Historic Foothill Terminus of the Trans-Continental
A HISTORY OF ROCKLIN
Extracted by Howard Scribner from a Lila Harman Master�s Thesis
Published by Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce (1970)
At the time of the Civil War, the site upon which Rocklin was founded
had many oak and pine trees. This area was the winter home of a large
group of Indians that came down from the mountains to gather the acorns
and pine nuts. They were also partial to the waters of a spring located
on the property now owned by Ray Johnson. It is also said that the
Indians maintained a �CAMPOODIE�, which would now be bounded by Oak,
Grove, and Pine Streets. Early day stories reveal that Indian women of
the tribe washed clothes for residents of the town. Mortar holes used
for the grinding of meal have been found in the granite outcroppings and
Indian beads, arrowheads, and stone knives have been found in the area
giving further evidence as to the presence of Indians in early day
Rocklin before the white settlers came. Prior to 1848, farmers and
ranchers near Sacramento sent their cattle to this area which was used
as a high winter grazing ground.
An early day history of Placer County published by Thompson West,
describes Rocklin as a �thriving village on the line of the Central
Pacific Railroad, 14 miles southwest of Auburn, 249 feet above sea
level, in Township Nine, and has a population of 624.� Rocklin is
located in an area of rolling hills, with natural groves of trees and
many outcroppings of granite. The Sierra Nevada mountains may be
observed towering far in the east. Early writers commented on the wealth
of wild flowers and trees, that greeted the gold hunters arriving there.
Though no large amount of gold was ever found, gold was taken from a
nearby creek known today as Secret Ravine. This stream was still
yielding some gold in 1930.
Early settlers of the town were the Finnish and Irish people. It was the
Finnish people who wrote the name of the town as Rocklissa. Phil
Townsend Hanna, compiler of the Dictionary of California Land Names,
speaks of the name Rocklin as being a corruption of Rockland, a name
applied to the community because of the extensive granite quarries in
the area. Besides Finnish people, Rocklin�s early day population
included persons of Irish and Chinese birth. There were also many early
day residents of other nationalities, but the town was largely known for
its �Finnish Colony� and �Irish Hill.�
The census of 1870 credits Rocklin with 542 people. They were
classified, as �native�362, foreign--180, white--507, Chinese--32,
colored--2, and Indian--one.�
There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the quarries started it
all or if the coming of the Central Pacific Railroad was the initial
signal for the growth of Rocklin. The railroad arrived at Rocklin in May
of 1864, and pushed on, arriving at Newcastle nine miles to the east in
June of that same year. Rocklin granite was used in construction of the
The biography of Maurice A. Kelly, a Placer County pioneer, tells of his
father owning eight yoke of the largest oxen in the area. During the
construction of the railroad, the senior Kelly contracted to haul
granite blocks from the quarry in to points along the line. Thus the
quarries were identified with Rocklin at an early date.
While quarrying was established in Rocklin in 1862, it was not until the
arrival of the railroad in 1864, making the transportation of granite
somewhat easier, that this industry began to flourish. Rocklin granite
was used in the building of docks at Mare Island, San Francisco, Hawaii,
and the Phillipines. The California State Capitol, for the most part,
was constructed with granite from Rocklin.
Granite is a firm and indestructible rock that takes a high polish and
is suitable for ornamental as well as building purposes. The quarrying
of this desirable building material became an important industry.
Many quarries were in operation during the years before and shortly
after the turn of the century, with some 61 quarries in and around
Rocklin, the vast majority has long been abandoned and is now filled
with water. Of the early day quarries, only one, the Union Granite
Company remains in operation. The quarry industry boomed during the
1870�s. In the fall of 1876, more than 2,000 tons of granite was shipped
from Rocklin. In the following years, Rocklin granite was supplied for
the construction of numerous public and private buildings in San
Francisco. The fountain of the Palace Hotel, which withstood the violent
earthquake of 1906, was made with granite obtained from Rocklin pits.
