Most miners who flocked to California following James Marshall’s historic discovery in 1848 had little thought of staying. They intended to get rich and return home by fall. Consequently, the rich agricultural region of southwestern Placer County was largely ignored during the early years of the gold rush. This “plains” region as it was called by forty-niners, although rich in agricultural opportunities, was thought to be devoid of gold.
The story of Roseville had its beginnings in the aftermath of the fabled California Gold Rush when discouraged gold seekers left the mineral regions to take up farming along those rich creek bottom lands earlier ignored. These intrepid pioneers, many of whose descendants still reside in the area, formed the nucleus of what was to become the “first families” of Roseville. One of the first sections of southwestern Placer County to be settled was the rich lands of the Dry Creek District.
Among the pioneer settlers of the Dry Creek District was Martin A. Schellhous who came to California with his wife and acquired a 240-acre ranch. Having brought a number of cattle with him from Michigan, Schellhous turned his attention to stock raising. Later diversifying and expanding his agricultural pursuits, he planted vineyards, orchards and fields of grain on his property. His youngest son Earl recalled before his death in 1960, that their apple orchard and vineyards were among the first in western Placer County. Martin Schellhous died in September 1873, at the age of 54.His wife survived him by 33 years, passing away in 1906.Their children divided up the ranch and continued to farm the family property. Earl Schellhous, the last of the surviving Schellhous boys, ran cattle on the old home ranch until shortly before his death, thus making the Schellhous ranch one of the oldest continuously operated ranches in the area at the time. Six generations of the Schellhous family have lived, and continue to live, in the Roseville area.
Martin Schellhous – City collection
Mrs. Schellhous and sons – City collection
About the time Martin Schellhous located in the Dry Creek District, Thomas S. Dudley was engaged in business in Sacramento. While in Sacramento, he married Eleanor Stuart in 1850 and pursued the hog raising business. Facing steep competition from other markets, Dudley and his wife moved to the Dry Creek District where land could be acquired cheaply. Due to an abundance of acorns, hogs could be sold profitably for 25 cents a pound that other competing shipping businesses could not match. In the Dry Creek District, Dudley purchased Gifford Poor’s squatter claim for $200 and received a government grant for an additional 320 acres; by 1878, the ranch totaled 710 acres. It was in a little barn on the Dudley ranch in 1865 that Roseville’s first school came into being. The family home, however, burned to the ground in 1879 followed shortly thereafter with Dudley’s death. The ranch lying adjacent to Dry Creek continued on in the hands of two of his sons-in-laws: Robert Theile and Alvah J. Sprague.
Thomas S. Dudley – City collection
Another pioneer rancher of the Dry Creek District was Josiah G. Gould, who headed north to the Dry Creek District in the early 1850s and eventually settled on a ranch extending through what would later be bounded by Dry Creek and present P.F.E and Walerga Roads. Having established title to his original ranch properties, Gould brought his family from Pennsylvania to California in 1854 via the overland route and began an uninterrupted 125 years of occupancy. Grain and livestock proved to be mainstays for the ranches of the period before wide-scale irrigation allowed for grapes and other fruits. Large scale farming however is no longer practiced on the Gould lands for most of their once extensive holdings have been sold off and today are sites of modern subdivisions. The last Gould to actively farm the ancestral lands was Arthur V. Gould, born on the family ranch in 1881 and died there on Nov. 11, 1976.He worked as a rancher and gardener continually for more than 70 years up to a few short months before his death. Today, numerous members of the Gould family reside in and about the Roseville area.
The year following Josiah Gould’s arrival in Roseville (1855), Tobias S. Grider acquired 640 acres of government owned land where Roseville’s railroad switching facilities would later be located. Grider sold his properties to the California Central Railroad in 1859 when it was in the process of extending the iron rails from Folsom to Lincoln. After moving to North San Juan, Nevada County for a period of time, Grider returned to the local area in 1861. However, he soon left for southern California in 1862 where he spent most of his remaining years. He died at Downey on June 29, 1886.
Northwest of Roseville is the fertile land along Pleasant Grove Creek. Surviving records show that this district was populated as early as 1854. One of the pioneer settlers of the Pleasant Grove District was a man named Leet, who settled on 10,500 acres of land with government script. Leet was subsequently bought out by Stephen A. Boutwell, who commenced ranching in the Pleasant Grove region in 1856.
