IN SOLANO'S RICH FRUIT SECTIONS.
Fruit growing has been a successful industry in Solano County for nearly seventy years. Within its boundaries
is included one of the richest fruit growing sections of the entire State of California, and for this reason, coupled
with the fact that Solano is equally successful in so many kinds of orchards, it has been named the King County
of Varieties. While the industry can be carried on in a large area of Solano, there are four distinct fruit sections
- namely Vaca Valley and Pleasants Valley, far ahead of all sections of the state in the production of early plums,
peaches, and apricots; Suisun Valley, noted for its Bartlett pears and cherries, and Green Valley, in which is
the largest cherry orchard in the world. This is owned by F. S. Jones, and is located near the little town of Cordelia
which, in fact, is the shipping point for the output from this rich valley. In one season alone 90,000 boxes of
cherries were shipped to eastern markets from Jones' orchard. The first full carload of cherries to leave California
each year for the East pulls out of Cordelia the last week of April. In 1924, it left on April 26, and was made
up, as is always the case, of cherries raised in Green Valley and Vacaville. It brought $9,960 in the New York
market, the highest price ever paid for a car of California fruit in the East. The first box of cherries to be
sent East each year, and which always brings a fabulous price, is raised in Vacaville.
These fertile sections lie along the eastern base of the coast range, separated from the excessively hot Sacramento
Valley by a low range of hills. At the same time they are protected from the strong trade winds and fogs of the
Pacific Ocean, which are so prevalent in the summer months, as well as from the cold wind of Suisun Bay. These
factors make for a warm and pleasant climate in summer, while in the winter, although there are days when frost
is much in evidence, it is seldom even that young orange trees suffer serious damage.
In the years of the early settlement of Solano County these valleys were the grazing grounds for the herds of cattle
which formed the principal industry of the pioneers. So fertile was the soil that the natural vegetation attained
great growth and there are a few of the early settlers still living who state that a man riding on horseback could
reach the standing oats on either hand and tie them together over his head while seated in the saddle. Even within
the last decade it has been no uncommon sight to see oats, planted in soil just cleared of its natural vegetation,
attain a height of over seven feet. Some idea of the prolific growth of the natural crops may be gained by the
statements of old settlers, apparently of unquestioned authority, that when cattle were grazing in these valleys
it was possible to see them only when they crossed the paths which they had stamped down themselves.
Just who first planted fruit in Solano can not be definitely settled, but John Wolfskill, the first settler to
locate on Putah Creek in 1842, is credited and correctly with the first planting of figs and olives. This was in
1845. His nearest neighbor, J. M. Pleasants, from whom Pleasants Valley derived its name, planted a family orchard
of apricots, apples and pears in 1852. Some of the trees planted by the pioneers of fruit raising in Solano are
still producing good crops. In 1856, M. R. Miller, who made the first commercial use of the Solano County fruits,
planted a family orchard of apples, figs and peaches and started raising the Mission grapes. These vines he grafted
with Muscats and there are records of his loading his four horse wagon up with these and hauling them to the mines
where he had no difficulty in selling them at fifty cents or more per pound. Contemporaries of Miller in the fruit
growing business in the late '50s were such men as J. R. Collins, E. R. Thurber, Sol Decker, Joseph Wilgon, Ansell
Putmann, G. W. Thistle, and others. So successful was Miller with his Muscats that about 1863, he tried the experiment
of shipping a supply packed in cork dust to New York via Panama. But the Muscat was too tender a variety for this
and the experiment was a failure. San Francisco and Sacramento did not provide large enough markets as the number
of fruit growers increased and the acreage planted to vines and trees reached full bearing, and so, when the Central
Pacific Railroad was completed, small shipments were made to eastern markets from time to time. These went sent
by express and brought high prices. Offsetting what would otherwise have been a good profit however, was the excessive
cost of shipment. When the Centennial Exposition was held in Philadelphia in 1876, a carload of choice grapes was
sent East for exhibition purposes. One half of the carload was contributed by the growers in Pleasants Valley as
an advertisement for California. The remainder of the carload was used as a commercial venture and was successful.
Grapes were more plentiful with the growers of early days than were fruit trees, but in the '70s many of the vines
had to be torn out owing to a pest and from about 1880, the real fruit growing industry in Solano may be dated.