The old Central Pacific Roundhouse built in 1866, employed about 40 men
and when the turntable had to be operated, a group of shop mechanics
were ordered to put their shoulders to the wheel. At this time, wood
sheds were also built. Wood was used for generating steam in the
engines, and as much as 25,000 cords were piled along the tracks. In
October 1869, the woodsheds burned and were rebuilt.
In November of 1873 the Rocklin roundhouse was struck by an early
morning fire which destroyed 10 engines and badly damaged a number of
coaches. The payroll coach, en route to Ogden, Utah with a large amount
of cash to pay employees engaged in building the railroad, narrowly
escaped destruction. The fire was fought by railroad employees and many
townspeople, who feared the flames would spread into the town. It is
believed to have started in the oil room or on the roof, which was being
freshly tarred. Damage was estimated at $250,000.
JOEL PARKER WHITNEY, Rocklin�s own remarkable western pioneer, in 1852,
penniless and only 17 years of age passed through on his way to the
Placer gold fields amid the beauty and peace of the rolling oak-studded
lower foothills. He tarried there hunting and camping out. He dreamed of
sometime coming back to claim the area for his own. Motivated to obtain
the monetary success necessary to bring his dream into reality, he
embarked upon a market hunting venture that literally brought him a
fortune within a year. Joel Parker Whitney returned to Rocklin with his
father George Whitney in 1856 to purchase the first section of 320 acres
of land located at the edge of Rocklin and founded the famous Spring
Valley Ranch, also known as the Whitney Ranch. Four generations of
Whitneys maintained their home at Rocklin from the inception of the
ranch. Joel Parker Whitney became not only a pioneer in the wool
industry but in fruit culture (forming the Placer Co. Citrus Colony), in
irrigation, in reclamation of agricultural lands and in the development
of mineral resources in the Rocky Mountains. The Rocklin home he built
was a mansion called �The Oaks� and the entire ranch was known as �The
magnificent landed estate of the Honorable J. Parker Whitney�. It became
the social center of famous Californians.
Fame of Whitney�s Spring Valley Ranch spread from his upgrading of sheep
imported from Australia, importing of Shire workhorses from England,
orange and fruit culture and inducement of settlement by people residing
in England. For this reason the Citrus Colony was often referred to as
the �English Colony�. Whitney was constantly writing articles on fruit
culture and in one article said:
�The fruit lands of Placer Co. are all right�. The present so-called
�boom� is only the rustling of the wind before the universal rain. The
demand has not set in yet�.�
On April 3, 1889, a speed record was set when a 20 car orange train from
the famed Spring Valley Ranch (Whitney Ranch) made it from Rocklin to
Truckee in 4 hours and 40 minutes on its way to eastern markets.
Rocklin�s growth has rapidly expanded into areas of the Whitney Ranch.
Railroad activity was interrupted during the entire month of July in
1894, by the general strike of the American Railway Union which joined
the Pullman car workers on a walkout on June 27. The strike was marked
with violence. A train was derailed in Yolo County, resulting in several
deaths of crew members. A train containing Pullman cars from San
Francisco was halted in Rocklin and the passengers were compelled to
find their way home as best they could.
With the coming of the railroad, fruit ranches had appeared and shipping
pens and docks for cattle and sheep were built as more and more use was
made of railroad facilities. Naturally, these were curtailed during the
strike and fruit shipments were suspended. Many carloads of choice
peaches and plums were side tracked and spoiled. About 15 carloads of
fruit were being shipped from the Placer County area when the strike
started. The paralyzing walkout was finally broken during the last week
of July, when federal troops armed with Gatling guns and other weapons,
were assigned to escort the trains.
