History of Rocklin California
By Roy Ruhkala 1974
From Gold to Granite
The Rocklin area, that the early miners traveled through to the gold
mines east of Sacramento, was made up of groves of oak trees with Digger
Pine trees mixed in. In this area the hills took shape and formed
valleys that were covered with grass. The many Indians that lived in
this area hunted small game for food and used the acorns, pine
nuts,berries, and other plants that are native to the area for food.
The gold rush of 1849 and 1850 had slowed, and men were looking for a
business venture. In 1860 and 1861 after seeing the granite boulders
above ground in the Rocklin area, Mr. Hathaway decided to open a quarry
because granite blocks were needed for the California State Capitol that
was to be constructed. The site of the first quarry was next to the huge
outcropping of granite that still exists along the west side of Pacific
Street across from where Ruhkala road joins Pacific Street. This early
day quarry furnished some of the first granite for part of the base
course of the California State Capitol.
The first loads of granite were hauled by oxen drawn wagons down the
road past the present city ball park crossing Antelope Creek and
continuing on toward the present city of Roseville. In wet weather this
road became impassable so a new road was built down the present Ruhkala
Road continuing to Secret Ravine Creek at the present China Gardens. A
road was carved through the lava rock to the top of the hill where the
Roseville reservoir is now located. There the road which followed the
lava cap toward Sacramento staying east of the Roseville area, is still
visible in some places.
Since this hauling of granite took place before the Central Pacific
Railroad came into this area, it has been said that some of the granite
was hauled to Folsom and was loaded on freight cars of the Sacramento
Valley Railroad that was in business at that time. The earliest reported
quarrying of granite done in Rocklin was for Fort Mason in San Francisco
in 1855. This information was in a newspaper article written about the
The story has been told by old timers in the area that originally in
1860 to 1862 consideration was given to locating Folsom Prison in the
Rocklin area, but with the talk of the Central Pacific Railroad coming
through the area, it was decided to build it in Folsom.
Phil Townsend Hanna, compiler of the Dictionary of California Land
Names, speaks of the name Rocklin as a corruption of Rock Land, because
of the extensive rock outcroppings in the area and the granite quarrying
beginning to take place. It has been said that the Finnish people
changed the name to Rocklin, but there were not many Finnish people in
the area until the 1870s. However, the Finnish do write the name as
Rocklissa or “in Rocklin” and “Rocklin” as Rockland.
The early settlers included many people of Irish descent who worked for
the Railroad and the quarries. The Chinese also took their place in the
area in the 1870s. The Finnish started arriving in numbers in the
1870s and continued for twenty years. The Spanish people came to
Rocklin in the early 1900s. The Japanese also arrived in the early
1900s. Around the turn of the century, over 50% of the population were
people of Finnish descent.
The Central Pacific Railroad arrived in Rocklin in May of 1864 and
extended onto Newcastle in July, 1864. The first loads, put on freight
cars in Rocklin, were pieces of granite to be used for the construction
of the tunnels and roadbed as it proceeded toward Newcastle.
Rocklin is a city built on a rock which has granite under it, around it,
and no one has ever bored through it to find its thickness. The granite
in this area is even textured, very hard, available in large blocks,
takes a high polish, and is used extensively for memorial and building
work. We have quarry holes 150 feet deep and the texture remains the
same. We have had 62 separate quarry operations in the Rocklin area and
most of the quarries are still very readily seen. After the Hathaway
quarry was operating, the John M. Taylor quarry opened about 1867 and
has continued operating to this day. It went through the names of J.
Mantyla, A. Pernu, California Granite Company, to the present Union
Granite Company operated by the Ruhkala Brothers. In the early 1890ï¿½s
there were about 30 quarries operating at one time, many of these
cutting street curbing for the larger cities.
Years ago, some of the buildings made with Rocklin granite include the
Bank of Italy, now Bank of America, and the United States Mint in San
Francisco, part of the State Capitol, California National Bank, City
Hall, and City and County jails all in Sacramento, Oakland Auditorium,
Stockton Courthouse, Solano County Courthouse, Pearl Harbor and Mare
Island Drydocks, Placer County Court House, Rocklin City Hall, Rocklin
Butcher shop (now antique store on 1st Street), Monterey break water and
many other buildings. Also many thousands of tons of granite has been
used in the Sacramento River Levee maintenance.
