One hundred and fifty years ago Rocklin was established as a town – and 100 years ago it nearly burned to the ground.
Also a century ago, a duel at the town’s Blackwell-Henderson livery stable between a trouble-making saloon keeper and the town marshal left both men dead.
The year 2014 is a big one for Rocklin history buffs.
“We are marking both a sesquicentennial and a centennial,” said Dan DeFoe, president of the Rocklin Historical Society and Sierra College history professor. “The sesquicentennial marks the establishment of Rocklin – and the centennial marks the shootout that killed the marshal and the horrendous fire that destroyed downtown.”
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DeFoe will speak about the historical events at a talk scheduled for Sunday, covering three developments that played a key role in shaping the town’s history:
• The Feb. 18, 1914 shooting of Marshal Sam Renaldi was well-documented in The Sacramento Bee. Uledi Holmes, the owner of a downtown bar, had been drinking that day.
He had already threatened to kill an employee, Ella Hovey, who worked for him in the restaurant he ran in connection with his saloon. That evening, Holmes went to Hovey’s home.
Renaldi, Constable George Willard and Willard’s son also went to Hovey’s home. Inside the home, they could hear Holmes once again threatening Hovey.
Willard’s son Alfred went to the door and pushed it open. Holmes ordered Hovey to see who was there, and, when she went to the door, Alfred Willard grabbed her hand and jerked her outside to safety.
Later in the evening, several men, including the constable and marshal were at the livery discussing the events at the Hovey house.
“Holmes sauntered in,” according to The Bee. “He appeared in a vicious mood.”
Constable Willard talked to him, moving slowly in his direction, fully aware that the barkeep carried a pistol in his hip pocket. Marshal Renaldi was partially behind the constable.
According to the historical society’s account by member Gary Day, Holmes reached for his pistol and Renaldi fired. Holmes was hit in his stomach.
Holmes fired, hitting Renaldi in his right side. Marshal Renaldi fired three more times, hitting Holmes above the heart, in his right arm and in the right shoulder.
The two men slumped to the ground, and would later die in Sacramento hospitals. The bullet that hit the marshal struck a rib, flattening and ripping 17 holes in his intestines, which were stitched by doctors in a futile attempt to save the lawman.
The city paid Renaldi’s mother $1,515 in compensation. Holmes’ saloon burned down in 1922.
“It was kind of like Rocklin’s OK Corral,” said DeFoe.
• Fires were a constant threat to the town, which was protected by a volunteer fire department. Fire Chief James Clydesdale was sitting in front of the Porter Building on May 3, 1914, when perhaps the worst fire in Rocklin’s history erupted. Clydesdale heard a faint cry for help that day and went around the corner of the building to see smoke rolling out of a barn, according to The Bee.
The fire swept through Front Street, heavily damaging or destroying many buildings such as barns, saloons, a hotel, an undertaker’s parlor, a confectionary and notion store and a “movie show,” according to The Bee.
• The Central Pacific Railroad started transcontinental railroad construction eastward from Sacramento in 1863, according to the historical society’s Day. By early 1864, tracks had crossed the Sacramento Valley floor and in March reached Rocklin’s granite quarries.
The railroad used granite blocks for tunnels and culverts, and scrap granite for rail beds, as the rails extended into the Sierra.
Prior to 1864, Rocklin’s Federal Census District was called Secret Ravine and the population of about 430 was centered near gold mining operations. As the quarries flourished with the coming of the railroad, and the gold dwindled, the population shifted toward the rail line.
By June 1864 the Central Pacific saw the need for a passenger terminal. History doesn’t record the origin of the name for the new population center and passenger terminal, according to Rocklin historians.
However, a Central Pacific passenger timetable in June 1864 shows the Central Pacific had chosen the name Rocklin.