Railroading was big business in Rocklin for many years. As early as 1868
there are reports of excursion trains bringing crowds to the area for
Another benefit enjoyed by the early day residents was a supply of free
drinking water furnished by the railroad. The water was hauled in
tenders from the mountain springs of Blue Canyon, and while the
locomotives were in the roundhouse, townspeople were welcome to obtain
water from a syphon attached to the tank. It was the custom to send one
of the school boys to the roundhouse every school morning with a two
wheel cart to get water for the school house. A reservoir was built by
the Railroad in Rocklin in 1878 to insure an ample supply of water.
Besides water, the freight trains often brought undesirable men to town.
In April 1896, a newspaper item reports that the town was full of hobos,
and as long as they were allowed to roam the streets, robberies could be
After the building of the Central Pacific roundhouse in Rocklin, many
Chinese came to work as laborers for the railroad. An early day resident
tells of gardens south of town where the Chinamen grew vegetables and
peddled them from great round baskets, suspended from the ends of a
bamboo pole carried over the shoulder. They walked from house to house
and were well patronized by the people of the town. They lived in an
area back of the roundhouse. This area was known as �Chinatown� before
There was much agitation against the Chinese throughout the State in
1876. Big business and the Republican Party were severely criticized for
encouraging Chinese immigration. Anti-Chinese organizations were formed.
An editorial written in September 1876 stated that the six Chinese
companies of San Francisco were contributing $30,000 to the Republican
party of California, to be used in helping defeat the Democrats on the
West Coast in the 1876 election.
September 15 marked the beginning of the end for the Chinese in Rocklin.
That was the date of a tragedy near Rocklin which shocked the people of
Placer County. Three people were murdered on a place known as the old
Ryan Ranch, three miles north of Rocklin. The victims were H. N. Sargent,
Xavier D. Oder and his wife.
The murders were committed by a group of Chinamen led by Ah Sam, who for
a number of years had served as a cook for families in Auburn. A few
days before the murder, Sargent had sold a mining claim to these men for
$120. They reportedly appeared at the ranch and said they wanted to
purchase more mining land. Sargent started to the claim with the men and
was shot six times when they were a half mile from the house. The
wounded man lived until the next morning and while conscious, identified
the assailants and told of the reason for their being on the ranch.
After Sargent was shot, the men apparently returned to the house in
search of money. It was discovered ransacked and the contents of trunks
and money was missing. Mr. and Mrs. Oder were killed.
A neighbor happened to call, and finding the bodies went to Rocklin for
help. Sargent was found and taken to Rocklin where he died the following
morning. The Sheriff was notified and a posse was formed to search the
country for Ah Sam and his men. Some 15 Chinamen were taken into custody
and lodged in Exchange Hall at Rocklin until the east bound passenger
train arrived. It required a heavy guard to keep the enraged citizens
from taking possession of the prisoners and lynching them. Sheriff
McCormick decided to hold four of the 15 Chinamen. They were taken to
Auburn and lodged in jail.
On Monday morning a meeting of citizens was held and it was decided to
notify all Chinamen to leave town by sundown. Many packed up and left at
once and by 4 o�clock the last group packed up and left the community.
After all had left, the Chinese quarters were destroyed.
Meetings were held in Roseville and Penryn and the Chinese in those
towns were ordered to leave. A band of armed men from Roseville and
Rocklin traveled through the countryside, ordering all Chinese to get
out. They visited the various Chinese camps driving out the occupants
and leveling the huts which had been deserted.
The search for the assailants continued for several weeks. Numerous
arrests were made. Ah Sam managed to elude the officers for some time
but was finally captured. Many innocent persons of Chinese birth
suffered in the purge and for many years there were no Chinese in
In contrast to the crime career of Ah Sam and his gang of cut throats,
the vast majority of Chinese were good people. Their courage and
willingness to work for starvation wages at dangerous jobs during the
construction of the railroad is a matter of record. At Cape Horn, east
of Colfax, where sheer 1,000 foot cliffs fall away into the valley,
Chinese laborers were lowered in baskets to hew a footing to permit
other workers to blast out the grade for the railroad tracks. Many
accidents occurred, some tragic, when ropes suspending the baskets broke
or were carelessly handled by thoughtless American workmen.