Gold was really the incentive which brought people to and through the
area, although no big gold deposits were ever written about in the
Rocklin area. There was some gold mining on Secret Ravine Creek. The
early day miners worked the creek and after the Central Pacific Railroad
was completed in 1869, the Chinese reworked the gravel beds, especially
the China Gardens which is at the end of the present China Gardens Road.
Every depression has brought miners back to the creeks, especially in
1929 and 1930 when many people sluiced the gravel in Secret Ravine. They
did quite well too: making $1.00 to $3.00 a day when wages averaged
$1.50 to $2.00 per day. Also in the later 1930ï¿½s, gold dredges were used
with one of the nearest dredges being at the north end of Racetrack
Road. Another large gold dredge was on the Laird Property, back of the
Lone Pine Ranch at the east end of Rocklin Road now owned by the
When the Central Pacific Railroad arrived in Rocklin in May, 1864, it
gave the people a fast and easy method of travel and hastened the
hauling of building granite to the cities where it was needed.
Rocklin was selected as the site of the Roundhouse which was built in
1866. It was built here because this was the so called “bottom of the
Hill.” With the roundhouse came the wood sheds along the track for
storing wood that was needed for the fire in the engine to make steam
power. The wood burning engine, along with the gold miner, accounted for
many of the bare areas today. Woodcutters were kept busy cutting wood
which was stacked along the tracks in Rocklin. These 25,000 cords of
wood invited fire and in 1869 a fire in the wood shed area made so much
smoke that it was seen in Sacramento and they sent a fire train to help
fight the blaze.
In 1864 the present Rocklin Cemetery was started when a drunk railroad
worker, missing from his job, was found dead and was buried on the spot.
The Trott Hotel was also built next the roundhouse in 1866 by Samuel
Trott. Many of the railroad workers lived in the hotel because it was
close and not much other housing was available. Late one night in 1869
when all the occupants were sleeping, fire broke out in the hotel and
burned it to the ground. Everyone lost their belongings and several
people received burns. Henry Schmidt died the next day from smoke
inhalation.The hotel was valued at $5,000.00 but was only insured for
$3,000.00. Mr. Trott rebuilt the hotel and it remained in use until
1970. Part of the building front has been changed over the years,
especially the south part, but the rest has remained fairly intact. It
served as a hotel during the Railroad years and then as Kellyï¿½s General
Merchandise Store. The south end housed the Post Office and a barber
shop. Kellyï¿½s Store in 1938 became Bottomley’s Store until Mr. & Mrs.
Bottomley retired in 1970. The south part of the building was torn down
by the City of Rocklin when Rocklin Road was widened to its present
width in 1964.
The Post Office moved from the south end of the Trott Hotel building to
the northeast corner of Pacific Street and Rocklin Road. Then it moved
across Pacific Street to the site of the existing frostie store. The
next move was to the back of the Finn Hall, for a short time, while the
present building was being erected. Lena Dias was postmistress at the
turn of the century; then Mr. Hackett into the late 1920s, followed by
Alice West, to the present postmaster, Phillip Freer.
The Rocklin School District was formed August 18, 1866, and the first
teacher was Ellen Hinckley. John Ertle was a member of the first board
of trustees. The first school was built on the Bolton Place, in the area
of the present Little League ball park on 4th Street. In 1879 there were
139 pupils. In 1886 a new two story school was built on the west side of
Pacific Street between Oak Street and pine Street where the surplus yard
is today. The one story wooden school building that was built on the
south end of the school grounds was used for the first three grades. The
brick school house that fronted Pacific Street was built about 1922 and
used until 1952 when the new school was occupied on Meyers Street at
In 1868 a brick works was in operation in Rocklin to supply the fast
In 1870 the census figures showed 542 people, classified as Native-born
362, Foreign-born 180. They also break down the population of 542 as
white-507, Chinese 32, Black 2, and Indian 1. The Indians must not have
been counted because this area was the winter home of a large group of
Indians. They followed the rivers and the ridges high up into the Sierra
Nevada mountains, that lay to our east, for the summer and came back to
this area for the winter. They had a fairly large burial ground east of
Rocklin, not far from Secret Ravine Creek. There are many holes in the
rocks that were used for grinding acorns into flour for food. Also
several holes are in the rocks at Johnson’s Mineral Spring where the
Indians got water. The last of the local Indians moved their Campoodie
to the center of town in the late 1870s on the lot bounded by Oak
Street and Pine Street and San Francisco Street and High Street. When
this campoodie burned, it marked the end of Indian groups in Rocklin.
