Rocks, Rails and Ranches

Rocklin Hose Company No. 1

By: Gary Day, Special to the Placer Herald
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In the early 1890s, demand for Rocklin’s light-gray granite building stone grew steadily and Rocklin’s quarries were at peak activity. Rocklin’s railroad roundhouse employed 300 people and businesses flourished along Granite Avenue (now Rocklin Road), Front Street and Railroad Avenue.
But periodic fires continued to plague Rocklin’s downtown business district, as they had since the late 1860s. In 1893, as a nationwide economic depression was forming, fire consumed 25 business places from the Trott Hotel (now the Crossroads Church) southward along Front Street. An equally disastrous fire a year later flattened the business block on the opposite side of the tracks along Railroad Avenue.
It was in this context that Rocklin Judge John H. Gregory convened a series of meetings in the upstairs room at Porter’s Saloon in the spring of 1894 for the purpose of forming a Rocklin Fire Company. At the third meeting, on June 4, 1894, each of 17 men paid a $2 initiation fee, elected officers and founded Rocklin Hose Company Number One, Rocklin’s first fire department. The group elected Irishman William J. Byrne as company foreman, Rocklin’s first fire chief. Every man was an unpaid volunteer.
The company’s fire rig was a two-wheeled hose cart stored in a barn-like garage in the south side of Rocklin’s first City Hall on Front Street, on the exact spot of today’s Old Saint Mary’s Chapel. The cart carried a 100- to 150-foot reeled fire hose.
In some American cities in the 1890s and early 20th century, neighborhood fire alarm boxes were linked via telegraph-like circuits to firehouses. A person spotting a fire rushed to an alarm box and pulled down a handle, sending a location-coded alert summoning the fire company. But Rocklin employed a fire bell located near City Hall for this purpose. A person spotting a fire would walk, run or travel on horseback, possibly as far as a mile, to pull the fire bell rope to summon the fire company. A person from the east side of town might have to wait for a train to pass before crossing the tracks to pull the rope.
Read more about Rocklin’s first volunteer firefighters in next week’s Herald.