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The Valley As It Was

John Rico

The two words “Vaca Valley” are tossed around freely, and to most local residents, Vaca Valley means all of the area in which Vacaville is located, including the contiguous areas, north, south, east and west.

But Vaca Valley is primarily those few thousands of acres of level lands northwest of Vacaville lying between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west, and the range of hills to the east.

Underground moisture, credited to runoff from these mountains and hills, provided the necessary ingredient to the growing of agricultural crops.

Going back to the early days of the white settler in the local area, the Vaca Valley was a fertile section of land, where animals roamed at will, grazing on the green grasses which grew in abundance.

The first large-scale farmer in the Vaca Valley was the late Dr. W. J. Dobbins, who came here from Kentucky in 1854. He soon purchased 1200 acres of land, which he used for cattle and wheat growing. He had visited the Vacaville area and had seen the oats of the valley, “tall enough to tie around a horse’s back.” It was a stock-grower’s paradise. Dobbins soon found that the profit in cattle declined, and the profit in wheat growing was on the increase, so he had to make a decision as to just what kind of farming he wanted to do.

He continued to raise cattle and sheep on hill lands, and kept the val¬ley lands planted to wheat. With wheat prices down, Dobbins found himself getting poorer and poorer.

Dobbins did what most wise farmers would do in his circumstances—he began to sell off his lands with his first transaction involving 780 acres of valley lands, and 660 acres of hill lands, which he sacrificed for $84,000. Had he been able to keep his lands for any number of years he could have sold the same acreage for about a quarter of a million dollars.

Dobbins was persistent. He had 235 acres of land remaining from his vast holdings, and on these lands he planted fruit. He had noticed the growth of fruit trees on the small orchards of J. W. Gates, another pioneer of the valley, and on lands farmed by W. W. Smith, both of whom had reported high profits in apricot and peach production.

Dobbins soon discovered there was a high income to be had from the growing of pears, and he wondered why he had not planted more of this kind of fruit in years that had passed by.

In the early days of Vacaville’s fruit production, it can be said that the products of the valley were the envy of every state in the nation. Ater receiving some of Dobbins’ fruit, the largest eastern dealer of California fruits sent this note to him:

“Your very kind remembrance in the shape of a box of French prunes was received, and permit me to thank you for the same, for I assure you that they were very nice in every respect. I gave them to various members of our club and to quite a number of prominent people in Chicago, as samples to try, telling them they were the products of your ranch at Vacaville, and they were unanimous in the opinion that they were as fine as anything they had ever tasted from France or any foreign country; in fact, a great many of them seemed to be surprised, and said they did not think this product could be grown to attain such high excellence of flavor in the State of California; that their idea were that products of this delicious nature were confined almost exclusively in the south of France. It shows you that your state, even though well known in the past to a great many people, is as yet comparatively unknown to the masses.”

From the early days and continuing up to the dry depression years of the 1930’s, fruit was king in Vacaville, and the name of Vacaville was known throughout the United States.

Where once it took 10,000 people to harvest the fruit crops here, now it is done by a handful of laborers.

The East Main Street loading platforms where men kept busy during the summer months loading thousands of cars of fruit for eastern shipment are gone with only skeleton foundations of the platforms remaining. Like the Mother Lode, where gold digging has been discontinued, so it is in Vacaville with quantity production of fruit. The gold in Vacaville’s yesteryear was its delicious fruits.