Some 14,000 Chinese were employed during the peak of construction. They
proved their worth again in the construction of the 1659 foot Summit
tunnel. A shaft was sunk and crews worked each way from the center,
while others dug from the entrances. The Chinese laborers hacked through
the granite rock at an average of only eight inches a day. During two
bitterly cold winters, tunnels were dug beneath 40-foot snow drifts and
workmen were compelled to live mole-like lives. Avalanches were frequent
and entire camps were sometimes sent hurtling down into the depths of
frozen canyons. It must be said, that despite all the purges and
hardships suffered, many Chinese remained in Placer County to establish
successful businesses and rear fine families.
Early day Rocklin residents enjoyed picnics and there were several fine
groves that were ideal for community outings. The Sacramento Union of
April 28, 1882, speaks of a beautiful grove situated near the town that
was being put into prime condition for public picnics. It was predicted
that the spot would be one of the most popular resorts in the state. The
ground occupied 27 acres of shady grove, composed of pine and oak. Of
importance was the fact that the grove was free of poison oak and
carpeted with grass. A platform was erected to provide dancing for 30
In 1893 a race track was built and operated for many, many years. The
track was located in the area northwest of one of the present elementary
schools. Buggy racing, horse racing and rabbit racing were conducted at
the track. The events were usually held on Sunday afternoons with the
local postmaster acting as bookmaker.
An outstanding social event during the gay 90�s was the grand leap year
ball sponsored by the ladies of Rocklin April 29, 1896. Other
entertainment was provided by traveling concert groups and visiting
theatrical groups who made use of Porter�s Hall. Some other attractions
could well have been the saloons, largely patronized by railroad workers
on Saturday nights. At one time there were as many as 27 drinking spas
In August, 1866, the Board of Supervisors formed a school district in
Rocklin. The school was located in the southwest part of the town, where
the Little League ball park is now. According to the first annual
report, 26 pupils were enrolled, 17 boys and nine girls. Cost of
maintaining the school was $360.80.
Reports show that in April, 1885, a new school had been built to replace
the old one that had burned down the previous year. The new structure,
located on a lot now bounded by Pine and Pacific Streets, was regarded
as one of the finest and best equipped in Placer County. It had four
large classrooms and was erected at a cost of $7,300.
The directory in the April 1, 1899 edition of the Placer Representative,
a newspaper published in Rocklin, lists the Methodist, Congregational
and Catholic churches. Masonic lodge, Granite No. 222, was established
in Rocklin June 30, 1872. I.O.O.F. No. 37 was organized in 1888. The
United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters Lodge No. 5, built a meeting
hall in 1889. It was later replaced with the present Finnish Hall
constructed in 1905. The building located on Rocklin Road and Grove
Street, is the meeting place of the American Legion and other civic
The town of Rocklin became a city in February 1893. The
incorporationists won the election by a majority of 48 out of a total of
182 votes. The first elected officials were John Sweeny, I. L. DeLano,
P. Coleman, J. L. Levinson, Dewitt Porter, C. E. Dunkell, Dr. J. C. Ford
and Joe Fleckenstein.
Several attempts to provide Rocklin with a newspaper were made in the
years before the turn of the century. In February, 1880, The Mountain
Echo started publishing but was discontinued after four months. More
successful was the Placer Representative which started in 1893, with C.
E. Dunkell as editor and proprietor. The four-page paper was offered for
subscription at the rate of $2.00 per year. In 1899 we find it published
by Lester J. Skidmore and subscription rates reduced to $1.
Many settlements in California were hard hit by fires and early day
Rocklin was no exception. A large hotel owned by Sam Trott was totally
destroyed in 1869. The house was filled with boarders, who barely
escaped with their lives, losing all their clothing and other personal
property. The loss of all building and contents was estimated at $5,000.
