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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Atlas portrayed 1870s county development

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


Thompson & West work considered among scarcest

Researching local history often resembles detective work. A hint here, a snippet of tantalizing information there, followed by the difficult process of trying to verify facts and fit the information into the overall picture.

For some decades that can be easy, because there are plenty of good resources. Other decades pose real challenges.

Fortunately for all of us history detectives, there are a few works out there that make local history research easier. One of the “Grand Dames” of our area is the “New Historical Atlas of Solano County,” published in 1877/78 by Thomas Thompson and Mr. West, publishers out of Oakland.

Generally referred to as just “Thompson & West,” this is a folio-sized collection of hand-colored lithographs, showing lot numbers, parcel owners, and especially a number of handsome engravings of public buildings, landscapes and private residences.

Its general information on Solano County provides researchers with much of the information of the county’s development during the 1870s. Thompson & West published a large number of these atlases for various counties throughout California and the western United States. Many have survived in archives, museums and private collections.

The Solano County atlas, incidentally, is considered “to be the scarcest of Thompson & West atlases.” It was developed through subscription. Thompson and West began to advertise in the Weekly Solano Republican on March 9, 1876, under the heading “New Advertisements To The Citizens of Solano Co.” It was a full-sized column that ran again on March 16 and 26.

The list of dignitaries who were quoted indicates that Thompson and West had talked to a variety of people beforehand to solicit support. Likely they also were able to show an earlier atlas, such as the one for Santa Clara County, published that same year, 1876. Although the advertisement was in the name of Thompson and West, it was written as a support statement by local dignitaries, a convincing piece of marketing to solicit the necessary number of subscriptions.

“Having seen and examined a number of County Atlases published by Messrs. Thos. Thompson & Co., throughout the Western States, and believing them to be superior to anything of the kind we have ever seen, and something that is very much needed in our County, we take pleasure in recommending them and their work to your favorable consideration; trusting that you will see it to your advantage to give them such information and support as will ensure that the success of their enterprise and enable them to put forth an atlas that will be a credit to Solano County, as well as the publishers.”

Among County representatives, they listed John M. Gregory, County Judge; Joel A. Harvey, County Clerk; W. G. Wyman, County Treasurer; J. P. Wendell, District Attorney; Alex Dunn, County Surveyor; Peter Timm, County Collector; John B. Williston, Sheriff; T. H. Chandler, County Recorder; John Woods, County Assessor. Among Suisun representatives were R. D. Robbins, E. P. Hilborn, G. A. Gillespie, James Trainor, W. K. Hoyt and J. B. Hoyt. Vallejo names included John B. Frisbie, A. Powell, John Brownlie, and photographer Geo. W. Smith. Benicia supporters included J. McAllister, C. B. Houghton, R. H. Von Pfister, and H. P. Weimann. Dixon support came from H. G. Little, H. B. Sheldon and others. G. H. Allison and F. B. Chandler were listed for Elmira. Vacaville supporters included G. B. Stevenson, Mrs. Luzena Stanley Wilson, J. F. Davis, W. J. Dobbins, Ed. S. Smith, D. Dutton, J. D. Tilson, A. J. Comton, J. W. Gates, A. Theodore, J. B. Merchant, and T. Mansfield. G. M. Coulter was quoted on behalf of Batavia.

Interestingly, Fairfield is not named at all, typical for the time and its population number.

The advertisement then continued to talk about the content of the atlas. “...in the case of sufficient encouragement, we propose to publish a combined Map and History of Solano County in ATLAS FORM, containing:

“An Index and table of Explanations.

“A double-page Map of the State of California, 15x24 inches, finely colored, and corrected up to the time of the publication, with the population of counties and cities according to the last census.

“A Map of the County, colored by Townships showing the locations of towns, post-offices, wagon roads, railroads, churches, school-houses, &.

“A History of Solano County from its earliest settlements up to the present time.

“At the heart of each atlas were colored maps, thirteen in the case of Solano County, surrounded by engraved images of various landscapes. These vignettes also provided individual subscribers with the opportunity to promote their own farm business.

“Then follow the most complete of Farm Maps ever published on the Pacific Coast cutting the county up into small sections such as will cover one page about 13x16 inches. All the valleys and better proportions of the county will be produced on a scale of (40) chains or (thereabouts) to the inch; which will be so large as to enable us to engrave the owner’s name, number of acres and location of houses, of all tracts outside of the town and village corporations - also, to show all streams, wagon-roads, railroads, mills, manufactories, churches, school-houses, cemeteries, stone quarries, coal banks, black smith shops, lime kilns, & c., & c. Then the mountainous portions of the county will be on a smaller scale, eighty (80) chains (or thereabouts) to the inch, but sufficiently large to show all that will be necessary.

“Also, fine plats of all recorded cities, and villages, showing number of lots and blocks and names of streets, finely colored and with a historical sketch of each.

“A list of names of those who patronize our work, their residence, business, post-office address, nativity, and when they come to the State and County.

“Fine lithographic views, per contract, of some of the early settlers and prominent men of the county.”

Finally, the advertisement concludes with a description of the folio itself. “The Solano County atlas is bound in half leather, brown cloth covered boards, the title stamped in gilt on the front cover.

“It will be about 16x17 inches square, finely bound, making it not only a valuable work of reference, but an ornament. To ensure accuracy, we have a corps of experienced men, composed of experienced surveyors, talented architects and reliable historians, who are each particularly adapted for the department in which they work. An experimental canvas will soon be commenced, and should it meet with sufficient encouragement to warrant its publications, we shall endeavor to finish the work within the year. It is impossible for one to get a correct idea of the work without seeing copies published of other counties, which you can do when called upon by our agents. Hoping that our enterprise will meet with your favorable consideration and support, we are, Very respectfully, Thompson & West, Publishers.”

After the three weeks of advertisement had been published, the agents set about to solicit subscriptions.

I will continue this story in my next column.