The Rocklin area that early miners traveled through to the gold mines east of Sacramento was made up of groves of oak trees with Digger Pine mixed in. In this area, the hills took shape and formed a valley that was covered with grass. The many Indians that lived in this area hunted small game, and used the acorns, pine nuts, berries and other plants that are native to this area for food.
The gold rush of 1849 slowed, and men were looking for a business venture. An early settler named Hathaway, seeing the granite boulders above ground in the Rocklin area, decided to open a quarry. This early day quarry furnished some of the base core of the California State Capitol. The first loads of granite were hauled by drawn wagons. Later the Central Pacific Railroad arrived in Rocklin in May 1864 and granite was hauled by freight car.
Early settlers included many people of Irish descent who worked for the railroad and the quarries. Chinese and Finnish settlers started arriving in numbers in the 1870’s. Around the turn of the century, over 50% of the population were people of Finnish descent. Spanish and Japanese settlers began to arrive in the early 1900’s.
Rocklin is a city that has granite under it and around it, and no one has ever bored through it to find the 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.
In the early 1890’s there were about 30 quarries operating at one time, many of these cutting street curbing for the larger cities. Some of the buildings made with Rocklin granite include the Bank of Italy, now Bank of America, the United States Mint in San Francisco, part of the state capitol, California National Bank, city hall and the county jail in Sacramento, Oakland Auditorium, Stockton Courthouse, Solano County Courthouse, dry docks at Pearl Harbor and Mare Island, Placer County Courthouse, Rocklin City Hall, Rocklin Barber Shop (now an antique store on 1st Street, Monterey Breakwater and many other buildings. Also many thousands of tons of granite have been used in Sacramento River Levee maintenance. Gold was really the incentive that brought people to the area, although no big gold deposits were ever written about in the Rocklin area.
The Central Pacific Railroad provided easy transportation and hastened the hauling of building granite to the cities where it was needed. Consequently, Rocklin was selected as the site of the roundhouse, which was built in 1868 because this was the so-called bottom of the hill.
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 where they mined for gold and raised vegetables to sell to area residents. Many vegetables were raised in the China Gardens area on the Secret Ravine Creek in Rocklin. On June 27, 1873 the roundhouse burned, destroying ten locomotives and tenders. It was slowly rebuilt using granite in the walls to make it more fire proof.
As Rocklin and the railroad grew, so did another enterprise – Spring Valley Ranch. Joel Parker Whitney, Rocklin’s own remarkable western pioneer. In 1852 penniless and only seventeen years of age, he passed through on his way to the Placer gold fields. He stopped in the lower foothills to camp out, thinking someday to claim this land for his own. Hoping to make enough money to make his dream a reality, he started out on a hunting market venture that literally brought him a fortune in one year. Joel Parker Whitney returned home with his father, George Whitney, in 1856 to purchase the first section of 320 acres of land located at the edge of Rocklin and to found 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 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.
In February 1905, news spread that the Central Pacific Railroad planned to enlarge the yards, 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.
*History of Rocklin condensed from the 1976 Bicentennial article by Roy Ruhkala.