Editor’s note: This article continues a series that looks at Solano County’s historic buildings and places. Stories will appear periodically over coming months.
SILVEYVILLE — Diane Schroeder lives in what’s left of the historic town of Silveyville, which is to say she lives on a quiet rural road in Solano County.
There’s a large marker in front of her house that commemorates Silveyville and not much more to indicate the town existed. The area has a few homes, horse corrals and orchards dating from after Silveyville’s demise – and a patch of brick on the ground that just maybe comes from Silveyville itself.
“We were told the brick in front of the house was part of the old hotel,” Schroeder said. “I can’t confirm it. That’s just the story we heard.”
Schroeder has lived in the red house near the corner of Silveyville and Schroeder roads for 40 years. A sign on the porch says “The Stage Stop,” a reference to Silveyville’s status as a Pony Express stop. But the house itself got built long after Silveyville’s glory days.
Jeri Seifert runs Silveyville Christmas Tree and Pumpkin Farm down the road from the marker. The rural operation has been open for 31 years – Seifert’s parents started it – and is the only place in Solano County where people can cut down their Christmas tree.
“We’re located in Silveyville itself,” Seifert said.
Few people would know it. There’s just not enough left of Silveyville to be seen, nothing that suggests a town or village or even a hamlet.
Silveyville is listed by the state Office of Historic Preservation as a point of interest. But the site of the old Solano County village is the wrong place to look for the original buildings from that long-gone town.
No, the place to look for Silveyville’s most striking remaining building – the Methodist Church – is at B and Jefferson streets in Dixon. Dixon is where many of the Silveyville residents moved, bringing their homes and buildings with them.
Dixon became the city that Silveyville started out to be. In a sense, Silveyville is less a ghost town than a town that got reincarnated at another location.
Silveyville has its origins with Elijah Silvey, who was born in Missouri. He came to California along with his wife and children in 1849, but didn’t head for the gold mines. Instead, this 49er went to Benicia.
In 1851, the family returned to Missouri, then crossed the plains to California again, this time with 100 cows. The Silveys settled in the Central Valley portion of Solano County, where a flat landscape and hot summer temperatures prevail. Silvey did more than farm, though.
Back in these days, people traveled by foot or by horse and the Silvey home was along the beaten path between San Francisco and the gold mines. Silvey opened up a hotel and saloon. Then he made sure the mule teams making the journey to the mines found the establishment, given that even the beaten path could be hard to follow.
“In those early days the trail was not very well-defined and the belated traveler was liable to lose his way and wander the plains all night,” J.P. Munro Fraser wrote in his 1879 “History of Solano County.” “To obviate this, Silvey used to hoist a red lantern high in the air every night, so that it might serve as a beacon light to the wanderer and guide him safely into the haven of the Silvey hotel.”
An old-timer in 1890 wrote an article for the Sacramento Daily Union recalling Silveyville in its heyday.
“It must have been a busy time when the noisy teamsters came in with a jangle and whoop and took the little old inn by storm,” the anonymous correspondent wrote.
By 1865, Silveyville had about 150 residents, making it a substantial town for pioneer-era Solano County. It had such establishments as a store and blacksmith shop. It had a post office, with Silvey as the postmaster.
Silveyville also had some anti-Union sentiment that surfaced while the Civil War raged on the East Coast. The March 11, 1863, Sacramento Daily Union ran an article called “Another Rebel Paper” and said this new newspaper – “The Banner of Liberty” – came from Silveyville.
Fraser mentions that William Pearce, publisher of Silveyville’s strongly Democratic paper, got into a dispute with a doctor who supported the Union. Pearce shot the man and fled the county.
Silveyville had become a bustling and lively place. Then it all fell apart, and quickly.
In 1868, Central Pacific railroad came through the area and missed Silveyville by a few miles. The town of Dixon sprung up around the new railroad tracks. That beaten path where Silvey had built his hotel became a back road.
Silveyville residents began moving to Dixon, taking their homes along with them.
“This restive spirit took possession of neighbors who were left in the sight of the vacant lots and gaping cellars and in but a few years all of the businessmen folded their tents and vanished, leaving only a ghost of the former busy little burg,” that anonymous old-timer remembered in the 1890 Sacramento Daily Union article.
As Silveyville perished around him, so did Silvey. The man whom Fraser described as a “hearty pioneer” fell from a porch in November 1869 and the wounds proved fatal.
So Silveyville died and Dixon lived. That town became the thriving city in northernmost Solano County and remains so to this day. By 1890, the Sacramento Daily Union writer could title his or her article on Silveyville “The Deserted Village.” Only about four families lived at the site.
“Once upon a time, so far back in the fifties that only we old folks remember it, there was a little village bloomed into existence in Solano County and like Mr. Finney’s turnip ‘it grew and grew until it could grow no longer,’ ” that writer recalled.
Today, the large, metal marker placed in 1977 by the Dixon District Chamber of Commerce near Schroeder’s house remains to help people remember the town-that-was.
Call that marker Silveyville’s tombstone.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.