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Historic fire destroys most of business district

Rocks, rails and ranches
By: Daniel Defoe, Special to the Placer Herald
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Editor?s Note: This is the fourth in a four-part series on the historic fire of 1914. DeFoe, a history professor at Sierra College, presented the story at the Rocklin Historical Society annual installation dinner in January. Early in 1914, a slumping quarry industry seemed to signal more decline. Even Rocklin?s racetrack, considered the finest east of Sacramento would close that year. In April, however, residents faced their biggest tragedy. April third, a quiet Sunday, dawned clear and beautiful. As the morning passed the winds began to pick up reaching nearly gale force by the afternoon. Suddenly, the first tongues of fire began flickering and leaping in the back of DeWitt Porter?s Livery Stable on Front Street where 200 tons of hay was stored. The winds whipped the flames through the dry fuel and quickly turned Front Street ? the heart of Rocklin?s business community ? into what one newspaper reported ?one of the most disastrous conflagrations that has ever swept this part of the country.? What chance did Rocklin?s firefighters have against this? The answer was none. The firestorm swept north from the livery stable devouring a barbershop, the Porter Saloon, a candy shop, the Burchard Hotel and the Bank Exchange Saloon. The flames headed south turning Porter Hall and every structure between it and the granite walls of the Barudoni Building (which still stands) to ash. Three fire engine companies were called from Roseville, but by then Front Street seemed to have dropped down into hell. The best firefighters could do was protect other parts of the city and watch the fire burn itself out. Rocklin, once called by a local newspaper ?a community destined to be one of the best towns in the region? was reduced to ashes. None of the businesses lost that day were ever rebuilt. Interestingly, amid the smoke and settling ashes, the Rocklin Firemen?s Association met the day after the fire. True to the association?s preference for mentioning in their minute?s fines and mundane business, not a single line appears about the previous day?s disaster. However, the association?s treasurer was ?ordered to pay? an obviously overdue debt of $4 for a floral wreath sent to Sam Renaldi?s funeral. The following year labor strife in the granite industry led to the closing of many of the city?s quarries. In 1922 a move to disincorporate Rocklin went to the ballot box, but failed. The people of the city of Rocklin refused to give up, a testament to the spirit and granite will of pioneer families, like the Ruhkalas. They assumed control of what once had been the California Granite Company and rebranded it the Union Granite Company and through the Great Depression and another world war helped keep the community going. Rocklin at last saw its rebirth in the 1950s. As a new century unfolds, it is the history of Rocklin?s railroading and Granite past that today?s community should help protect, preserve and remember. If you?re interested in learning more about Rocklin?s history, attend the Rocklin History series scheduled to start March 14 at 7 p.m. at Old St. Mary?s Chapel, 5251 Front St. (at Rocklin Road).