For some of the early settlers in Vaca Valley various varieties of peaches are named. Thus the Decker peach came
from a chance seedling found on the ranch of Sol Decker and later propagated for commercial purposes by L. W. Buck,
who, by the way, was one of the first growers in California to risk shipping his fruit to the eastern markets.
At that time fruit was shipped in ventilated cars, as to send it by freight would be too slow and would mean a
loss to the shipper. The charges were over $1,000 a car and as the business increased the railroad company was
forced to limit the number of cars, the maximum to each train being four. The necessity for engaging space in these
long before the fruit was ready for shipment can easily be seen. From this resulted the California Fruit Growers
Union, organized largely through the efforts of Senator Buck.
In 1889, the first refrigerator cars were used for California fruits, the experiment being made by the California
Fruit Transportation Company in conjunction with A. T. Hatch of Suisun, who was then the largest grower of deciduous
fruits in the state. Hatch and Frank B. McKevitt shipped the first carload of fruit including grapes from Suisun
but it was some time before the eastern markets could be prevailed upon to make purchases, so sure were they that
the contents of each car as it reached its destination would quickly spoil. In fact a campaign of education along
these lines was necessary and the first season's shipments cost the promoters a cool $10,000 loss. But to return
to the origin of the names of some of the peaches for which Solano is noted. A seedling found in the orchard of
M. R. Miller was extensively planted by him. This ranch later became the property of Alexander McKevitt and the
McKevitt clingstone peach was thereby named. The Muir and Lovall peaches are said to be first raised and commercialized
on the ranch of G. W. Thistle.
Some of the apricot trees planted in the orchard of the J. M. Pleasants family in 1852, are thriving. In the
early days probably twenty five per cent of all plantings in Solano County was apricots, one of the earliest fruits
of the season, until the cherry orchards were started and usurped this honor. For many years large crops of apricots
were dried, but as it was found that the cost of labor was constantly increasing and that other sections of California
were strong competitors, many of the apricot orchards were grafted into different varieties of plums and prunes.
Of late years, however, it has been found that Solano can successfully ship apricots in their ripe state. Vaca
Valley and other sections send out this early fruit and the acreage has also been heavily increased once more for
canning and drying. The apricot may be said to be one of the pioneer fruits of California, as it was grown by the
Mission Padres in Santa Clara as early as 1792. Although grown in ten states of the Union, it is only in California
that the crop is sufficiently large to have a great effect on market prices. The United States Crop Report for
1924, issued by the California Co-operative Crop Reporting Service, E. E. Kaufman, agriculture statistician, quotes
the state as having 73,118 acres in bearing in apricots, of which Solano had 3,506; non bearing, (1924) plantings
not included) state, 25,874; Solano, 432 acres. The ripening season in Solano is from May 1, to July 1.
The first plums to leave California each year are shipped from Vacaville before the middle of May, as is also the
case with apricots and peaches. Pears are shipped as early as June 5. Indeed, the fact that Solano fruits are marketed
so early places them in a class by themselves as far as returns for the growers are concerned. In 1923, 1,713 cars
of fresh fruit left Vacaville while 632 cars of pears alone were shipped from Suisun Valley. In addition an immense
tonnage of pears, peaches and apricots was both dried and canned. Green Valley also produces over 200 carloads
of grapes each year. When the Eighteenth Amendment was enacted there were those who thought that the grape industry
was ruined. On the contrary it is better than ever, for since then grape prices have soared. Besides the fruit
shipments quoted above a large part of the fruit shipped from Winters, Yolo County, is raised in Solano.
While the varieties mentioned above and the famous Bartlett pears have made Solano famous, the county also raises
fruits generally regarded as peculiar to Southern California. Oranges, for instance, are successfully grown in
the northwestern part of the county and are of the highest grade. Surprising as it seems, Solano oranges are shipped
during November and December - before Southern California oranges are started to market. Lemons and grapefruit
do comparatively well, while some of the finest fig trees in the state are to be found in the county and yield
large crops yearly. Olives are among the products and apples are confined largely to family orchards. English walnuts,
California black walnuts, almonds, and pecans are among the nut trees successfully raised.
In the Solano County booth at the State Fair at Sacramento, September 5-13, 1925, there were on display 325 different
varieties of fresh deciduous fruits, the largest collection ever shown by a county of the state, according to figures
issued by Carl H. Spurlock, county horticultural commissioner. These include 125 varieties of plums, 54 varieties
of apples, 47 varieties of pears, 18 varieties of prunes, 40 varieties of peaches, 13 varieties of olives, 7 varieties
of quinces, 4 varieties of figs, 4 varieties of persimmons, etc.
