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History

About Elise P. Buckingham

"She took the road less traveled by!"  
Little written information survives detailing early Solano women's accomplishments. An exception to this is Elise Pierson Buckingham, often referred to in the literature of her day as Mrs. E. P. Buckingham. A native of Genesee County, New York. Elise was apparently a woman of such obvious, outstanding qualities for her time and such an outspoken proponent of her views that she received good press almost from the time of her arrival in the Vacaville area in 1884.

After her divorce from Mr. Buckingham, a San Francisco businessman, Elise left behind the social life of the Bay Area to invest her substantial wealth in what was soon to be known as the "Wonder County. " She purchased over 400 acres in Lagoon Valley from Jose Demetrio Pena in the spring of 1884. According to an 1895 San Francisco Examiner article by Mabel Clark Craft, Elise first purchased the land with the intention of reselling it for profit but later decided to plant it in fruit trees to provide a future for her college-age son, Thomas Hugh Buckingham. According to Wickson at the time of her purchase there were some long established vines thriving on the tract. To these existing orchards Elise added new trees until she had over two hundred acres in orchards at her Lagunita Rancho.

In 1888 Elise bought one thousand additional acres near Vacaville from William Butcher. She subdivided the acreage and sold off one half of it within seven years, canceling out her debt for the original purchase price for the entire one thousand acres. According to Craft's article the new landowners were "all young men and women, mostly from England and Holland. One New York City girl owns forty-two acres of her own, planted to trees, and manages eighty acres in addition for relatives as well as any man in the county could. " Another young woman was one of the county's early commuters. Sarah A. Bates purchased forty acres from Elise Buckingham that she planted in orchards and vineyards. However, she worked in San Francisco as an artist, earning enough to pay for her own horse and carriage.

Elise Buckingham was an enthusiastic supporter of Northern California and gave talks on California fruit growing to audiences not only in San Francisco and Oakland but also in New York State and Poland! In addition, her letters describing local fruit raising methods were published in the New York Post. After a visit to New York where she purchased Vacaville fruit from a dealer who thought the cherries hailed from Los Angeles (he thought Los Angeles was another name for California). Elise had a stamp made to be used on all her fruit boxes which proclaimed in red letters "Northern California."

Elise is also credited with influencing several "distinguished" families from New York in their decision to locate in the Vacaville area.

Despite the fact Elise had no prior experience or knowledge of the fruit raising industry and feared when she arrived in Vacaville that being a city girl she would never like country life, she soon adapted to her new situation. By 1888 she was widely known for having an exceptionally profitable and well-run operation which she personally oversaw without the assistance of a ranch manager. At that time she was said to possess the largest fruit orchard in the world owned and managed by a woman. In 1893 she marketed six hundred tons of fruit from her orchards.

Elise Buckingham had strong ideas about the role and potential for women that were not generally expressed by the majority of women of her era. Not only was she involved in presenting the first and only speakers on suffrage in Vacaville in 1911, but as early as 1888 she was characterized by Edward Wickson as knowing ". . . how women tire sometimes of the exactions of society or grow restless in the bonds of conventionality. She knows also that upon many women devolves the duty of investing money or employing energy so that returns may be had for those dependent upon them, and how often the usual investments prove un-remunerative if not delusively, and how crowded are the ranks of vocations conventionally considered women's work. Herein we have a key to some of the thoughts which Mrs. Buckingham cherishes: to lead women to recognize their own ability and strength to lead them to action rather than to restlessness or repining, to demonstrate that a women can succeed in horticulture even when the affair is extended and complex and great interests involved, to add perchance a single scintillation to the light which California throws forth to cheer and welcome those who have force enough to do and dare for the promotion of their own welfare."

Wickson was obviously impressed with her abilities as a businesswoman and fruit rancher. He described her ranch as "the greatest horticultural achievements in Laguna Valley.... It is the most notable example of woman's work in California fruit growing, and it is the more interesting because its executor was left with the property on her hands and thus forced into its manipulation, but taking her own cash capital she moved forward into horticulture with due deliberation, believing that she could thus build up a pleasant and profitable business enterprise. There are in California horticulture other instances of successful work by women among those who have deliberately taken up the business but we believe the undertaking in Laguna Valley is by far the greatest in view of the capital invested and the magnitude of the operations undertaken. "

When Elise Buckingham died in 1915 at the age of eighty, her death was announced on the front page of the Vacaville Reporter. It was noted that she was "prominent for many years in the social and business life of this section of the state. " Story By: by Ruth Gardner Begell