The Vacaville Museum, Historic Center of Solano County

The Vacaville Museum opened its doors to the public on Saturday, May 5, 1984, to much fanfare and presented its first-ever exhibit, “Rivers, Railroads and Rolling Hills: Solano County 1875-1915.” It contained everything from information about the Patwin Indians, who were here before 1875, to travel trunks that belonged to immigrants from Europe, India, Russia and China, who settled here, to agricultural artifacts.

Tony Wade, Back in the Day

The current Chairman of the Vacaville Museum Board of Trustees, Jean C. Cox, moved to Vacaville from Iowa in 1981 and became involved with the then fledgling organization, which was incorporated the same year. While the collection now includes over 30,000 artifacts, it started with 250 sad irons.

Sad irons are heavy – sometimes up to 9 pounds – antique irons that got their name because “sad” in Middle English meant “solid” or “heavy”.

“A gentleman in town had a collection of sad irons and he put them up for sale. Eleanor Nelson, who was a longtime local teacher, didn’t think they should leave Vacaville, so she raised money to buy them. Well, we had to figure out what to do with them,” Cox said.

A committee was formed and Eva Buck, philanthropist and wife of U.S. Representative Frank Buck, gave the town of Vacaville the land next to her house to build a museum. Two stipulations were that it would be called the Vacaville Museum and that it would be dedicated to preserving the history of all of Solano County.

While those involved in preserving and exposing history to the public appreciate Eva Buck’s immense generosity, the first stipulation has caused more than a little confusion since the museum opened.

“Mrs. Buck, God love her, did us a disservice when she insisted it be called the Vacaville Museum. People tend to think it’s just Vacaville. That was a problem when we tried to get people from, say, Fairfield to sit on the board, which is why everything we send mentions our mission of cultural and historical preservation for all of Solano County” Cox said, “On top of that, people also sometimes think we’re the Nut Tree Museum. We have a lot of material from the original Nut Tree, but we’re not the Nut Tree Museum.”

Cox can name a number of exhibits over the years that were his favorites.

“I was a real ‘Solano Women’ fan, and ‘Victorian Dining’ was another fun one – I didn’t know you could fit so much silverware on a table. Another favorite was “From Rising Sun to Golden Hills”, which was the story of Japanese residents in Solano. It was super interesting because in 1942 we lost a lot of that population when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps,” Cox said. “’Spanish Voices’ was another interesting project as it explored how Spanish speakers came to this area. People thought it would just be Mexican migration north, but it was much more than that. Some of them came directly from Spain, some went from Spain to Hawaii, and some came from New Mexico. I think it’s always been about the stories behind the exhibits.

Caroline Whyler is the new kid on the block at the Vacaville museum as she started as Artifacts and Exhibits Manager in August 2021. She replaced Heidi Casebolt, who held the position for 25 years before retiring. Whyler’s first exhibition was titled “Under Where? Vintage Undergarments from 1850-1980,” which opened May 17 and will run through September 24. According to press materials, it explores the purpose and misconceptions of underwear through the decades and looks at how they have been influenced by changing cultural ideals, and linked to events such as the revolution. industry, the Second World War and the changing role of women in society.

The museum usually has an exhibit in the gallery, and the volunteers work on the next exhibit and think about the one after that. Their calendars already go until 2024. After “Under Where?” closes, the next exhibit in the circle on deck is “Solano Skies: The History of Aviation in Solano County,” which opens Nov. 5. When this has run its course, an exhibit with the working title of “Fruit of the Vine” about the wine industry in Solano County is available.

“I love that each exhibit that comes up will be completely different. ‘Under Where?’ is more artistic and whimsical in the design aesthetic I’ve chosen, but ‘Solano Skies’ will lean more towards military undertones and be more even and conservative,” Whyler said. “There’s no cookie-cutter formula here. I like having the ability to be creative.

While the Vacaville Museum is tasked with preserving history, the way it communicates with the public has recently been modernized. Paper newsletters may have sufficed in the past, but Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and other social media platforms have bolstered the 38-year-old museum’s online presence thanks to volunteer Sarah Olsen.

The museum’s upstairs storage and research space is stocked with everything from Vacaville Reporter newspapers from the 1880s to 1929 (the 1930s and later are in the Vacaville Heritage Board), an extensive collection of papers from the original nut tree, the sad irons that helped birth the place, fabrics, ancient household artifacts and much more. They even have vintage comics.

Ultimately, artifacts, when displayed in eye-catching and inventive ways, are there to serve a much larger purpose.

“We strive to tell the cool stories we find. It’s rewarding to find interesting perspectives on things,” Whyler said. “Sometimes people think of us as just historians or collectors, but we also have to be storytellers.”

The museum is located at 213 Buck Ave. It is open from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday. For more information about the Vacaville Museum, call 707-447-4513 or visit

Freelance Fairfield humor columnist and accidental local historian Tony Wade writes two weekly columns: “The Last Laugh” on Mondays and “Back in the Day” on Fridays, although they are sometimes swapped one for the other. ‘other. Wade is also the author of The History Press books “Growing Up In Fairfield, California” and “Lost Restaurants of Fairfield, California”.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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