Walter F. Fiddyment - City collection
Young Walter F. Fiddyment, in company with his widowed mother Elizabeth Jane Crawford Fiddyment, arrived in the Roseville area in 1856.From that time on, the Fiddyment name has played a prominent role in local agricultural interests. Elizabeth Fiddyment arrived in California in 1854 and initially settled in the Elk Grove section of Sacramento County with a sister and a brother-in-law. She reunited with another sister near present day Roseville two years later along with her new husband George Hill, whom she had married in 1854, and their children. She entered into farming with her sisters and their husbands in the Pleasant Grove District and later obtained her own parcel of land from one of her brother-in-laws in payment for a debt. The couple expanded their already extensive land holdings; however, tragedy struck and Hill died in 1861, leaving Elizabeth Fiddyment to run the ranch and care for the children. Despite her ranching responsibilities, she still found time to play an active role in the creation of the informal Pleasant Grove School on the family ranch and even served as its first teacher. Her presence in the community was keenly felt as she cared for the sick and the infirm at any hour of the day. In 1869 she married for a third time to Ashby Jones Atkinson who also in 1903. When it became evident that Roseville was destined to become more than just another shipping station along the railroad line, Elizabeth Fiddyment purchased much of the unsold portions of the original town site. In 1906, part of her land holdings were subdivided into what became the Atkinson Tract in present day Roseville Heights. Atkinson Street perpetuates the memory of this pioneer rancher, business woman, humanitarian and mother who so much typified the spirit of western womanhood during the nineteenth century. She passed away on June 19, 1906 and is buried in the Fiddyment family plot in the Roseville cemetery.
Southeast of present day Roseville, in Sacramento County, is an agricultural region originally known as the San Juan Grant. A pioneer settler of this area was Peter Van Maren, who took up residence there around 1850.At the time of Van Maren’s death in 1876, he had acquired 787 acres of land valued at $23,000.
Zachariah Astill, a native of England, also settled near the Dry Creek District with his land straddling the Placer and Sacramento counties. After residing in St. Louis for three years, his large party of friends and family joined a wagon train headed for California via the Great Salt Lake route. Many members of the Astill family stayed in Salt Lake while Astill, wife Ann and young son James pushed on to California in 1852 and took one of the first land grants in the area southwest of Roseville. Besides farming, Zachariah Astill operated a small blacksmith shop providing services for other ranchers and farmers in the area. The tools Zachariah Astill brought with him from England are still in the hands of the family and are treasured possessions. Zachariah Astill and many other local settlers provided their ox teams and horses to aid in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad through the area. This pioneer agriculturalist died on Nov. 19, 1874 followed by his wife Ann on Aug. 15, 1877. Both are buried in the pioneer cemetery at the corner of Broadway Street and Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento. After the death of his father, James Astill continued to farm the vast tract of land. When the state highway was rerouted through Sylvan Corners on a direct line to Roseville in 1912, Astill provided the land for the direct approach into town. A charter member of the Methodist Church in Roseville, he assisted in building and maintaining the church. At the time of his death on May 24, 1923, Astill was considered one of Roseville’s leading citizens and the owner of numerous rental properties in town. The old Astill family home, located along what later became known as P.F.E. Road, burned to the ground in 1950. Although having long since disposed of most of their once vast land holdings, numerous descendants of Zachariah and Ann Astill still live, work and raise their families in and about Roseville.
Zachariah Astill and his wife – City collection
J.F. Cross settled near Antelope in 1854 or 1855, and at about the same time John Aiston commenced farming the area between the southeastern corner of Sylvan Corners to the vicinity of where the San Juan High School now stands on Greenback Lane.
Surviving records show that John R. Dyer, born in Missouri in 1833, located here sometime between 1854 and 1857 subsequently becoming one of the pioneer settlers of the Center Joint District (west of Roseville extending to the Sacramento River). An active member of the embryo town of Roseville, Dyer was one of the earliest members of Roseville Lodge No. 203, I.O.O.F. and for a time (1870s-1880s) associated with J.D. Pratt in the operation of the Pratt & Dyer brick kiln on Dry Creek at the foot of Taylor Street. His wife, Julia Agnes Dyer, died on May 22, 1896 and Dyer himself lived until Aug. 19, 1913. His son continued operating the ranch until 1956 when it was sold to Mr. Ross Riolo.
