Friday, February 10, 2006

Adobe Mystery

Adobe Mystery -- Spanish-Era Mission, Pony Express Stop a Few of the Theories Behind Old Building
By Ian Thompson

Daphne Nixon and Jerry Bowen believe that the Green Valley Adobe that theyƕre standing in is one of Fairfield's oldest buildings. (Photo by Christine Baker)

FAIRFIELD - A small Green Valley adobe building may be the oldest building in upper Solano County.

It may have been a small satellite mission when the Spanish ran California.

"It is so interesting because it is still a mystery adobe," said Vacaville historian Jerry Bowen, who is still trying to plumb the building's mysterious past.

It has found a protector in the form of developer and Green Valley resident Joseph "Jose" McNeill, who is incorporating the venerable building into his plans for a business park at the site.

"We are preserving it as a focal point for the project," said McNeill. "It is one of the mysteries of history here. A lot of people have a lot of theories, and that is part of the fun of the area. It is a very interesting piece of work that no one is really sure how it got here and who built it."

Bowen's research supports the fact that it is one of the oldest buildings in the Fairfield area still standing, figuring it could have been built as early as the 1830s.

It is one of only three adobes still standing in upper Solano County - the others being the Pena Adobe in Lagoon Valley and the other being the Hastings Adobe near Collinsville.

Cordelia artist and historian Daphne Nixon noticed the old adobe while searching for some of the area's older buildings to use as subjects for her paintings.

"I was looking for a Victorian-era house I had seen before and was depressed when I discovered it was gone," Nixon said.

She was further saddened to find another of her subjects, a century-old winery, one of Solano County's first, was razed to make way for a housing development.

"Then I saw this little adobe with the tree leaning up against it," Nixon said.

Nixon called friend and Vacaville area historian Bowen because she didn't know anything about the building.

"It has long been hidden by all the other old buildings in the winery," Bowen said.

Headwaters Development, in which McNeill is a partner, wants to put up a 45,700-square-foot office complex which will be named Pony Express Business Park "and the adobe would be the centerpiece," Bowen said.

City of Fairfield planners required anyone interested in building on the land to keep the adobe; the Headwaters Development's plans show the structure is the centerpiece of the landscaping.

"We are excited because even though the site is being developed, the adobe will be maintained," said Fairfield Associate Planner Rick Hancock.

The plans for the proposed business park went before the Fairfield Planning Commission Wednesday night and it will now continue to the City Council for action. Work on the site could start later this year.

The adobe contains a rock-lined well which is covered by a steel plate and a large hole in one wall which helped show how the adobe was constructed with mud and stone.

"It looks like Cordelia rock. A quarry is not far away," Bowen said.

It is also the same material that was used to build an ancient Spanish-era well that local historian Rodney Rolufson found and excavated near Nelson Hill a couple of miles to the southeast.

A large, old oak tree has grown up along one side of the building, appearing to be leaning against it as its trunk curves over the adobe's roof.

"Look at the size of the girth of that tree and you know it is very old," Bowen said.

Bowen's own research has yielded a lot of interesting possibilities about the age and original uses of the old adobe, but few concrete answers.

The adobe shows up on an 1862 map drawn by Capt. Archibald Ritchie, a former shop captain who settled in the area and bought land.

Bowen also suspects that the adobe may even be part of the Spanish-era Eulalia Mission which was established by a Father Jose Altamira somewhere in the area in 1837.

"It may have been one of those side missions," Bowen said, which was supported by a larger more established mission in Sonoma or the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bancroft's History of California contends a mission was established in the area for the padres' visits to the Native Americans. The mission had a granary, a chapel, padre's house and several other wood structures.

The initial mission buildings were destroyed in the 1930s and replaced, according to the history.

Bowen's suspicions about the building's possible mission-related origin is linked to a stone baptismal font discovered in a nearby field by Rolufson in the late 1950s.

A May 1957 Solano Republican article stated Rolufson believed the font was used by the Yul Yul Indians who lived near present-day Rockville.

Church records examined by Rolufson stated a branch mission existed as far back as the early 1800s and Father Altamira worked as far east as Suisun to teach the Indians agriculture.

The building may also have been a stop for an alternate route used by the Pony Express in the 1860s as riders made their way to and from San Francisco. This idea inspired McNeill to name his project after the Pony Express.

"It could possibly have been a stage stop," said Bowen, adding it is a piece of history that Headwaters Development has grasped for its development plans.

There is still much about the adobe that is still unknown, according to Bowen.

"Was it a mission. Was it a structure over a well site?" McNeill said. "This is something that is not only intriguing and unique, but important as well."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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