Unlike Yolano, the planned town that never happened, the nucleus of a community called Tremont did start to form, along Tremont Road. At the corner of Tremont and Eggert roads, around five miles northeast of Dixon, there was once a community hall (good for holding meetings and dances), a school and a combination post office and store. For a time, trains stopped at nearby Tremont Station if there were passengers or freight. A Tremont Township was created. But over the years, the hall became the last remaining building and it burned down during the 1970s.
Tremont never developed a cluster of homes. Instead, there were just widely separated farms and farmhouses. The early settlers tended to be Germans who came for the gold and stayed for farming during the 1850s.
At first, in 1861, these 83 or so pioneers began to attend the Baptist/Presbyterian church over in the now extinct town of Silveyville, which was 10 miles away by wagon or carriage. That was a long way, especially when the roads got muddy.
That provided the motivation for Tremont-area folk to build their own church. To accomplish this, Tremont farm women got together to form the Tremont Mite Society in 1863. The idea was for various families to contribute 50 cents each from time to time to help fund a church. There were various church-related mite societies around the U.S. at that time, named after a biblical story about a woman donating what little money (a “mite” coin) she had.
The families sold their share of the Silveyville church for $700 and raised $600 from the Mite donations, and while temporarily meeting in the community hall, began to build their church, about three miles east of the before-mentioned buildings. They built at this location because that’s where two acres of land were donated by the Hyde family.
The construction lumber was brought in through the port at Maine Landing, and most of the labor was donated. The classic country church design was said to be in the Dutch Renaissance style, and it was named the Tremont Westminster Church (of the Presbyterian persuasion) when dedicated in 1871. Because the church still wasn’t paid for, the Tremont Mite Society continued on, meeting and collecting donations. Mrs. Hyde was the society’s first president.
One local woman, Thelma Dietrich, now 98, remembers attending Sunday school at the church in the early 1900s. At first, traveling pastors served the church; eventually it gained a resident pastor, Reverend Fairbairn. However, with the arrival of motor vehicles, the church didn’t have the congregational size to support a pastor, and regular church services ended in 1912. Still, the Society worked to keep the building up and occasional weddings and funerals were held there over the years.
In 1929 the church was deeded over to the Silveyville Cemetery District (which runs Dixon’s large cemetery) and the Mite Society has enjoyed a partnership with the District in maintaining the church and its cemetery ever since.
Emily Rowe, the Society’s unofficial historian whom I interviewed for this column, recalls a funeral for her father at the church in 1967 when the cemetery looked like a “potter’s field.”
“It was desolate for a long time,” she says.
The exterior of the church was well-kept through the years, but she remembers that when her sister was married there in 1953, the interior had wallpaper separating from the walls. However, when the Tremont community hall burned during the '70s, the insurance money was donated to refurbish the inside of the church. The Mite Society has also received memorial donations over the years.
Now, the church and its grounds are surrounded by trees – a kind of oasis among the featureless, flat fields of the area. Much of the family history of the area is related by the names on gravestones, which include some rare wooden grave markers as well. A caretaker now permanently lives on site to prevent vandalism, and the church is normally closed and shuttered.
Recently when I was passing by and noticed the church doors open, I ventured inside to see if I could take some photos. Turns out a man from Vacaville was setting up his piano inside to record music there – he likes the acoustics. As you’ll see in the photos accompanying this column, the inside is well-kept but very simple and Spartan. Just inside the front door is the original pot-bellied stove which heated the church, along with a portrait of S. Fillmore Hyde, patriarch of the family which donated the land for the church. The historical pulpit is still in place.
The Tremont Mite Society, one of the oldest women’s organizations in this part of California, is still quite active, having recently installed new carpeting in the church.
Besides continuing to raise funds for the church, the Society is a social organization that over 148 years now has kept Tremont-area farm women and their descendants connected. The Society has kept the minutes of its meetings over this long time span – it’s “a remarkable chronicle of life,” says Emily Rowe – and many of the current members (the membership is 50) now meet in various homes eight times per year.
Members seem to have long lives, “… but frankly, we don’t know how the rest of us will be able to keep it going,” says Rowe. “We’re not looking for new members (because) if you become too large … then the meetings get to be too large to be held in people’s homes.”
Tea served in good china in dignified surroundings typify the meetings in homes.
However, there are public get-togethers held every other year in the church and one is coming up on Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m. People who used to live in the Tremont area and their descendants often arrive from far away to share memories and family connections. Flowers will decorate the church, songs will be sung, and Thelma Dietrich’s connection with the church in its prime will be celebrated.
Perhaps when Thelma steps inside the church again, memories of her Sunday school teachers, her friends back then, and her family will return.
Small country churches have a special charm.
Note: To visit the Tremont Church and its cemetery, take Vaughn Road east from Dixon, turn north on Sikes Road, then turn right and travel east on Tremont Road a few miles. The church is at 8290 Tremont Road, just before it dead-ends at County Road 104/Mace Boulevard.