Saturday, April 19, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Historic Rockville stone chapel still used today

By
August 28, 2013 | Leave Comment

ROCKVILLE — Weddings, funerals and church services take place at Rockville Chapel behind the stone walls of volcanic ash, magnesium and other particles, just as they have since pioneer days.

Human life is commemorated and celebrated there, 156 years after that stone was hewn from local hills. This is a state landmark and Solano County historical building that is still used for something close to its original purpose.

True, the church that once owned the building long ago gave it to the Rockville Cemetery District. The chapel walls are only a stone’s throw from the headstones of the cemetery.

But this stark building with a few modest architectural features on the exterior remains in use. The district rents out the chapel for weddings and holds funerals there prior to burials in the cemetery. It rents out the chapel to the Church of Christ for weekly services.

And the district cares for the chapel. It did a renovation job about five years ago, sanding down the floor and putting in new windows and pews.

“Everything is a replica of the original,” said Doris Goodrich, general manager for the Suisun Fairfield Rockville Cemetery District.

At least, to a point. Goodrich said the old pews were a little small for comfort. Apparently, people have grown wider since 1856.

There is a reason that the district treats the chapel with such respect – to honor those Suisun Valley pioneer families from long ago.

“It’s a historic landmark and (Rockville Cemetery) is a pioneer cemetery,” Goodrich said. “Most of the families who built the original building are buried here around the chapel.”

Local resident Barbara Van Putten grew to appreciate the chapel more than a quarter-century ago.

“I would drive by but didn’t know enough to go beyond that,” she said. “Then I heard (local historian) Ernie Wichels speak about the history of our area and got really interested.”

She attended a Christmas Eve service put on in the chapel by a Green Valley couple and had the task of giving a talk about the building.

“When I delved into the history, I just really, really found out how important this building is,” Van Putten said. “I have a soft spot for it.”

That history began amid a burst of religious enthusiasm in the sparsely populated pioneer-era Suisun Valley, with valley residents Landy and Sarah Alford playing an important role.

Landy and Sarah Alford came to California from Missouri by wagon train in 1846, going along with the Donner Party at one point, but separating before that ill-fated group got stranded amid a snowy Sierra Nevada. The Alfords ended up at the Suisun Valley hamlet of Rockville in 1849. This was a year before California entered the Union and only a few hundred pioneers lived in what would soon become Solano County.

The Alfords found success in Suisun Valley. Landy Alford was probably the wealthiest farmer living there, according to the April 14, 1852, Sacramento Daily Union. The Alfords lived in a cottage “that would compare favorably with those in a New England village,” the paper reported.

Landy Alford was a prominent enough citizen that J.P. Munro Fraser described him in the 1879 book, “History of Solano County,” several years after Landy Alford’s death.

“He was a man brought up on the frontier, and, as usual with such characters, lacked those more refined qualities which education and contact with society brings,” Fraser wrote. “A man who was passionately fond of hunting, and when not engaged in the pursuit of deer, bear or other wild animals or recounting his exploits to interested listeners, was silent, reserved and almost moody.”

A huge Methodist Episcopal Church South gathering took place in Rockville in 1856, with hundreds of people coming by horseback to camp out for the events, which included full-immersion baptisms in Suisun Creek. The gathering lasted for 11 days. Whether the Alfords attended or not is unclear, though the family at the very least must have been aware of the event.

“Good order and harmony prevailed all the time there, and at the conclusion of the meeting, it was announced that 42 persons had just joined the church,” a correspondent who called himself or herself only A.M. wrote in the Benicia-based Solano Herald newspaper.

The 1856 Suisun Valley camp planted a seed that swiftly bore fruit. Before it ended, Rev. Baily, the county’s presiding elder, proposed to build a church on that very site.

“He asked for $3,000, but when the people started giving, there was no stopping them, until they had got down $4,000,” A.M. wrote.

Landy Alford apparently wasn’t a member of the congregation, but he provided land for the stone chapel and cemetery. A history written by his granddaughter cites documents showing he deeded 2 acres to the Methodist Episcopal Church South for $50, or almost $2,000 in today’s dollars. Other histories say he donated 5 acres to the church, with the $50 covering the legal fees.

The Oct. 11, 1856, Solano Herald had another letter from Suisun Valley, this time from a correspondent called only C.

“The Methodist church in course of erection on the site of the late campground is progressing finely,” C wrote. “On last Friday, the cornerstone was laid.”

Workers built at a rapid clip. They finished constructing the chapel in only a couple of months, in time for Christmas 1856, according to some Rockville chapel histories. Joel Price and George Whitley of Suisun City supervised the work done with stone from the nearby hills.

