

Local girl Mary Myers had become quite proficient at pencil sketching and was planning to take lesson in oil painting at Rio Vista College. Miss Ewell took charge of the art department at the college and she was also going to give private lessons in landscape, flower and porcelain painting and floral arranging.

The G.M. Gates were given a 25th wedding anniversary party. The only gifts that weren’t silver were a box of cigars and a glass pitcher. The sterling silver gifts included several butter dishes, napkin rings, a berry dish, three cake stands, two pitchers, two pickle stands, a butter dish and knife, a toilet stand, silverware, a goblet, and a silver-headed cane.

The “old maids” of Vacaville were contemplating getting up a Leap Year party.

A baseball club being organized.

The Platt brothers and Baldwin had ordered the latest thing - large bicycles, which they planned to learn to ride. Druggist J.M. Miller received a 54-inch wheel Combia bicycle costing $145.

Ducker’s livery stable was on Main Street east of the Davis Hotel (where KUIC is today). Horses were boarded by the day or week.

Kinsmill, who had sold the livery stable to Ducker due to his precarious health, was consulting physicians and considering taking a sea voyage of six to eight months.