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Sunday, December 26, 1982

New Year’s

Ernest D. Wichels

We are approaching New Year’s Eve and the begginning of another year. In the 130 some years of “civilization” in Napa and Solano counties, the local newspapers have recorded many interesting items of the New Year’s season.

Farragut’s first New Year’s, January 1, 1855, was a devastating one. In his log he tells of the terrible rain and windstorm. On Mare Island the shelters over his total hay supply for his four-footed employees, the oxen and horses, blew away.  In Vallejo the corrugated sheetmetal roofing on waterfront buildings were stipped from the structures.

On New Year’s Eve. 1888, Vallejo’s new Capitol Hotel Virginia and Santa Clara) was officially opened with a gala party, with the grand march led by proprietor William Likins, and the official toast given by a Mare Island Master (and the forerunner of a pioneer family; Abraham Powell.  Returning to the January 1. 1855 storm, we will quote from historian Tom Gregory: “The greatest disaster was to shipping. Sailing ships on their way from San Francisco to Sacramento laden with all the necessaries and some luxuries for those who worked in the Sierra mines, lost their deckloads in San Pablo Bay.

The next morning on the west side of Mare Island, on the shore, all kinds of wreckage was washed up. Doors, window frames, boxes of canned goods, and packages of liquor were found by those who were out early looking for flotsam and jetsam.”  The storm of January 1, 1868, was also severe. Vacaville was flooded; the town of Maine Prairie (on Cache Slough) was under water and its flour mill destroyed. The Mare Island Ferry “Lizzie” discontinued her trips to Mare Island and the shipyard inhabitants were “marooned” for an entire day.

The Chronicle reported on other holiday celebrations. For New Year’s Day, 1886, it said: -New Year’s was ushered in by a vigorous ringing of bells, the explosion of powder, ‘the blaze of bonfires, and the howling of prowlers. A crowd of enthusiastic boys, with unwritten license, overdid them-selves with their ideas of proper celebration which embraced damage to property.  “But a charitable people endured every act.”

It was equally riotous on New Year’s in 1876: “The Vallejo Rifles’ Ball and the Parade of Horribles at midnight were the most prominent of a large evening of merriment.  “During the night a bonfire was started on Georgia street by individuals more patriotic than cautious and by morning all the planking of the crossings on Georgia Street were smoldering embers.  Unfortunately New Years has had sad conflagratness in Vallejo.  On December 31, 1895, J.F. Deininger announced he would immediately rebuild the Philldelphia Brewery which was destroyed hy fire in South Vallejo. But the city didn’t necessarily suffer in the meantime, it had other operating breweries at that time the Pioneer and the Solano.

Early on New Year’s morning of January 1, 1933, fire broke out in the Vallejo Elks Lodge building corner of Sutter and Virginia, where the Terrace Apartments are now situated. This was once General Frisbie’s home, the Irma School for Girls, the Farnham home and the Widenmann home.
This tragic fire became the funeral pyre fen five well-known citizens. The victims were E.A. Fogarty, George B. Swasey, Frank Wiggins, Ed. J. Geering and W.H. Mitchell.  In the New Year’s week of 1915, The Chronicle reported that Vallejoan Frank R. Devlin was appointed Rail-road. Commissioner (now PUC) succeeding Lt. Gov. John M. Eshelman.

Some amusing incidents also appeared in the Chronicle concerning New Year’s sobriety, gambling, etc.  Here is one: (New Year’s 1872) “Last night officers Edgar, Longan and Newcomb, with their deputies, made a raid on a gambling game in the Chinese establishment on Marin Street between Georgia and York ... but when these officers in the fulfillment of their duty, show an unjust discrimination they lay themselves liable to a charge by no memns creditable to their reputation.

“The constables were, and are now, well aware that banking games are being played nightly in Vallejo, in places other than the humble residence of the Celestials.”

Incidentally, all references to the Chinese a century ago used the word “Celestial.”