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Homepage > History > 1890s

1890 - 1900


By 1890, it had become clearly evident that if further growth and development were to take place in Roseville, the townspeople would have to develop the community’s industrial potential, which remained largely untouched. Roseville “has a promising future,” wrote one farseeing individual in February 1890, “if she would only make use of her many natural advantages to secure the establishment of a box factory, winery, flouring mill and/or other such projects which would realize additional revenue for the town. ”This perceptive advice did not go unheeded, and between 1890 and 1905 several very important steps were taken, notably in the fields of agriculture, which did much to ensure the continuation of Roseville’s economic growth and development.

The opening months of the year 1890, however, gave little indication of the increased activity that was to come. During the long rainy season of 1889-1890, business activity was at a standstill. Whether this was one contributing factor in J.D. Pratt’s decision to sell his long established business is not known, but in any event, the pioneer merchant sold out to William Sawtelle and P.V. Siggins that long, dreary winter. As the ravages of winter continued, many townspeople came down with “La Grippe,” and the town’s two doctors, Ballou and Finney, had their hands full taking care of the sick. The rainy season finally began to abate in March, and the town gradually shook off the effects of the terrible winter.


W.M. Sawtell store – City collection


Siggins' store – City collection

Businesses soon began to pick up again after the terrible winter. J.M. Fitzgerald, Ed Hammill and a Mr. Edwards, who operated the town’s three blacksmith shops, all reported doing flourishing business as surrounding farmers began to flock into town.

However, hovering over this façade of a return to good times was a cloud of gloom. In March of 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad went bankrupt, followed by the National Cordage Company. In May, a number of banks failed and the resulting shortage of credit led to many other business failures. Within a short time, some 20 percent of America’s labor force was unemployed, in what was to become the worst depression in our nation’s history at the time. The Panic affected farmers from all over the nation. Overproduction of wheat and other farm products, coupled with a nationwide depressed economy, resulted in farm prices falling below the cost of production.

The Panic had a disastrous effect upon Roseville’s economy, which largely depended on agriculture. In the absence of any bank, local merchants J.D. Pratt, W.A. Thomas and W.J. Branstetter acted as unofficial bankers, carrying farmers’ and ranchers’ accounts on the books until the harvest was in. However, since overproduction caused the panic, farmers could not meet their obligations, which had a profound effect on local merchants who subsequently could not meet their own loan and mortgage payments.

Pratt, who had seen bad times coming back in 1890, disposed of his business interests and left town. Branstetter, in deep financial trouble, sold out for whatever he could get and left for Dunsmuir. During these troubled times, many discouraged locals were giving up and leaving town, selling out for low prices and, in many instances, just walking away from bad situations.

Many people had fallen on hard times, but it seemed their luck began to change when news reached Roseville that Jesse Blair had discovered gold in paying quantities near town. Shortly thereafter, additional specimens of ore were reported to have been taken from a bed of gravel half a mile from the community. These, and similar reports, changed Roseville from a lethargic little village to a virtual beehive of activity. Speculators poured into town from the metropolitan areas to investigate the reports.

By 1894, the mounting interest in mining had reached “gold craze” proportions near Roseville.Mining interest continued on a high plane throughout 1897, but from that time on, little or no activity was reported. Whether the gold deposits were quickly exhausted, or the ore proved to be of such low grade as to make mining unprofitable, has not been determined, but in any event, Roseville’s mining boom ended as abruptly as it began. The only traces of Roseville’s short-lived mining industry still remaining are a few piles of overgrown tailings located along the Roseville Freeway, just north of town.

While Roseville was engaged in its brief but spectacular mining boom, a less spectacular but more permanent development was taking place in the field of agriculture. On Jan. 5, 1895, the Placer Herald revealed that Mr. F.W. Staunton of Orangevale had shipped the first commercial carload of fruit (oranges) from the Roseville depot. From this initial shipment, the fruit shipping business played an increasingly important role in the economy of Roseville, which, until then had almost solely been dependent upon surrounding grain and stock ranches for its existence. The newly-organized fruit shipping business continued to expand throughout the summer of 1896. Three companies, the Co-op, Loomis Fruit Growers Union and the Porter Brothers, had representatives in town, and it was expected that a great deal of fruit would be shipped from Roseville that season. Fruit growing until 1899 was on a limited scale, mainly for home use, but the heavy harvest that season seemed to assure continued growth. The Schnabel Brothers, who at that time were the sole shippers at Roseville, opened the season on May 8 with a shipment of cherries. Later, peaches, two thousand crates of prunes and an experimental shipment of plums left from the Roseville depot. W.A. Clark managed the Schnabel Brothers local packing house which was housed in the old Thomas wagon, carriage and paint shop on Atlantic Street.