Northeast of Roseville between the present towns of Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln lies the famous Spring Valley Ranch – founded by George Whitney in 1855. When Whitney commenced raising sheep there, the entire region was unfenced and open to settlement. Whitney retired in 1868, turning over his interests at that time to his sons, Joel Parker Whitney and F.L. Whitney and later died in 1913.F.L. Whitney disposed of his interests to Joel Whitney in 1872, who continued to operate the historic old ranch. By 1882, there were some 4,000 acres under cultivation on the Spring Valley Ranch and it reached an outstanding total of 21,764 acres ten years later. Joel Whitney continued to operate his vast land holdings until his death on July 23, 1924. Members of the Whitney family occupied the famed “Oaks” mansion until 1946 when the ranch was purchased by a Washington State lumberman. In May 1960, the Spring Valley Ranch was acquired by the Sunset City Corporation and plans were announced for the development of a completely integrated industrial-commercial residential community. Work on the initial phases of this undertaking began in the spring of 1962.
Pioneer ranchers of southwestern Placer County were not primarily interested in crop agriculture. Prior to the coming of the railroads, stock raising was their principal source of income. Several reasons led ranchers to this option. First, there was an abundance of good grazing land, and many preferred to engage in stock raising rather than the more laborious work of tilling the soil. Secondly, before the arrival of the railroads, there was no way of getting perishable commodities to market except by slow, plodding ox teams. And lastly, little water was available for irrigating this dry portion of the county until ditches were brought into the region by such organizations as the North Fork Ditch Company. With the advent of the railroads, wheat, hay and other grains particularly adaptable to dry soil were grown. Still later viticulture and horticulture were developed.
East of the San Juan Grant near the juncture of today’s South Cirby Way and Old Auburn Road was the Half Way House, a popular stage and express stop on the Sacramento-Auburn Road. Numerous stock ranches were located in the vicinity of this busy way station, situated midway between Sacramento and Auburn. The Half Way House was also known as the 18 Mile House. In the days before automobile odometers, the only way the traveling public could gauge distances was by these numbered houses; some public inns, others private residences. Today, only the 12 Mile House (now empty and boarded up) and the 14 Mile House (still a private residence) remain from the bygone era of slow moving teamster wagons and crowded stagecoaches winding their way laboriously over the Sacramento-Auburn Road. The Half Way House remained a busy stage and teamster stop until the advent of the railroad.
Work began in 1855 on what became California’s first railroad, the Sacramento Valley Railroad, which extended 22 miles between Sacramento and its terminal at Folsom. This pioneer line was completed in February of 1856. At Folsom, numerous connecting stage and express lines met trains for transfer of freight and mail to stagecoach and express wagons delivering to up-country locations. Residents of southwestern Placer County and the mining country lying to the north, however, were far removed from Folsom and benefited little from the Sacramento Valley Railroad and continued pressuring for an extension of that line to meet their needs.
In the spring of 1857, The California Central Railroad Company was formed in Sacramento to extend the Sacramento Valley Railroad from Folsom to Marysville, gateway to the Northern mines. Charles Lincoln Wilson, who had been a leading force behind the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was the key figure in promoting the California Central. Work began on surveying land between Folsom and Marysville in June 1857, after which rights-of-way were purchased from land owners along the proposed route. One of these land owners was Tobias S. Grider, whose ranch lay directly along the proposed route. Grider, well aware of the increased value of his lands by the coming of the railroad, sold a strip of land six rods wide for $1. The deed of sale also provided for purchase of additional lands, if deemed necessary, for a depot, side tracks and other necessities. Grider’s belief that passage of the railroad through his property would increase its value proved to be correct. Two years later (November, 1859), he sold his ranch totaling 374.62 acres to Tabb Mitchell, editor and publisher of Auburn’s Placer Herald, and George L. Anderson for $1,500 and left the area. Work started on the first division of five miles in November, 1858. By March, 1859, a work force of 150 laborers had completed grading from Folsom to the Half Way House.