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 1860’s. In 1893, as a nationwide economic depression formed, 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 seventeen men paid a $2.00 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 100-150 foot reeled fire hose.
By the early 1930s Rocklin’s volunteer fire fighters had acquired a four-wheeled fire cart that they sometimes pulled with an automobile. They acquired their first motorized fire engine, a converted Dodge truck, in 1936. That unit will be on display and available for rides at The Rocklin Historical Society’s Fourth Annual Legacy dinner on Saturday May 2, 2009 at the Sunset Center. Byrne’s most recent successor Rocklin Fire Chief Bill Mikesell will drive the fire engine and keynote the festivities. Dinner starts at 7:00 pm. Admission is $40.00. Call Gay Morgan at 624-2355 for tickets. Fire engine rides start at 6 pm and are free.
Proceeds of the Legacy Dinner will benefit the society’s project to build a replica of the original firehouse next to the Old Saint Mary’s Chapel near the corner of Rocklin Road and Front Street in historic Downtown Rocklin.