Ringing up a century of history

St. Mary’s Church restored to glory
By: Susan Belknap, Special to The Placer Herald
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If walls could talk, there would be much said about the inside and out of St. Mary’s Church.
The historic building built in 1883 that now is located on Front Street in Rocklin, has been the site of many congregations and local lore. From being Rocklin’s first Catholic Church to The Church of Religious Science to today where weddings, concerts and local tours take place, St. Mary’s has seen it all.
It’s a labor of love for the members of Rocklin’s Historical Society, many of whom have physically worked on the restoration of the project.
According to society member Ronna Davis, St. Mary’s was built in 1883. Gold Rush era Archbishop Joseph Alemany of the San Francisco Archdiocese dedicated the newly constructed church as Saint Mary’s of the Assumption Catholic Church on Aug. 13, 1883.
Davis said the church survived several fires in the early 20th century, but during the Great Depression and the decline of the granite industry in Rocklin in the 1930s, the church was closed in 1933. Four years later, severe weather and a band of woodpeckers caused the church’s steeple to topple.
In the years that followed, St. Mary’s was used by other religious orders.
But in 2005 when the Rocklin Historical Society heard about plans to demolish the church, plans were underway to purchase the building. Davis said the historical society even helped organize a citywide effort to move the church from its original site about 100 feet from where it is today. Davis recalls the day hundreds of volunteers showed up to help move the 1,200-square-foot sanctuary to its present home, where it has become the centerpiece of Heritage Park at Front Street and Rocklin Road.
Upon its move, Davis and fellow society member Gary Day, said there was much work to be done. Historical Society member Gene Johnson became the restoration project manager and Sally Huseby, the landscape designer for the project. Historical Society President Roger Lokey signed on as site designer and the work began.
The guidelines to restore the 100-year-old structure were to try to return the building to its original appearance, to add an annex and to equip it to be able to serve the community for weddings, memorial services, meetings and small concerts.
“The original fir floor was pretty beat up,” Lokey said. “But it’s what’s here now. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this project.”
Lokey said the walls and ceiling are all original 1- by 4-inch redwood bead board and the siding of the building is also original redwood that has been extensively repaired.
As for the windows, they’ve been changed from rectangular to a Gothic style, which is consistent with the original framing and exterior trim.
Historical Society members are especially proud of the doors of the chapel, which Johnson said are made of redwood from the J.P. Whitney estate from around 1885. Outside, a patio with a ball fountain, trellises and landscaping have played host to several weddings and a recent concert by William Jessup University choir members.
A 375-square-foot annex with all new construction, handicapped entry and a multiuse room and bathroom can be utilized for brides, ministers and performers.
Day said a tradition recently began where after a wedding is conducted, the bride and groom are invited to ring the bell, which is 28 inches in diameter and weighs 600 pounds.
“The bell has been provided by the Rocklin Community Covenant Church and was cast in 1885 in San Francisco,” Davis said.
The Rocklin Historical Society completed its restoration in September of 2007 and renamed the building, “Old Saint Mary’s Chapel.”
“This is a gift to our community for all to use,” Day said.
For information about scheduling an event at the chapel visit or call 415-1150.

Old St. Mary’s Chapel
Where: 5251 Front St.

For more photos: St. Mary's Church restored to glory