One of the first and most important commercial orchards in the vicinity of Roseville was established by Lewis Leroy King, Sr. in 1890. King moved to Roseville with wife Catherine Heller in 1890 and set up 11,000 fruit trees – cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, almonds and figs at his home (Elm Court) on the old Tassie ranch. King was responsible for establishing the first permanent real estate and insurance business in Roseville in 1890. His role proved to be instrumental in the organization of the Roseville Telephone Company along with Gottlieb Hanisch and others later in 1910. King acquired a bell in 1890 from an abandoned church in Sacramento which he used to call the hired men in from the eighty acre orchard. In later years it became a town custom to ring this bell on New Year’s Eve, a practice that Mrs. King continued until her death in 1941. When the railroad boom struck Roseville in 1906, King subdivided his orchard into what is now the Cherry Glen section of the community and gave his daughter Lelia the task of naming the streets.


S.S. King and his wife – City collection

Another early day orchard in Roseville was that of Willis Albert Clark, who erected a fine home on the corner of what is now Oak and Judah Streets in 1895. Clark had been successful in various lines of agriculture, and as a cattleman and a horseman before turning his attention to commercial activities in Roseville by 1908. Between that year and 1917, Clark engaged in a very successful livery business with Howard H. Stone, until the advent of the automobile. After 1917, Clark remained active in agriculture and was the owner of three full-bearing vineyards which were operated by his sons. He was one of the organizers of the Railroad National Bank of Roseville (1921) and served as director. Clark later died on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 1930. Today, his residence on Oak Street, is occupied by Lee Photography. His daughters, Mrs. Iva Knapp and Mrs. Elva Heller, lived in the old family residence until 1962 when the rigors of failing health and advanced years necessitated their moving to a rest home.

The excitement generated by Roseville’s short gold rush, coupled with increased activities in the field of horticulture and viticulture precipitated an increased interest in the commercial and industrial development of the community which had remained static since 1888.

One of the first people to capitalize on the influx of people to Roseville following Jesse Blair’s discovery of gold, was Aaron Ross. According to his granddaughter, Mrs. Iva Maguire, Ross acquired J.B.R. Davis’ Roseville Hotel from a man named Payne in May, 1891 and reopened the old establishment under its new name – The Ross Hotel. The Ross House, as it was more commonly called, served as one of Roseville’s major hostelries until it was consumed by flames in July, 1898. The Ross House was a popular gathering point for locals to socialize and where children could come and pet Ross’ two pet deer. The Ross House burned in 1898 but construction of a new hotel began immediately and The Western Hotel opened in 1899 under the management of Ross’ son-in-law C.H. Barker. Ross retired to his home located on Lincoln Street until his wife’s death where he then moved to live with his son in Santa Cruz. Widely popular among residents, Ross played in integral role in the I.O.O.F. and the Farmer’s Grange.


Ross Store


Western Hotel

Shortly after the construction of the Ross House, W.J. Branstetter installed Roseville’s first telephone in his place of business. Little commercial activity was reported between June 1891 and April 1893, but by the latter date the mounting gold craze, which drew hosts of newcomers to Roseville, had severely overtaxed the town’s limited facilities. As a result, Roseville’s long dormant building industry quickly revived. The enterprising Branstetter opened a new lumber yard behind his hall on Pacific Street. Between the months of July and October, Branstetter disposed more than 40 carloads of lumber. The Towle Brothers bought out Branstetter in October 1893 and immediately announced their intention of building a fine office and residence for their local agent, E.A. Dickey.Six years later (1899), the vast Towle Brothers lumbering firm purchased Royer, Siggins and Sawtelle’s brick industry. From the first of the year to September 1899, more than 600,000 bricks were manufactured at the Towle Brothers Roseville Plant.

Roseville’s industrial development continued when Jerry Gremore secured a contract in August 1893 for cutting and pitting peaches obtained from the Orangevale colony. A large force of girls reported to be working for Gremore at this time. Four months later Will Butler constructed a slaughter house on the hilltop site now occupied by the main building of Roseville High School.

The year 1894 opened on an air of prosperity for the continued growth of Roseville. Mounting interest in mining had reached “gold craze” proportions; the hotels were crowded; and the town was reportedly “full of strangers,” some of whom proposed to stay. Thomas, Roseville’s pioneer merchant and leading booster, spent many hours acting as a “one man Chamber of Commerce” speaking the praises of Roseville to any passerby who would listen.