Some 14,000 Chinese came to work on the Central Pacific Railroad. When
the Railroad was completed in 1869, these Chinese moved to every area
looking for work. A small group moved to the Rocklin area to mine for
gold and raise vegetables to sell to the area residents. Many vegetables
were raised in the China Gardens area on Secret Ravine Creek in Rocklin.
Some also lived in the area back of the roundhouse which was known as
Chinatown Prior 1876. A group of Chinese were accused of murdering three people near
Rocklin and this aroused the people in the neighboring area as well as
Rocklin. So the citizens got together and drove all the Chinese out of
Roseville, Rocklin, Loomis and Penryn areas. September 15, 1876, marked
the end of the Chinese in this area for a period of years.
Since Rocklin is built on a granite cap, there is no large underground
water supply that is dependable in dry years. So the Central Pacific
built a reservoir for a more constant water supply. They also brought
tank cars of mountain water from the Emigrant Gap area to Rocklin and
parked them on the spur track so the residents of Rocklin had clean,
clear water for home use. This usage of mountain water gave Rocklin the
reputation of being a healthy area as there was so little sickness here.
This water supply was used until the Railroad moved to Roseville in
On June 27, 1873, the roundhouse burned, destroying ten locomotives and
tenders. It was slowly rebuilt but this time they used granite in the
walls of the roundhouse to make it more fire proof.
A Beautiful Place to Live
As Rocklin grew so did the Spring Valley Ranch. Joel Parker Whitney,
Rocklins own remarkable western pioneer, in 1852, penniless and only 17
years of age passed through on his way to the Placer gold fields. He
stopped in the lower foothills to hunt and camp out, thinking someday to
come back to claim the area for his own. Hoping to make enough money to
make his dream a reality, he started out on 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 start 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 on 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
The present so-called “boom” is only the rustling of the wind before the
universal rain. The demand has not set in yet. As early as 1868 the
records show that there were excursion trains bringing people to the
area for picnics. Also in 1882 the Sacramento Union speaks of the
Rocklin area being readied for public picnics. The picnic area was
called the workman’s grove. In 1884 Rocklin had a brass band that played
for the Grand Picnic. The Grand Ball was held at Burchards Hall charging
$1.00 per person. The supper was held at Soules Hall given by Jacob
Pfosi for $.50 each. Each time a new hotel opened they celebrated with a
Grand Ball that usually lasted all night.
In 1868 the Good Templars organized a lodge and in 1872 the Granite
Lodge #222 of Free Masons was organized. In 1878 a Temperance Society
was organized called the Champions of the Red Cross. One member was
asked to resign as he was seen playing billiards in a saloon where
liquor was sold. In 1887 the IOOF lodge was organized.
The present St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is on 1st Street, was
dedicated on August 13, 1883. It took one year from the time that the
land was purchased from James Boulton for $1.00 until it was dedicated.
In 1893 plans were made to build a Methodist Church, across the street
from the present City Hall where the present library is located. The
Congregational Church was built on Emerson Street about 1900 and was
torn down in 1968 after the new church was built in the present Sunset
area. About 1900 the Apostolic Lutheran Church was built at the junction
of Winding Lane and Lost Avenue on the lot where Roy Ruhkalaï¿½s house is
located. In 1919 it was moved to the Northeast corner of High Street and
Oak Street and then burned in 1964. Another Lutheran Church was built on
South Grove Street on the Hebuck property in the early 1900s and was
demolished in 1963.
In the 1880s many buildings were built in Rocklin so that the west side
of Front Street or 1st Street was a solid row of business buildings.
Between 1st Street and the railroad was the Freight House and the Ice
House and across 1st Street from the butcher shop (granite antique
store) was the firehouse. On the east side of the tracks on Railroad
Street was the railroad depot with the Rocklin and elevation, 249 feet,
sign. Also on the east side of Railroad Street were many businesses
including the Levisons Store which contained the Masonic Lodge on the
2nd floor. After 1890 Railroad Street was the main highway from
Sacramento to Auburn until it was moved to the existing Pacific Street.
The first recorded newspaper in Rocklin was the Rocklin Record in 1870.
Next was the Mountain Echo, which started in February, 1880, but was
discontinued four months later. More successful was the Placer
Representative which started in 1893 with C.E. Dunkel as editor and
proprietor. The four page paper was offered for subscription at $2.00
per year. In 1899 we find the same paper published by Lester J. Skidmore
at the rate of $1.00 per year.
