Portraits of the Past: Why Davisville dropped the ‘ville’

By From page B5 | August 17, 2014

* Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Davis Enterprise on May 13, 1971, as one of a series of 164 articles by distinguished Davis historian Joann Leach Larkey. Reproductions of the full set of articles can be seen at the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis, 445 C St., and the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St.

The question about why and when citizens of Davisville shortened the name of their town is one not easily answered. To begin with, the local railroad facility has continuously been known as the Davis Junction, or Davis Depot, since it was first announced that “On and after MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 1868, Trains for Passengers and Freight will run on the California Pacific Rail Road, between VALLEJO and DAVIS JUNCTION, (forty-six miles) daily, Sundays excepted … Fare, $3.00.”

The new town, however, was named Davisville, despite the fact that it was laid out and promoted by directors of the same California Pacific Rail Road. Evidently adding the “ville” to the name of the man who owned property on which new towns were founded was common practice in early California.

Confusion over mail addressed to the Davisville post office arose almost from the beginning. The Davisville Advertiser of Jan. 29, 1870, carried this advice: “TO OUTSIDERS! There is one thing we would like to impress upon Postmasters, both stationary and transient — and more particularly to traveling ones — and that is this: Davisville is not Downieville, nor is Downieville Davisville. Scarcely a day passes that there is not mail matters returned from Downieville. A little closer reading by mail agents would greatly facilitate the distribution of mail matters.”
Finally, on April 14, 1906, one week following the selection of Davisville as the site for the new University State Farm, it was Enterprise editor George W. Scott who took matters into his own hands. An article titled “Dropping of the ‘Ville’ ” stated, “Hereafter at the head of the first page of this publication (except we change our opinion) will appear a shorter heading. To wit, the two-word DAVIS ENTERPRISE.

“We have long considered making a change and in our mind there are a number of sound arguments in favor of cutting off the ‘ville’ from the town name …”

After listing three convincing arguments he concluded with these remarks, “Particularly auspicious is the time of the present writing desirable, as the name of our little city will be written and spoken thousands of times in the future. … It is to be hoped the Post Office Department will be petitioned to cut off the ‘ville’ in the near future as far as possible the useless and confusing suffix.”
This proposal evidently was favorably received but the process of changing the local post office name took another 20 months. Then, on Dec. 7, 1907, Judge Scott made this announcement in his Davis Enterprise, “NOT DAVISVILLE BUT DAVIS, The Ville’s Cut Off in Answer to Petition by Our Local Residents.

“The Enterprise is well pleased to be able to say that the application sent on to the post office department in Washington asking that the post office name be changed from Davisville to Davis has been favorably acted upon. Postmaster Jos. J. Gallagher received this week what might be termed final papers in the matter and which after their return to Washington leaves nothing to be done by the department except to send on the stationery for the new post office, Davis.

“This Mr. Gallagher informs us the department have notified him will be done at once and he anticipates being ready for business for ‘Davis’ on January the first.
“We apprehend this will be quite a boon to our people here. It will be a great relief to have our freight, express and mail cease going to Danville (Contra Costa County). Second, it will put an end to the confusion that is common with passengers and shippers because of the fact that the Southern Pacific Company has always used the name Davis.

“The third reason for rejoicing is in shortening the name, the ‘ville’ being a useless and troublesome appendage that indicates a crossroads and was tacked on in the early days here the same as was it on Winters (Wintersville?) and many other towns. The official Township name is Putah. In a few weeks all stationery may bear the inscription, ‘At, or Return to Davis,’ which looks good.”

And so, printers of local business stationery got a lot of new business and various organizations gradually dropped the “ville” from their respective names during the years to come. However, it was not until after a second attempt to incorporate municipal government was successful in 1917 that the former town of Davisville (population 979) was “duly” incorporated as a municipal corporation of the sixth class, under the name and style of “The City of Davis.” The document enacting this long-sought change was recorded by the California secretary of state on March 28, 1917.
The momentous enactment launched the beginnings of a local governing body that has been a continuing source of pride to Davis residents. Unfortunately, the dropping of the “ville” presented some new problems that were in addition to the cost of new stationery.

Legal descriptions in matters of property rights were of major concern. The new city fathers compounded the problem by changing the names of all city streets, thus obliterating any easy reference to boundary description that appeared on earlier deeds in the former town of Davisville. This matter was finally referred to the Board of Supervisors. It was legally resolved but the confusion still exists today.

For instance, Front Street on the original map of Davisville is now First Street; and a building formerly described as being located on the corner of Second and Olive Street would be located at the corner of Third and G streets on the maps today.

In addition, after the post office change in 1907, the former confusion over mail addressed to Davisville and Danville was replaced by a two-way exchange of mis-sent mail between Davis and the town of Dorris in Siskiyou County. Happily, modern-day ZIP codes have overcome the obstacle of poor penmanship on the part of the sender — that is, if he can keep all those numbers straight.

And even though there may be delays along the way, as in the days of the Pony Express, the mail does get through!

Joann Leach Larkey

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