FAIRFIELD — A Keystone Cops-like performance by Suisun City firefighters because of faulty equipment and a Suisun City waterfront reshaped by a massive dredging project — all made the news a century ago.
Solano County in 1913 had about 28,000 residents and no freeways or highways. The central county seemed to be just about the perfect place to live – if one can believe the local newspaper.
Here’s a look at the year in review, a century ago, through the pages of the Suisun City based Solano Republican. The Solano Republican was a predecessor to the Daily Republic.
The Solano Republican in its June 20, 1913, issue painted a verbal picture of the area. It called Suisun City, population 800, one of the “biggest little towns in the state” when it came to business.
Even as is done today, boosters a century ago boasted of the region’s location. The paper noted Suisun City is 40 miles from both San Francisco and Sacramento, on the main line of the Southern Pacific railroad. The railroad, not the car, was still king when it came to transportation.
“All branches of business are well-represented, there being a hardware and implement business carrying more than $40,000 in stock and work from eight to 15 men,” the paper said. “There is also one everything-to wear business as nicely equipped with modern appliances as can be found in San Francisco,” the paper said.
The Arlington and Union hotels and two rooming houses filled to capacity night and day. The city had grocery and general stores.
And it had industries within its borders. About 500,000 pounds of butter was produced each year at Henry Bird’s Suisun Creamery.
“The Steward Fruit Company has a house here and something of its business can be judged from the fact that 15 cars of green pears per day were shipped from Suisun side tracks for several weeks last year,” the paper said.
About 100 to 150 people worked during the canning season at the Winters Canning Co.
“A National Bank and a private bank, the latter owned by a multi-millionaire who made his wealth in Suisun, care for the money interests of the town,” the paper said.
Nearby Fairfield – in its early days less prominent of a town than Suisun City – apparently also had good things happening in it.
“It is the county seat and has the new $2.5 million courthouse and the new, $80,000 county jail,” the paper said. “Armijo High School, a union district school for both Fairfield, Suisun and tributary territory, is located here and bonds have been voted for a $70,000 modern cement building.”
Suisun City had its channel dredged in 1913 at a cost of $27,000. Shipping was still a major means of transporting goods and the city had pushed for the federal dredging project for years.
While the crews were pumping muck out from Suisun Slough, the pump motors stopped. Workers found a steel case, a foot long, plugging up the works.
“Brought to light, this case was found to be full of quicksilver, and then the ‘oldest settler’ scratched his bald spot and remembered things historical,” the Republican reported.
Knoxville mine in Napa County decades earlier sent quicksilver products to Suisun City to be shipped by boat to San Francisco. On Oct. 29, 1864, the Sophie McLane was docked at Suisun City when its boiler exploded with such force that it shook the city like an earthquake.
The ship was destroyed, four men were killed and eight were seriously injured. Divers recovered the quicksilver that had been loaded onto the Sophie McLane. However, the Republican theorized, they apparently missed one case that had been at the bottom of the slough for 64 years.
By November 1913, the dredge Yankee had finished its work. Suisun City had a channel 80 feet wide and 7 feet deep at low tide.
“Suisun City now has a splendid inland harbor; none better in this section of the state,” the Republican said. “It has deep water now for its wharves to Suisun Bay and thence up or down the river, sufficient for any of the river boats and much water traffic will be done here in future years.”
A fire broke out at the Suisun Implementation Co. on Aug. 6, 1913, and Suisun City firefighters rushed to the rescue, with less-than-impressive results.
Their hand pump worked just fine. But the person in charge of the gasoline fire engine was out of town and no one could make it work.
Fairfield firefighters also responded. They put the fire out with two streams of water.
“In the meantime, everybody was trying to make the home engine run,” the Republican reported. “And at last, after everything was in a controlled condition, it began to run to beat the band and the hose was attached quickly, but no water came; the hose lay flat and limp.
“Again, as has been the case on several occasions during the past two years, the Fairfield team and equipment saved the day and too much praise is too little for them. They deserve it all and then some.”
Later that year, Suisun City bought a state-of-the-art, gas-powered machine costing $2,000. The Republican boasted that the engine was even better than Fairfield’s engine.
Citizens could now sleep more soundly, the paper said. It encouraged them to go see a planned demonstration of the new fire engine.
“Be on hand and witness the trial that you may be one of the satisfied sleepers from this time forward and don’t say the trustees never did anything the town asked them, for here is at least one request granted,” the paper said.
Law enforcement officials busted the area’s opium joints late in the year. Wah Lung of Suisun City was fined $250.
“The late laws are very strict that opium smoking may be wiped out in California,” the Dec. 5, 1913, Solano Republican said.
Suisun City merchants organized the Suisun City Chamber of Commerce in the summer of 1913.
“For a number of years, Suisun has been drifting,” the newspaper said. “Now the pulse of a forward movement is felt stirring the arteries and veins and the progressive people of this community have answered this call.”
Today’s local merchants must compete with Amazon and other online sellers. In 1913, the threat came from a growing mail-order industry located in such places as Chicago.
Local merchants must find new ways to hold their own, the June 6, 1913, Republican said. They must beat the mail-order houses at their own game.
“He can do this by handling honest goods and honest prices and telling about the goods in such a way people will believe in him,” the Republican said. “Fault finding or appealing to local pride is of no avail.”
And merchants had no better friend when it comes to advertising than the local newspaper, it added.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.