On March 29, 1887, a fire broke out in the Mullinez Saloon on the east
side of Railroad Street and burned all the buildings in the block except
the Levinson Bros. Store. Destroyed was the Rocklin Hotel, Soules Candy
Store, O’Farrells Shop, the Williams Saloon, Cook’s Livery Stable, two
barber shops and several other structures. On the night of March 31,
1891, the Rocklin Depot was destroyed by fire but was shortly rebuilt as
these were busy times in Rocklin. In May, 1893, another large fire hit
Rocklin on Front Street. It burned 25 buildings causing a loss of
$55,000.00. The fire started in the Davies Hotel kitchen and a waitress
whose name was Alice Irish, burned to death; arson was suspected.
In 1893 a race track and a covered grand stand was built on the east
side of North Grove Street where Midas comes into Grove. It was a mile
track and was used for harness racing and horse racing. Some of the
Horse owners who raced their horses were Mr. Blackwell and Mr.
Hendrickson and Mr. Antia, Jr. with “Golden State,” Mr. Hebuck with
“Black Boy” and “Moko Boy”, Pete Johnson with “Billy Jay”, Mr. Scribner
with “Shamrock”, Levinson’s had “Jewess” and many others.
By 1887 the Whitney Ranch produced large quantities of oranges that were
being shipped all around the area and to other states. On April 3, 1889,
a Railroad speed record was set for the Central Pacific when a 20
freight car train of oranges made it to Truckee from Rocklin in 4 hours
and 40 minutes. They were being shipped to eastern markets. In the
1890ï¿½s fruit orchards and grape vineyards were being planted in the
areas to the north and east of Rocklin.
On June 27, 1894, a general strike of the American Railway Union and the
pullman car workers slowed down the railroad activity. The strike was
marked with violence when a train was derailed in Yolo County resulting
in the death of several crewmen. Many loads of peaches and plums were
side tracked and spoiled. About 15 freight car loads of fruit per year
were being shipped from the Central part of Placer County at this time.
The paralyzing strike 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.
On February 23, 1893, the town of Rocklin was incorporated into the City
of Rocklin. An election was held with 182 people voting and a majority
of 48 votes made the town into an incorporated city. The first elected
officials were L. L. DeLano, John Sweeney, P. Coleman, Dewitt Porter,
Dr. J. C. Ford, J. L. Levison, C. E. Dunkell and Joe Fleckenstein. The
first city hall was part of the fire hose house that was across the
street from Barudoni’s butcher shop or the granite building now housing
the antique shop on Front Street.
One of the first things the new city started was to form the Volunteer
Fire Department in July of 1893. It has continued to function to this
present date with the first paid full time fire chief being hired in
1975. The main fire house was combined with the City Hall on the east
side of First Street. A second hose cart station was located at the
present site of the post office parking lot. By July 4, 1894, they had a
well organized volunteer fire department. The firemen paid a fee of
$2.00 to join and monthly dues. If you missed going to a fire without a
good excuse you were fined $1.00 and if you didnï¿½t attend meetings you
were fined $.10. The bills for their first dance were hall rent, piano,
feed for the musician’s horses which totaled $13.25, ice $.75, meals for
the musicians $1.50 and $51.00 for their fee. The present volunteer fire
department still to this day raises their operating money by holding a
In 1899 many improvements were made in the round house for the repair
and maintenance of the engines. Among them was a new Lathe, a hot and
cold water facility and an air compressor. The boring of holes for bolts
was done with a drill run by compressed air. The cutting of bolt heads
was done with an air hammer that would strike 800 blows a minute. The
greatest improvement was a “drop pit” which was used for cleaning and
maintaining the drive wheels on the locomotives. In 1893 the railroad
built a new turn table in the round house. It was longer than the
old one and could house 30 engines. By this year they were already
burning coal and the engines were getting larger, also the tenders were
made larger so they could carry enough coal to last all the way to
A terrible loss
In February, 1905, the news was that the Central Pacific Railroad
planned to enlarge the yards and the roundhouse and make other
improvements. This seemed to assure the prosperity of Rocklin and some
people made property investments looking ahead to good times. The Placer
Herald of March 3, 1906, gave the bad news that the railroad was
purchasing lands in Roseville for the new roundhouse and needed shops.
People didn’t believe these reports at first but a funeral notice was
finally printed. It read as follows:
Died–at Rocklin, April 18, 1908
THE ROCKLIN ROUND HOUSE
A Native of California
Aged 42 Years
Funeral services will be at Porter’s Hall,
SATURDAY EVENING, APRIL 18, 1908, AT 8 P.M.