The church thrived at first. Local residents could go and listen to such speakers as Orcenith Fisher, nicknamed “Voice of Thunder” because he was used to preaching outdoors and his booming voice reverberated inside the chapel.

But tragedy struck the Alfords. Their 3-year-old daughter died in December 1856 and was the first person buried in the new cemetery.

Landy Alford eventually left Suisun Valley for the San Joaquin Valley as civilization in Solano County grew and game became more scarce, Fraser wrote.

Rockville Chapel faced challenges in the coming years, as well. A split arose in the congregation during the Civil War between those who favored the North and those who favored the South.

“The Civil War wounds healed slowly and the cemetery grew faster than the congregation,” historian Wood Young wrote.

Rockville Chapel fell into disrepair as the decades passed and in 1929 the Methodist Episcopal Church South deeded it to the Rockville Cemetery District. By 1939, the building had broken stain-glass windows, a rotted floor, a leaky roofs and bats.

Rosa Lee Baldwin, descended from a pioneer family, wrote a letter to the Solano Republican newspaper in 1939 that helped spur interest in restoring the chapel.

“Would we not point with pride to that little stone church in the valley if it were restored and showed some signs of friendly occupancy and worship?” Baldwin wrote.

The New Deal gave new life to the Rockville Chapel. Its WPA program led to restoration work beginning in March 1940 and being finished two months later.

In 1962, the Solano Historical Society decided to seek state landmark status for the chapel. The drive succeeded in October of that year.

“It’s historical value is absolutely incredible to this community and California,” Van Putten said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Solano unemployment inches downward

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Transplant recipients talk about their best gifts

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Fairfield council candidates weigh in on crime

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Police release name of woman found dead in Fairfield canal

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Spering, Bertani spar over fighting crime

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 14 Comments | Gallery

 
Congregation invites public to Easter music, message

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Five homes featured on Symphony Home Tour

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
 
Local woman helps spread Easter joy

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B12 | Gallery

Weather for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B13

 
.

US / World

California farmers to get more water

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Teen sentenced in Oakland toddler’s killing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

More Latino than white students admitted to UC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
From Clinton to Obama, many parallels

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
PG&E to be arraigned in fatal pipeline blast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Mom and son who died in San Francisco fire ID’d

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
3 alleged gang members convicted of murder

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Easter on 4/20, pot holy day; pastors reach out

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
NASA’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down as planned

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Atheist national conference aims at Mormon church

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Man who avoided prison is overwhelmed by support

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Teen suspended for asking Miss America to prom

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
White House updating online privacy policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

SpaceX making Easter delivery of station supplies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Sudden movement raises alarm in Wyoming slide area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
In Egypt, a corruption watchdog hit by backlash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Military scales down, modifies Guam buildup plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Captain of sunken SKorean ferry arrested

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
57-nation OSCE plays key Ukraine monitoring role

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Ukraine crisis: The turning points

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
.

Opinion

Cheers, jeers for the week of April 13-19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A11

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
Here we go again in Sacramento

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 7 Comments

 
.

Living

Today in History for April 19, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Seniors, it’s never too late to do something about your health

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

 
Horoscopes for April 19, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B10

 
Prince reaches agreement with music label

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

‘The Boondocks’ back for final ‘offensive’ season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

Stratocaster still a favorite at 60

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
.

Sports

Hertl has impressive playoff debut for Sharks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors and Clippers take dislike to playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Big innings lift Mustangs over Indians

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Ross, Padres beat Cain and Giants 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

A’s come out swinging to beat Astros 11-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors to start O’Neal for Bogut vs. Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

NBA playoffs looking more wide-open than expected

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Source: Grizzlies’ G Calathes suspended for 20 games

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Mets trade 1B Ike Davis to Pirates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

TNT’s Sager to miss NBA playoffs due to leukemia

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

A’s lefty reliever Doolittle gets 5-year deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
’40-and-up club’: Ageless Hopkins after more belts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jimenez shoots 65 to lead Greater Gwinnett field

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Solano scores in ninth for 2-1 BVC baseball win over Yuba

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Choi leads rain-delayed RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
NBA’s Silver wants age limit change, no rush on others

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

Judge says American can’t end retiree benefits yet

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
Mazda recalls 109,000 older SUVs for rust problem

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

5 features an Amazon phone might offer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
.

Obituaries

Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
.

Home Seller 04/19/14

Summerwood features 8 new homes in Suisun

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR2

Real estate transactions for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR3

Average US 30-year mortgage rate falls to 4.27 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3