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Historic events transformed Rocklin's downtown

Rocks, Rails and Ranches
By: Dan DeFoe, Special to the Placer Herald
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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series on the historic fire of 1914. It was originally presented at the Rocklin Historical Society’s annual installation dinner. This year marks the 148th year since the name Rocklin first appeared on a Central Pacific Railroad time card. For today’s city, 2012 promises new opportunities and new challenges. It will be a time for new ideas and new energy in the efforts to build a city center incorporating Rocklin’s proud history and heritage. This article, the first in a series, revisits 1914, a rather dark year in the city’s past. In that year Rocklin endured a fiery crucible that sent what had been one of the region’s most important towns into immediate, though thankfully, impermanent decline. The dramatic events of 1914 can be seen as a culmination of transformative forces at work during the previous decade. After 42 years of municipal growth spurred by Rocklin’s important role as the regional locus of railroad traffic that linked quarry operations to building projects all over the state, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company decided to move its roundhouse from Rocklin to Junction (Roseville). The 26-stall roundhouse that serviced over 1,000 engines a month had been a primary reason for the town’s growth and prosperity. The move was accomplished between 1906 and 1908 and Rocklin’s importance as a center of railroading in California ended. Then in 1909 a fire on Railroad Avenue wiped out nearly 10 Rocklin businesses. Without a roundhouse, there was little incentive to rebuild. Despite the setback Rocklin still boasted an impressive center of town along Front Street. Quarrying operations in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake kept residents busy. Perhaps the city might yet revive and thrive. Sadly, it was not to be. Destructive fire was commonplace in the 19th and early 20th centuries in towns and cities throughout the Gold Country and elsewhere. The combination of combustible building materials and feed for animals coupled with the inability of available firefighting technology to cope with a quickly spreading fire often made for disaster. If you are interested in learning more about Rocklin’s history, attend the first in a series of presentations at 7 p.m. on Monday at Old St. Mary’s Chapel. Author Arnold Kunst will give presentation on Mary Surratt and her role in Lincoln’s assassination.