While the early fruit growers of Solano had to depend upon their own knowledge or experience, such is not the case
of those of the present age. At Davis, adjacent to Solano, is the College of Agriculture of the University of California
and the University Farm, and here many of the ranchers go for short courses in the lines in which they are specializing.
In addition, the county has an active farm bureau and twelve farm centers throughout the districts. J. W. Mills
is the farm advisor and county agent of the Agricultural Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, maintained
by the University of California College of Agriculture.
During recent years the shortage of refrigerator cars has been a serious problem with the California farmer and
in fact with those of the entire Pacific Coast. The question of shipping fruit in refrigerator ships was taken
up in 1924, by the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce and much research work has been done along this line. Agricultural
experts declare that the establishment of a line of refrigerator ships to carry fruit to the eastern coast would
be the greatest boom to the fruit man, as it would relieve the congestion during the peek of the season when it
is impossible to secure sufficient cars. So far however, no company has been found to undertake this business although
it is expected to be a development of the near future.
Not only is Solano famous for her fruit orchards but in farming, grain and alfalfa, and in stock raising she also
ranks among the leading counties of the state. Here one finds thousands of acres of the richest delta land in the
world and rolling hills where grain has been raised successfully for over fifty years. Grain and alfalfa farms
are to be found from Dixon and Rio Vista on through the Montezuma hills. The section surrounding the former town
was originally devoted almost exclusively to grain raising, but eventually this industry was largely supplanted
by alfalfa farms. These are increasing each year, but nevertheless the section still produces annually about 4,000
tons of wheat and 12,000 tons of barley. Over 10,000 acres are devoted to alfalfa. The most modern methods are
used so that there are six crops a season. The soil is considered far above the average and there is a plentiful
supply of subsurface water for irrigating purposes. In the Dixon district there are between 200 and 300 pumping
plants, 80 per cent of which are operated by electricity. While many of the ranches are as large as 2,000 acres
there is a tendency to cut many of these into smaller places.
With such a supply of feed it is only natural that the Dixon region early became celebrated for its fine herds
and thoroughbred stock. The early winter feed sends cattle to market before the range cattle are ready, another
advantage which Solano County farmers enjoy. Many of the land owners are specializing in thoroughbreds, among these
being William Briggs and son, who have established one of the best herds of Herefords in the West with Rambouillets
as a side line; Howard Vaughn, with his registered Shorthorns, Shropshires and Chester White hop; R. Holdridge,
with registered Shrops; A. F. Johnson, Hampshire, etc. Here is found the Doyle Davey Dairy, the largest certified
dairy in the world, milking 400 tubercular free cows while numerous other small industries have given Dixon the
name of the "Dairy City". An irrigation district of 13,000 acres, supplied with water from the Sacramento
River, has been formed and plans are under way for a 20,000 to 30,000 acre district to be supplied by the run off
water from Putah Creek.
In the sheep raising industry, Solano holds third place among the counties of California for the number of lambs
shipped, and seventh place for sheep population. So large was the industry in 1925, that 37,500 lambs were sent
to eastern markets, while 15,000 were sent dressed. Solano furnished 1,000,000 pounds of wool during the year,
many of the sheep being raised on small ranches. In the '60s and early '70s when sheep and cattle raising were
among the principal resources, the common Merino was found. J. B. Hoyte later imported the heavy wool type Spanish
Merino from Vermont. Later he and a few others imported the French Rambouillet sheep and these two types increased
the wool production. Later came the Shropshire sheep from England, and so the industry grew until Solano holds
the place she does today among the counties of California.
A portion of the Montezuma hills is used for pasturage and is famous for its fine stock valued at over $1,000,000.
Within Rio Vista Township lies Ryer Island, one of the richest of the islands of California. It contains 12,000
acres, protected from the Sacramento River by strong levees, and of these 8,000 are planted in asparagus. Barley,
beans and potatoes make up the majority of the crops planted on the remainder of the island, producing from 40
to 60 sacks of the former to the acre, 35 to 45 sacks of beans and about 230 sacks of potatoes. Fifteen thousand
sheep are turned onto the island each year - first into the stubble, and later into the grain fields, thus preventing
a too rank growth of grain.
At the Mid Winter Fair in San Francisco in 1894, Solano County won the $5,000 gold cup for the best display of
county products, and she has never fallen behind the record then established.