PALL BEARERS–J. Curran, J. B. Gantry, J. Collins
HONORARY PALL BEARERS–L. W. McCarl, J. E. Arnel,
A. Burke and T. Ronan.
Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend the
funeral, where refreshments will be served.
All equipment was then moved to Roseville because there was a lot of
cheap land and it was the junction of the Oregon line that went to the
north. No one lost their job with the move to Roseville but they did
move over 100 homes to Roseville. Roseville was a small unincorporated
area in 1908 and Rocklin was the second largest city in Placer County.
People moved to Roseville by the hundreds and homes in Rocklin became
valueless so some people burned their houses for the insurance they
carried. The population of Rocklin dropped substantially.
Since the quarries stayed in operation, the population didn’t drop to
its low point until the 1920s when many of the quarries closed on
account of lack of business, and the stone cutter’s strike that took
place in 1921 and 1922. In 1928 there were seven quarries operating.
The fire, that affected present day Rocklin more than any of the others,
was on May 8, 1914, because it burned almost all of the buildings on 1st
Street south of the Trott Hotel. Practically none of these buildings
The presently called “Finn Hall” was being planned in 1904 and completed
in 1905 by the Finnish Temperance Society. It was built by George
Gilmore from Loomis. He had a contract to build the hall but it was said
that he lost money on the venture. Due to the fact that when some of the
outside walls were being erected and braced, a wind came up and blew
them down so he had to start over and finished it in 1905. The granite
work on the front platform and circular steps was very unique in that it
was all donated by the quarries in the area and cut free of charge by
the different stone cutters in the different quarries. The last
surviving people who actually worked on the steps are Charles, Walter
and Henry Halonen. The Hall nearly burned down shortly after it was
built but Mrs. Hill, who lived where the city park (by the City Hall) is
located, saw a red glare through the window and got help to put out the
fire. The damage was restricted to a hole burned in the hardwood floor.
The Finnish Temperance Society later sold the hall to the Finnish
Brotherhood Society who in turn sold it to the American Legion. In 1965
the hall was sold to the City of Rocklin. Many concerts, shows, plays
and graduations have been held in the Finn Hall. The grammar school
graduations were held there until 1952 when the present school was
built. Actually, since the hall was built, practically every function
that took place in Rocklin was held at the Finn Hall.
In the years 1911 and 1912 business was good for the California Granite
Co. operated by Adolph Pernu so the present City Hall was built to be
operated as a company store for the many employees who were working
there. This continued until 1918 when Mr. and Mrs. Moon and family took
over and operated it as a general store until 1940. It was then sold to
the City and the bottom floor became the City Library, moving into this
location from 2nd Street. The city offices from 1st Street were then
moved upstairs and are still located there.
The first park with grass and palm trees was along the east side of the
railroad track south of the depot. It was actually across the tracks
from the Ice House and the City Hall–Fire House. It was owned and
maintained by the railroad and kept in very good condition.
In 1932 the train no longer stopped at the Rocklin station unless it was
flagged down. In 1938 the railroad depot was torn down. This marked the
end of railroading in Rocklin.
Rocklin also had some fairly large stock yards where cattle and sheep
were shipped in the spring by rail to their summer ranges in the
mountains and returned in the fall. The Whitney Ranch and The Johnson
Ranch which is east of Roseville, shipped many thousands of sheep each
year. Cattle were driven from beyond Folsom to Rocklin for shipping by
R.R. These corrals were taken down about 1960.
Rocklin had a city jail built of granite with a small steel window and a
steel door. It was located on the northwest corner of Pacific and Bush
Streets. It was built in the middle 1880s. In 1887 Rocklin rang a
curfew bell at 8:00 p.m. warning all tramps to leave town and the
children to be at home. A watchman patrolled the street to enforce this
order, making Rocklin one of the most orderly towns in Placer County.
The jail remained standing until about 1922. Ernest Willard still has
the key to the jail since his father was the constable for a period of
time. If he put someone in jail for the night, he would have his son,
Ernest, release them in the morning on the way to school.
In writing this history from the start of Rocklin to the 1930s, I am
indebted to family and friends who have given me much written and
unwritten information of the olden days. Many people have given me
pictures that are irreplaceable. I am especially indebted to May W.
Perry, now deceased, who did much of the research while with the Placer
County Historical Society & also grateful to Ernest Willard of Rocklin,
Charles and John Halonen of Sacramento and Henry Halonen of Rocklin.
Bicentennial year – 1976