Under this wave of optimism, Roseville continued to grow and flourish.Warren Bee opened a new store in March, 1894. Five months later Mrs. Berry reopened the Golden Eagle (Scott) Hotel, after first having made extensive repairs. N. Stevenson purchased Bee’s store in September and the following month Leonard & Ross opened a new butcher shop in the Berry building. William T. Butler also opened a meat market in 1894 near the corner of Lincoln and Vernon Streets.

Roseville’s pioneer merchant and most enthusiastic supporter, W.A. Thomas, died on March 26, 1895, but the firm of Thomas & Son continued to serve the mercantile needs of the community as before under the direction of his son L.D. Thomas.

On Jan. 14, 1896, the citizens of Roseville organized the “Roseville Board of Trade,” the forerunner of today’s Chamber of Commerce, for the purpose of making known the advantages of the Roseville area throughout the state and nation. At a subsequent meeting in February, the Board decided to send H.M. Swazey, an experienced real estate man, to the east to extol the virtues of Roseville and its vicinity.

The mercantile firm of Sawtelle & Wearin commenced building a large brick warehouse in May of 1897, opposite the C.F.T. Icehouse. Then in July, a movement was initiated to bring another metropolitan wonder to Roseville – the telephone.E.A. Dickey was sent to Sacramento to complete arrangements with the Capital Telephone Company to extend their lines from Orangevale to Roseville, and shortly thereafter, work was started on extending the line between the two communities.

The C.F.T. Icehouse later burned down in November of that year. It was believed that a band of hobos had broken into the icehouse and while building a fire to keep warm, had accidentally burned the place down. Constant trouble from the “wanderers of the road” throughout the 1890s, coupled with the seemingly ineffectiveness of the local constable in handling the problem, led many citizens to consider the possibility of organizing a Vigilance Committee in 1897. Evidently this procedure never became necessary, for no further mention of the formation for such a committee appeared in contemporary accounts. It is probable that the constable, under the constant prodding of townspeople, rose to the occasion and dispersed the hobos.

The year 1899 marked the opening of P.V. Siggins’ store on Atlantic Street. Siggins, who was born in Warner County, Pennsylvania in 1833, moved to the Roseville area in 1874 and worked for many years at the blacksmith trade, first in Antelope and then in Roseville. By 1892, he became associated in the general mercantile business with William Sawtelle in J.D. Pratt’s former store. By 1893, Siggins and Sawtelle, along with Tom Royer, established a new brick yard near Dry Creek. Ill health caused Siggins to sell his interests to Mr. Wearin in 1898 and he remained idle for a year before opening a small mercantile business on Atlantic Street where a bulk of the trade was provided by dressmaking and millinery business conducted by his wife. In 1906, the Siggins Atlantic Street property was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad and the building was moved to the new Atlantic Street where it served as an ice cream parlor by J.J. Watson until it burned in 1907. Siggins died the following year.

Mrs. Caraven opened a bakery in May of 1899 in the old Neher saloon building next to Towle Brothers lumber yard on Pacific Street. Later that same year, William T. Butler opened a new butcher shop on the corner of Atlantic and Lincoln Streets.

William T. Butler, a native of Evansville, Indiana, came to California with his parents in 1852 and later moved to Roseville in 1878. In 1899, Butler opened a butcher shop at the corner of Atlantic and Lincoln streets. When the original Atlantic Street was pushed back to accommodate for the railroad expansion (1908), Butler sold his property to the railroad and commenced building a new shop on the corner of Lincoln and new Atlantic streets. Butler used part of the building as a butcher shop while the other part served as a new post office. In 1909, Butler was elected to the town’s first Board of Trustees. He commissioned the building of a two-story concrete structure in 1914 – the bottom portion for his shop and the upper portion to be rented out as office space. Though extensively remodeled, the building still exists today and is used for offices of the Roseville Telephone Company. The Depression, however, caused Butler to sell his Lincoln Street property. Determined to continue, he opened up his fourth and last butcher shop on Main Street in 1930 which he operated until shortly before his death in 1940.His partner – Glen Hardison – continued to operate the butcher shop until he retired in 1976.


Butler and his butcher shop – City collection

Since the town had no banking house of its own, the Holt brothers (local town capitalists) served as unofficial bankers, lending money to local businesses due to their previous success in gold mining. William, Henry and John Holt made Roseville their headquarters for their shipping business in 1864, but did not move to Roseville until 1883. The brothers owned a large brick warehouse located along the railroad tracks that served as storage for hay and grain purchased for shipment. In 1895, they bought 200 acres of land from W.J. Branstetter before he moved to Dunsmuir.


Holt banking building – City collection

Times were “lively” in Roseville as the nineteenth century came to an end. The streets were reported to be crowded with fruit, hay and wheat wagons and the town’s three warehouses reported reaching full capacity and freight wagons were leaving daily loaded with lumber.


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