The structure was later rebuilt and was used as a hotel during the
prosperous days of the railroad. The building located at First Street
and Rocklin Road now houses Bottomley�s Grocery Store. (In 2001
Crossroads Church )
In June, 1870, a fire was discovered at the Van Trees Hotel. The entire
property, including barns, was destroyed. A strong wind fanned the
flames and the whole population was called upon to fight the blaze and
save the town. During the same year a two story boarding house was
destroyed by fire.
One of the town�s worst fires occurred in 1873 when the roundhouse,
containing several engines was destroyed by an early morning fire. The
flames threatened the entire community and were halted again by
volunteer bucket brigades.
On March 29, 1887, a fire broke out about 1 o�clock in the morning in
the Mullinex saloon. The flames quickly spread and swept everything in
the block up to the Levinson Bros. Store. Destroyed was the Rocklin
Hotel, Soule�s Candy Store, O�Farrell�s shop, the Williams Saloon,
Cook�s Livery Stable, two barber shops and several other structures.
On the night of March 31, 1891, the depot building was totally destroyed
by fire. Twenty-five buildings were burned with a loss of $55,000. The
fire was first discovered in the kitchen of the Davies Hotel on Front
Street. A waitress named Alice Irish was burned to death. It was
believed to have been started by an arsonist. However, no one was ever
Following the devastating fire of 1893, it was decided that Rocklin
needed a fire department. A volunteer organization was formed and
equipped with a hose cart and hand pumper. The fire department had been
continued through the years on a volunteer basis, and has developed into
one of the finest in Northern California.
Rocklin was excited in February 1905 with the news that the Southern
Pacific Railroad planned to enlarge the yards and make many
improvements. A new roundhouse was to replace the old one, and a new
depot would be built. Rocklin�s prosperity seemed assured. Property
values zoomed and many persons purchased land in anticipation of big
developments. At this time the roundhouse had a capacity for 30 engines.
However, in the March 3, 1906, edition of the Placer Herald, Rocklin
citizens read the bad news that the railroad company was purchasing
right-of-ways in Roseville for the construction of the roundhouse in
that town. Few persons believed the report, but it became an actuality
years later. The news was crushing to railroad workers and residents.
Roundhouse employees printed a �funeral notice� on heavy paper, edged in
The official transfer was affected April 25, 1908. According to reports
none of the employees lost their jobs. Many of the workers simply jacked
up their small dwellings and moved them to Roseville on flat cars. Thus
Rocklin lost many homes and population, and ceased to be a railroad
division point. Though the population dwindled from some 3,500 to less
than 1,000 many civic minded citizens remained and Rocklin was far from
The big depression struck Rocklin another blow. Sales of granite were
down to zero. The Southern Pacific closed the station. Later this
building was torn down and now all that remains of a once bustling
terminal is part of a jagged circular stone wall of the roundhouse.
Looking back at the events and changes that have occurred in Rocklin
during the past century, it must be concluded that the town�s history is
most colorful and interesting. It�s people have contributed much to the
social and economic development of Placer County and the State of
California. Although no gold was found in the townsite, resolute early
day settlers developed many granite quarries, which have produced
countless thousands of tons of fine stone used in the construction of
buildings in San Francisco and other northern California cities. One of
these quarries, located in the heart of the town is still operating.
For more than half a century, Rocklin was the home of the roundhouse and
yards of the Southern Pacific Railroad, known as the Central Pacific
Railroad before 1884. When those operations were transferred to
Roseville in 1908, Rocklin did not become a �ghost town�. Although some
of the railroad workers did move their little houses and larger families
to Roseville, most of the people faced the loss of the railroad with the
same courage with which they had met other disasters. Improved forms of
government were initiated. Fire protection was improved and the problems
of law and order were solved with resolute determination. Rocklin has
two fine elementary schools and is also the home of Sierra College.
During the past decade approximately 500 acres of valuable residential
and industrial properties have been annexed to the city of Rocklin. New
and bigger improvements are destined for this city as its population
looks confidently to the future.