Sunday, December 18, 2011

Davis & Yolo-Solano Life in the 1910s as Glimpsed in Two Booster Publications (31)


I recently acquired a “commercial encyclopedia” of four western states that was published in 1910. The title page is reproduced in Image 1.

Measuring 12 by 15 inches and running to 196 pages, it is a lavish booster compendium featuring photographs from the Southern Pacific Railroad and Sunset Magazine (which is pretty much the same thing).

In addition to capsule profiles of counties and towns, the volume has an 18 by 26 inch foldout map of Northern California.

Inspecting the Davis area on that map (seen in Image 2), I was struck by the number of named places in Yolo and Solano counties that no longer exist. Their names include Batavia, Maine Prairie, Swingle, Merritt, and Mullen. As I understand it, many of these and other locations were at one time not merely names on a map but real, albeit small, villages.*

4. Sunset, 1915
A couple of days ago, an “antique paper” dealer put a page from a 1915 issue of Sunset on e-bay auction. As seen in Image 4, that page is an ad placed by the government of Yolo County that urges people to move to the area and farm--and to expect help from the UC Experimental Farm.

Taken together, the map and the ad provide glimpses into a world of still-small agriculture--almost horticulture (also hinted at in image 4).

At that time, apparently, it could still seem plausible to forge a livelihood with a small farm and to reside near a small village.

Ironically, the historical fact is that the UC Experimental Farm was a major force in sweeping all that away--even as it was proclaimed to be the friend of small-scale agriculture.  

The “narrative” seen in that Sunset ad is yet another example of how what can appear possible in one period can seem implausible if not delusional to later observers.  (Or is the Sunset text merely cynically manipulative?)

5. Ellis entry on Davis
* A few years ago, I read descriptions of a robust community in Batavia that made me  wonder how many of its buildings might still be there. So, I drove to its location. I could see no evidence there was ever a village there.