Recorded for History
One of the great meticulous works of recording Vacaville’s past history should be credited to the late Edward J. Wickson, who in 1888 went to great lengths to research the area’s past and to record for posterity much of interest. To the people of Vacaville Wickson’s California Illustrated No. 1 is perhaps the most treasured of all writings that have ever been done about the Vacaville area. There are several of these books in existence today.
Wickson introduces the Vacaville area in simple terms: “Are the people in New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Boston and elsewhere, who have paid a dollar a pound for California cherries in April, or who in 1887 ate nearly 2,000 carloads of California peaches, pears, plums, ‘apricots and grapes, curious to know whence a good part of these fruit came, or to learn the manner of their growth and the appearance of the country?” It is one of the aims of this book to gratify their curiosity
“Where is the Vacaville district?”
And in the next 150 pages that follow in this interesting book, Wickson delves into Vacaville, its climate, its soil, rainfall, its crops—so thoroughly that when one reads the book today he pauses to reassess the present with Wickson’s past, finding some similarity, but not the glowing conditions that Wickson found here in 1888.
Few people know that from Vaca Peak, northwest of Vacaville, one can see the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco on a clear day. Wickson pointed out this fact in his book, telling about the 2200-foot-high peak which now is being utilized by scores of short wave radio transmitter stations.
As one reads Wickson’s book and he relates the variety of crops and their lusciousness, the pages become not only interesting but mouthwatering. He talks about persimmons and the elegant grapes, bright yellow apricots and flesh-colored peaches. The orange ‘grove on the W. J. Pleasants ranch comes in for comment.
Eight-two years is a fleeting period in history, yet it is also a long, long time, and when Wickson wrote ‘about Vacaville it was back in the days of virgin soil, abundant rainfall, both combining to produce the luscious fruits which made the area famous from coast to coast.
In the elapsed time of 82 years much of the soil in the Vaca Valley has lost its vigor, and although there are some fruit crops growing here today, they in no way resemble those elaborated upon by Wickson.
Farm labor was plentiful, supplemented by Chinese. Wickson tells of farm hands getting $25 per month and house servants working for from $16 to $25 per month.
In reviewing the vegetable crops grown for market, Wickson said string beans, tomatoes, green corn, summer squash and cantaloupes, along with watermelons, grew in large acreage here, and were sent to San Francisco markets. The bright sun brought on the fast growing of the vegetables and early appearance of these crops in San Fran¬cisco netted a handsome profit for local ranchers.
Some of the older residents may recall the prices mentioned by Wick¬son in his book. He tells of cherries selling for $3.50 per pound, with shipments made in April. The cherries hung like grapes from the tries and, presented an unforgettable picture.
Back 82 years, farm lands had a greater value than they have today for farming purposes. Wickson notes that good bearing orchards were bringing about $1,000 an acre, and the “price was justified by the large interest which their income pays on such a valuation.”
Wickson’s book of 82 years ago continues to be interesting and revealing. It reflects not too much of the historical past connected with Vacaville’s founding, but it does elaborate on conditions as they existed in that period—quite a contrast from the Vacaville of today as we know it.