- Author: Lanie Keystone
I have just been given the honor of becoming the Executive Director of the Vacaville Museum which serves to preserve and share with the public, the value and treasure of all of Solano County's history and culture. With this exciting new position, I'm reveling in the new knowledge I'm gaining about our wonderful county…starting with the very foundation it was set on by those who came before us so many years ago—the orchards of Solano County.
As history goes, during the Gold Rush, some pioneers found a different kind of “gold”. It was in the soil and climate of Solano County. The valley's soil and climate provided the early settlers with the ideal location to start fruit orchards—and a new industry was born.
Most orchards, established in the 1840s and '50s were on Mexican Land Grant lands. The settlers discovered a combination of warmer temperatures, heavy amounts of rain along the hills, and mountains that provided shelter from west winds. And, it was in Solano County that the earliest deciduous fruit trees in the U.S. thrived.
After the railroad extension was completed in 1868, fruit growers could ship fruit. And in 1880, with the advent of refrigerated box cars, delicate fruit could be shipped across the entire country by rail to the Midwest and East Coast markets. About this same time, fields of wheat and grapes were also planted for a short 10 years, when the disease, phylloxera wiped out the grapes. It was then that the vineyards were replaced with fruit and nut orchards.
The 1890s brought fame to Solano County—and the “Early Fruit District” of Vacaville was known for the first fruit of each season. In fact, newspapers duly noted the earliest date of each new crop! Besides being the earliest fruit yield of each year, Solano County orchards were also famous for stronger flavors. Without much irrigation, the sugar became more concentrated in smaller fruits and thus created the intense flavor. This made for ideal dried fruit, as well.
In subsequent blogs, we'll discover how this famous crop flourished and what became of the orchards over the years. And, of great interest to each of us fascinated by all things horticultural, an upcoming spring exhibition at the Vacaville Museum will star these orchards and the historical photographs that documented them. Stay tuned!