Monday, September 25, 2006

Rockville -- The hamlet That Hangs In There

Rockville -- The hamlet That Hangs In There
By Barry Eberling

Tamer Totah, owner of Rockville Inn since 1989, looks out at the intersection of Rockville and Suisun Valley roads. (Gary Goldsmith/Daily Republic)

Editor's note: Solano County in the late 1800s had a half-dozen additional towns trying to become the next Big Thing, only to disappear or enter long twilights.

But these towns are more than colorful stories from the county's Wild West past. Some linger today as peaceful places threatened by subdivisions creeping from nearby cities. Others are remote and all-but-forgotten, yet are still candidates to play in important role in the county's future.

This series is about Solano County towns that disappeared or faded. Today's installment looks at Rockville.

ROCKVILLE - Rockville has kept hanging in there for 150 years.

It's never been more than a hamlet amid the farmlands of Suisun Valley, about 2 miles west of Fairfield. But it has never completely faded away either.

There are efforts under way to turn Suisun Valley into an agricultural tourist area, a kind of mom-and-pop Napa with wineries, produce stands and bed-and-breakfasts. Rockville is a small island of commercial activity there, with its restaurants, bike shop, gas station, salons and other small businesses.

Rockville can fit in with a revitalized Suisun Valley, Fairfield Councilman Jack Batson said. Batson is chairman of the Suisun Valley Fund Advisory Committee, which is promoting the tourist idea.

"I think a couple of small, commercial areas that have grown up organically over time, like Mankas Corner and Rockville - as long as they are kept small - are of good use for people out there," Batson said.

But some people think farming is foundering in Suisun Valley and the future is rural-residential development, with homes on 5-acre to 10-acre lots. That, too, could boost Rockville because the newcomers could patronize the hamlet's shops.

Whatever happens, Rockville is likely to keep hanging on.

The hamlet owes much of its success today to its location at the intersections of Rockville and Suisun Valley roads. Traffic is plentiful here, as people drive to such destinations as Solano Community College, Lake Berryessa and Rockville Hills Park or take the back roads to avoid crowded freeways.

Teresa Messina and Lydia DiPiramo of Vallejo recently stopped by mid-morning during the week in. They sat on the porch of La Barista Espresso drinking coffee.

"We just like to come here," Messina said. "It's a relaxing area."

The real attraction to them is Larry's Produce stand a few miles further up Suisun Valley Road. Larry's is one of a kind, Messina said. And owner Larry Balestra has a million-dollar smile, DiPiramo said.

"We come for Larry's, but we enjoy the rest (of the area)," Messina said.

Casey Engell makes coffee and sandwiches at La Barista. The 18-year-old has lived her life in the Rockville area and is quick to describe it.

"Friendly. It's quiet. You see the same people. We get the usuals. We get to know everybody," Engell said.

Tamer Totah started working at the Rockville Inn in 1989 and became the owner in 1996. Rockville is off the beaten path, he said. He sees that as a plus.

"It still has that quaint feel," he said.

All types of people come to the Rockville Inn, from farmers to people negotiating multimillion dollar deals, Totah said. People hold receptions there after burials at the nearby Rockville Cemetery. Groups such as veterinarians have regional gatherings there.

The Rockville Inn carries on a tradition in the area. People in pioneer days came to Rockville for a meal, a drink and some hospitality. The hamlet was a gathering spot.

Rockville got its start in the early 1850s. It flourished along the stage coach road, which gave it a strategic location in that era. Plus, John Perry built the first blacksmith shop in Solano County there.

"To this establishment had the farmers from miles around to come to get their plows repaired, their harrows mended and horses shod, consuming, in many instances, two entire days," historian J.P. Munro Fraser wrote in his 1879 book "History of Solano County."

The new town became an important, thriving place in what was then a sparsely populated county. It had a hotel, saloon and post office. xxxxxx The Pony Express passed through it. But the railroad in 1868 was built several miles east through Suisun City and other blacksmith shops sprung up. When Munro Fraser wrote in 1879, Rockville consisted mainly of a church and school house.

"Rockville is a veritable 'deserted village,' " Munro Fraser wrote.

Things hadn't changed when historian Tom Gregory wrote about Solano County in 1912.

"Rockville, by the way, is a has-been village," Gregory wrote. "Only its old church exists and that is as silent as the small graveyard around it. Even its only historical claim - Chief Solano had a royal rancheria there - has largely lost interest; and the fact that it is, or was, a pioneer settlement of the valley is forgotten."

As always, the hamlet hung in there. The state highway passed through Rockville in about 1915 and stayed along this route until 1932. In time, businesses sprang up again at the intersection of Suisun Valley and Rockville roads. Rockville remained alive, though it never regained the regional prominence of its early days.

Totah has seen changes at Rockville in recent years. For example, the intersection of Rockville and Suisun Valley roads got a traffic signal to replace a stop sign. That's another sign that, although Rockville remains amid a farming area, there are fast-growing cities a few miles away.

Neither Engell nor her 13-year-old sister Jessie want to see Rockville change, not if change means the nearby farmlands develop.

"It's a place in the area that has trees and not houses everywhere," Engell said.

Paul Bearden thought about the future of Rockville as he grabbed a cup of mocha coffee at La Barista. He's lived in Fairfield since 1976 and was on his way to Solano Community College, where is he learning a new career.

"I like it the way it is, but it's inevitable that things are going to change," Bearden said.

What the future holds for Rockville remains to be seen. The county is revising its General Plan over the next few years and will do a special section on Suisun Valley.

If the past is any indication, there is one certainty amid the uncertainty: Rockville will keep hanging on.

Next Monday: Cordelia

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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