Exploring the life of Vacaville’s George Akerly
July 23, 2022
Early Vacaville businessman George Akerly’s business cards sent to customers read, “If you can’t find it at Akerly’s, there is no use looking further.”
That slogan was also emblazoned across the front of his store.
Vacaville resident Russell Beelard, who went to work for Akerly when he was 7 and continued through his high school years, stated, “he had just about everything” in that store.Read More
Vacaville resident Russell Beelard, who went to work for Akerly when he was 7 and continued through his high school years, stated, “he had just about everything” in that store.
And if he didn’t, he would get it ordered.
Some of his bills of sale back that up, mentioning oak tables, foot stools, iron beds, sewing baskets, pillows and mattresses he ordered from the San Francisco Bay area for his Vacaville customers.
George Parry Akerly, born on Oct. 28, 1877, was the last of nine children born to Benjamin and
Catherine Akerly. His father was an Episcopal minister who came west with his second wife to California in 1857 to the Oakland area.
His mother died when he was 8 years old and he came to Vacaville to live with one of his two sisters.
Akerly attended the rural Oakdale School, which still stands as a private residence on Pleasants Valley Road. He went on to graduate from Vacaville High School’s second graduating class in 1897.
After graduation, he bought the bankrupt Chittenden store which was located in a two-story brick building with a Masonic Hall on the second floor at the corner of Main and Davis streets.
The store lost its front façade in the 1892 earthquake, but Akerly rebuilt.
“He operated his typical country store in that location for about 25 years and then purchased the Fred Nay Mercantile Company at the corner of Main and Dobbins streets which he operated for many a year,” according to a Dec. 22, 1968 obituary on Akerly.
That second location had started as Vacaville’s first hardware store owned by two men named Schroder & Frahm. It later became Nay Mercantile, according to column in the Vacaville Reporter written by John Rico.
By the 1910s, Akerly had become a prominent Vacaville businessman and served as the president of Vacaville’s first chamber of commerce in November 1913.
Akerly also served as the town’s mayor for a single term from 1915 to 1916. Much later in life, he also served as Vacaville City Clerk for five years.
Although not a volunteer fireman at the time, Akerly pitched in on July 11, 1909, when the Raleigh Hotel caught fire. When the roaring fire threatened the Presbyterian church across the street, Akerly and residents C.E. Lawrence and Guy Bassett draped a hose to the church’s steep roof.
They kept it wet and, by using a bucket, Bassett crept along the edge to splash water under the eaves when they started to burn.
Back at the church, firefighters still could not sufficiently reach the smoldering fire in the steeple to extinguish the flames.
The firefighters were afraid to wait for the fire to burn down to a point where water could be used on it.
They could not climb far enough into the interior because their ladders were too short and water pressure was too low to spray water up to the fire.
So the decision was made to stop the fire by pulling down the steeple. To do that, Akerly, Bassett and Lawrence chopped, kicked and sawed apart the steeple, finally pulling it to the ground with ropes.
The church and nearby buildings were saved, but the Raleigh Hotel burned to the ground — leaving Vacaville without a hotel. A new one was not built until 1920 when a two-story, 34-room hotel was built on Merchant Street.
Akerly was a big supporter of the town’s Boy Scout Troop No. 74 and one of the people who had established the Camp North Boy Scouts Camp on Putah Creek. He was awarded the coveted Silver Beaver Award for his scout activities, according to the obituary.
A June 1939 letter signed by two dozen of the troop’s parents paid homage to his support expressing “their deep appreciation for the many years of thoughtful and generous service rendered to the Boy Scouts and other young people in the community.”
He was also a supporter of building the Monticello Dam at Devil’s Gate and the subsequent formation of the Solano Irrigation District.
Akerly sold the business to A.A. Collier not long before the 1939 Masonic Building fire gutted the store, which occupied the same building along with the phone company and several professional offices.
He moved on to become the superintendent of the Solano County Hospital for seven years.
On Dec. 20, 1969, Akerly passed away at age 92 in a Fairfield hospital and was buried in the Vacaville Elmira Cemetery.
He was survived by his second wife, Mary Will Frederick Akerly, who passed away in February 1978 at age 91.
Akerly was also survived by his son, George P. Akerly Jr., who was born on July 18, 1902 in Vacaville to George Akerly, then described as a young merchant, and his first wife, Lulu Isabel Dobbins Akerly, the daughter of Vacaville attorney Andrew J. Dobbins.
Lulu Akerly had just started a career as a dentist when she died on May 4, 1905, at age 23 after a month-long illness. The San Francisco Call obituary reported she was so respected in town that “all business was dispensed with for several hours today in her honor.”
Akerly Jr., worked in his father’s store and become the owner of THE Akerly Hardware before he went on to work for Pan American Airways.
The son died in Alameda County on Dec. 8, 1988, at age 87 in a Union City care home after a long illness, according to his obituary.