When it comes to Fairfield history, Sabine Goerke-Shrode literally wrote the book.
“Images of America: Fairfield” was published in 2005 and in addition to compelling photographs, it succinctly tells the story of Fairfield with an emphasis on people.
Goerke-Shrode was born and raised in Germany and has a master of arts degree in classical archaeology and Jewish studies from the University of Heidelberg. She worked as a consultant for an auction house in Switzerland and ended up in Solano County when she married. She worked for a number of years as the curator of collections at the Vacaville Museum.
Goerke-Shrode developed a grounding in local history while there and collaborated on an exhibit/book with Kristin Delaplane about Solano County orchards titled “Solano’s Gold.”
“We organized the book into topics and fit the oral history quotes into it. It told the story through the voices,” Goerke-Shrode said.
Later, Goerke-Shrode was asked by the Vacaville Reporter to write the “Solano The Way it Was” newspaper column. She alternated weeks with historian Jerry Bowen for eight years and in many cases, did original research to come up with columns. The body of work they created, along with that of other columnists, was collected and digitized and is now the Historical Articles of Solano County Online Database (www.solanoarticles.com/history/index.php).
Arcadia Publishing’s “Image of America” is a series of books that chronicle the histories of small towns across the country. When they approached Goerke-Shrode about writing one, she agreed – with a caveat.
“Originally, they wanted me to do a book on Fairfield and Suisun together and I said no way,” Goerke-Shrode said. “Nobody had ever done the history of either properly and I didn’t want to lump them together. My goal was to later write a Suisun City book separately.”
The process took about a year and at first Goerke-Shrode was “sweating bullets” after signing the contract, because acquiring pictures for the photo-driven book proved difficult. The Vacaville Heritage Council and others ultimately came through. Still there were other challenges.
“The format in these books is incredibly structured – that’s why they can print them so cheaply. You get x amount of this size photo and it’s 96 pages, not 94 and not 98, and you only have so many words that can be used under the photos,” Goerke-Shrode said. “I have seen some that are a hodgepodge of photos and titles, where you just get names of who is in the picture and nothing else. My goal was to write a linear history of what was important here: Who founded it, why did they come here, and what was life like?”
Goerke-Shrode’s contention is that the history of Vacaville was more developed because food ranchers actually lived in the city, whereas early on in Fairfield, people lived in surrounding areas, but only came to the county seat for official business. Not until Travis Air Force Base came did a true identity emerge, but many of those residents were transitory. Fairfield’s identity crisis, compared to other Solano County cities, made relating its history a challenge.
The book covers the creation of Fairfield, the development of the government center, the evolution of Texas Street and the downtown area and much more. While full of data, it also has poignant or amusing anecdotes that reflect the humanity of past Fairfielders.
Some of Goerke-Shrode’s favorite parts of her book include learning that the Fairfield downtown skyline was established early on and that you can see, for instance, the roofline of where the Starbucks is now in early photos.
She also enjoyed relating the history of the Solano County Library. She is creating an exhibit to coincide with its upcoming 100th birthday celebration.
Other things Goerke-Shrode enjoyed was exploring how the business rivalry between Fairfield founder Capt. Robert Waterman and Suisun City pioneer Capt. Josiah Wing fueled Solano County’s development. She also wishes more people were aware of the significance of William E. Cuffman, an architect with work in the National Registry, who designed the old Solano County library and the now-demolished Armijo Auditorium.
“I love the footprints of people,” Goerke-Shrode said.
“Images of America: Fairfield” is available at www.arcadiapublishing.com/9780738528885/Fairfield.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.