A place of welcome at Rush Ranch

Historic Kit House becomes gift shop and meeting area
By Samuel James Adams
March 2024

Ranching cattle at the edges of Grizzly Island’s brackish marsh was hard work during the Great Depression.

So, you can hardly fault the descendants of Hiram Rush for succumbing to the temptations of convenience and ordering a home through the mail.

And it’s fortunate that they did, because the “Kit House” they ordered and built remains in use today, as an exhibit room, gift shop, and conversation piece for people visiting Rush Ranch.

Carole and Craig Paterson, longtime supporters of the land trust, considered using the Kit House as a gift shop and greeting space in 2021.

Beginning in April 2022, the couple volunteered at monthly Get the Rush gatherings and turned the Kit House into the de facto front porch of the organization they love.

“We see ourselves as ambassadors for Solano Land Trust,” Craig says. “Carole is out front talking. I’m in the back taking the money.”

The Kit House is small enough that Carole can always hear someone coming, and when she steps out to greet people, she knows her icebreaker.

“If it’s a family coming, I kind of talk to the kids,” Carole says. “Do you know what a Kit House’ is?”

Kids rarely do, but they follow Carole inside to find out.

A step into another time

Inside the Kit House, you’ll see a genealogical chart of the Rush Family, a taxidermy exhibit of native wildlife, and a display case featuring tools forged and tempered at the nearby blacksmith’s shop. The house was purchased in the late twenties or early thirties by Eleanor Rush, eldest daughter of Benjamin Rush and part of the third generation of Rushes who ranched Grizzly Island.

Beneath the family tree, a reprinted1926 Sears and Roebuck catalog of homes gives you a sense of how Eleanor made her purchase. For a cool $800 in 1926, you could have an “Honor Bilt” home shipped by rail across the country. Listed models boasted genteel names like “The Argyle,” “The Hudson”, and “the Rembrandt.”

Open the first few pages and you’ll find ad copy marketing their humble structures to provincial buyers with appeals to state-of-the-art buildings:
Skyscrapers are ready cut…why not your home?

“These buildings show who came before us,” Carole said. “There was a commitment to staying and putting down roots. It’s important to see that.”

It’s a small building, so the tour moves quickly, and Carole naturally pivots the conversation to tips about the best trails at Rush Ranch, other Land Trust properties to explore, and the organization’s role in conserving agricultural land. Carol makes sure the curious leave with plenty of brochures, flyers, and newsletters.

“Often it’s people’s first visit to Rush Ranch or experience with the Land Trust,” Craig says. “They’ll say, ‘We were just driving by, and we saw cars parked out here and never knew anything about it.’ Then they discover this treasure they can come out to visit anytime they want.”

Mementos from a cherished place

Rush Ranch Outfitters sells hiking essentials such as hats and water bottles, along with an array of mementos and souvenirs. All proceeds fund Solano Land Trust activities.

“Stuffed animals and honey are really strong sellers,” Carol says. “Hats go pretty well. It’s not the time of year to be selling t-shirts, but it will be soon enough.”

Carole and Craig like it when kids come in and see something they want on their first visit. But it’s more gratifying when families spend a morning on the land and come back for something to celebrate the experience.

“A dad came in with a daughter in her early teens after finishing a hike to the marsh,” Craig said. “She said, ‘Dad can I get something? I just want to remember this day.’ My heart just melted.”

Of course, people enjoy memorable days on all Land Trust properties. That’s why Craig and Carole plan to set up tables to engage the public and sell Rush Ranch Outfitters goods at other properties and events.

A home away from home for volunteers

Speaking of that community—if you or someone you know are a handy person in need of a project, or you have a flair for history, the Kit House might need you.

It’s weathered many storms over the years, but recent rains have left its shingles worse for wear.

“It could even be a restoration project for a donor,” Carol says. “Hopefully, there’s a plan to make sure the building doesn’t deteriorate. Certain maintenance things are required.”

And though it’s an indisputably old building, the Kit House still hides its secrets.

The broad strokes of its history are easy enough to identify; the fine print is more elusive. This was a mail-order home, but it was likely not purchased from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog on display.

In fact, given the lower number of rooms and simplicity of the porch roof, this home was something more like the hunting cabins one finds in the back pages of the catalog, or the illustrated spread in another edition promoting a three-room home that could be built in eight hours. A hunting use would hardly be surprising; the Rush family planted grains on the levees to improve hunting conditions; across Highway 12, the cross streets of Sunset Avenue are named after duck breeds like Pintail, Merganser, and Canvasback.

When you get down to it, it’s hard to say what a “day in the life” of a Kit House dweller was like back then. The past speaks to us in little hints, not lengthy declarations, and the more you learn, the more confused you can get.

What we call Rush Ranch is one of three sites of a larger original ranch. The Tule Ranch, as this site was known, was where the Rushes stabled their horses and stored grains and feed. While different siblings inhabited the Kit House as adults, the children lived in Suisun City proper growing up.

But there are more hints of the built past here than at other properties managed by Solano Land Trust. Along with the barn, the windmill, and the blacksmith shop, the Kit House lends Rush Ranch its rustic atmosphere and—like the wagon rides provided by Access Adventure—gives visitors a glimpse of life in a bygone era.

For Carole and Craig, it’s been fun to put this old building to new use, and to watch it become a portal to new adventures for people finding their way to the land.