Note: “Ordinary Folk History,” written snapshots of local residents, appears periodically.
Retired school administrator and lifelong Fairfield resident Warren Sheldon, 77, has deep roots in Solano County.
“The first Sheldon here was Jasper, my great-great-grandfather, who was born in New York and moved to Ohio. He came to California in 1849 looking for gold,” Sheldon said. “It took him about 20 minutes to see that the gold was in houses. He went into a partnership with a guy from Sacramento and they had all their house-building materials ready to go when the flood of 1850 took it all downstream. So he went to Los Angeles, bought horses, brought them up here and sold them for a profit.”
Sheldon has a letter Jasper’s wife Emily wrote to a friend back in Ohio, marveling at how beautiful the Suisun Valley was with all the grain. Jasper decided to plant a fruit orchard.
“Everyone thought he was nuts . . . until it took off like wildfire,” Sheldon said.
Warren Sheldon’s grandfather, Winfred Sheldon, worked on the Southern Pacific railroad until he was appointed postmaster of Fairfield by President William Howard Taft in 1911.
“He stayed with it until 1916 and then went back to working for Southern Pacific,” Sheldon said. “His brother Roy was a locomotive engineer for Southern Pacific and Roy’s wife was the gal a local school was named after, E. Ruth Sheldon.”
Winfred’s son Ward Sheldon was Warren Sheldon’s father and was a member of the Armijo School board. He was on the board in 1952 when the new gym was built across the street from where the old Armijo High School used to be, the courthouse on Union Avenue.
“He said it didn’t make sense for students to have to cross the street to go back and forth to the gym. In those days, Oakland to Sacramento traffic went right through town there,” Sheldon said. “So using eminent domain, they condemned property on Washington Street to build the new school there. That was a trick, too, because that’s where the doctors and lawyers lived and they weren’t too happy about having their places condemned. It all worked out well in the long run because they all moved out to Green Valley.”
As a child, Sheldon fell in love with bike riding after riding down the then-completed, but not yet opened, Interstate 80 trying to earn a Scouting merit badge in cycling.
“I went everywhere with that bike. When I was 9 years old, I rode it to Benicia,” Sheldon said. “I had never heard of a Reserve Fleet, so when I saw it, my eyes bugged out of my head. I caught hell for it, too, because it got dark before I got home.”
Warren Sheldon had two unique distinctions when playing in the Armijo High band – he played with them for seven years and he was the school’s first drum major.
“I started playing in the Armijo band when I was in the sixth grade at Fairfield Elementary,” Sheldon said. “What they had always done was have a girl’s drill team that marched behind the band, but the director got the idea that we ought to have a drum major. I wasn’t the best at it, but the idea took.”
The Sheldon name was well-known in Solano County. Sheldon Oil was started by Warren’s great-uncle. Locally, there was even a “Sheldon Sandwich,” though not on any restaurant menu.
“Where the Oil Connection is now located on Texas Street was where my uncle Roy lived and that was outside the city limits. There were three houses there, two still standing, and it was officially known as the East Texas Street Subdivision,” Sheldon said. “Roy Sheldon lived in the one next to the ditch, Eugene Dearborn lived in the middle and Bert Sheldon lived in the other. They used to call it the ‘Sheldon Sandwich.’ ”
Sheldon’s wife Carolyn also came from a well-known local bloodline, the Williams family (as in Williams Road).
“She was from the upper end of the valley and I was from the lower end,” Sheldon said. “People used to joke that when we got married it was the biggest merger in the history of the valley.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].