The rock that was quarried during the 1850s and 1860s at Rockville was volcanic tuff, a light gray rock that was soft enough to cut easily but hardened once it was excavated. Called "absolutely fireproof," the rock was used in a number of local structures.
In the early 1850s in upper Green Valley, George Dingley built the first flour mill in the area out of Rockville tuff stone. The mill was water-powered with a 40-foot wheel. Historians say that the mill was a great boost for the Solano County economy during the years it operated.
Landy Alford and his family--including his daughter, Nancy, and son-in-law, Nathan Barbour--had arrived in Suisun Valley in 1847 after traveling west as part of the original Donner Party. When some of the group decided to try the untested Hastings Cutoff, the Alfords thought it best to stick to the established route. As a result, they made it to California--not without hardship--but without getting stranded at Donner Pass.
Alford and his wife donated a 5-acre site for the Rockville Stone Chapel, the second building made with Rockville stone. The chapel now sits adjacent to Rockville Cemetery. The volcanic tuff stone chapel was ready in time for celebrations of Christmas in 1856, and was formally dedicated in February 1857.
Rockville Stone Chapel. Photo taken from the cemetery.
James Hardin built a stately mansion in 1856 but owed many debts and the house needed to be sold to pay the debts. Constructed of Rockville stone, the mansion was then purchased by Granville P. Swift in 1864. Swift has a well-rounded bio that includes being a great nephew of Daniel Boone, a crack gunslinger, an "immensely" good--and eventually very wealthy--gold prospector, a sergeant in the Bear Flag revolt who helped design the bear flag, and a pioneer in several areas of Northern California.
The mansion continued to be owned by Swift's family (which had intermarried with the Jones family) until it was sold in 1949 to the Green Valley Development Company. The mansion then became the still-operating Green Valley Country Club.
By 1859, Nathan Barbour, Landy Alford's son-in-law, had purchased land along Suisun Creek and built a 2-story house out of the Rockville tuff. The design was similar to Samuel Martin's Stonedene (see photo 12). Barbour raised grain and planted fruit trees. He was the first to send Solano County apples, pears, and peaches to eastern markets.
Members of the family lived in the home until a fire burned all but those "absolutely fireproof" walls in 1986. The remains of the home were later removed.
Photo copyright Vacaville Heritage Council.
Towards the southern end of Green Valley is the home built by Colonel Charles Ramsey. Ramsey was one of the first settlers of the area, also arriving around 1847. He purchased 1,600 acres in the valley where he developed vineyards. The stone house was built in 1860, and became a footnote to history as one of the last "altercations" of the Civil War. Evidently someone had reported to military authorities at the Benicia Arsenal that the Colonel and some of his pro-Confederate family and friends were "celebrating" the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
A military detachment was sent from the arsenal to Ramsey's home, and after an exchange of gunfire, Ramsey and his cohorts were arrested. But all turned out well as they were released shortly.
The Ramsey home today.
The most visible stone building today is the Samuel Martin home (now called "Stonedene"), built in 1861 and located across from Solano Community College. When Martin and his family arrived in the area in 1850, they lived in the adobe that had belonged to Chief Solano. Martin raised and sold grains. By 1860, he had the funds to travel back to Missouri (where he had once lived), purchase 660 cattle, and drive them all the way back to California. Cattle were still rare in the state, and he sold them at a premium to miners and settlers.
He also traded some of the cattle to a German architect and the German stonecutters who would provide the expertise and materials for his new home. The American Gothic-style home was nearly square, but in the late 1920s, a remodel by architect Julia Morgan (famous for her Hearst Castle design) added new elements--including a carriage house. While much of the stone was from the Rockville quarry, some of the stone used in the additions may have come from Contra Costa County.
Linneus B. Abernathie and Jabez M. Baldwin had been business partners in a number of endeavors before they arrived in Suisun Valley in 1864. Both men got involved in ranching and agriculture, and by the next year, Abernathie had built a house from Rockville tuff and Baldwin a stone barn. The barn is the only one known to have been constructed with the locally quarried rock.
Abernathie's house (above) was destroyed in a fire in 1921--except for those stone walls. The barn is still standing in the valley. (See below.)
Some histories also list W.W. Scarlett as having a house made out of stone from the Rockville quarry. I have not been able to find out any more information about this.
Photo copyright Vacaville Heritage Council.
Baldwin's stone barn today.
One of the earliest stone buildings in the local area is this adobe that may or may not be made from Rockville stones. The adobe building is made with rubble stone--broken and irregular rocks--which are then mixed together with a cement of soil, clay, and/or sand. Boards are used to make forms to hold all together until the mixture hardens. The building was likely constructed before 1830.