Much of western Rocklin is astride the southern 12,000 acres of the Spring Valley Ranch of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is property which Rocklin annexed while the city’s population grew during the past 45 years.
Historian Richard Miller, in his Joel Parker Whitney biography, Fortune Built by Gun, tells us that there were 25 miles of roads on the ranch. One road connected Downtown Rocklin with the ranch’s headquarters about 3 miles to the west. This road included twelve granite bridges. Who built these bridges and why? Where are the Twelve Bridges now?
In the early 1870’s, Joel Parker Whitney, called Parker then, gained control of the ranch from his father George Whitney who had started the ranch in 1857 with a 320 acre purchase west of what is now Downtown Rocklin. George, Parker, and two of Parker’s five brothers, had prospered at the ranch by producing high quality wool from a special crossbreed of Saxony and Australian Marino sheep. The group had added thousands of acres during the late 1850s and 1860s by pre-emption and by purchasing property from homesteaders and the Central Pacific Railroad.
Parker had become wealthy during the 1860s, mainly from his investments in Colorado gold and silver mines. Gilpin County Colorado records show that Parker was a principal in a mining company that filed ownership on more than 150 gold claims in 1865.
Parker traveled widely and continued to invest wisely in the late 19th century, mainly in Colorado mines and California real estate projects. He also invested heavily in New Mexico mines and ranches but it is unclear whether these were profitable for him.
Parker traveled to and from Europe often, once famously to the 1867 Paris Universal Worlds Fair and Exhibition as an ambassador from the Colorado territory, promoting investments in Colorado mines. He developed a close relationship with Lucy Chadwick in England in the late 1870’s and fathered a son, J. Parker Whitney, by her in London in 1878. A second son, Vincent Whitney, was born while the couple was in New York in 1880.
By the early 1880s, Parker, now in his mid forties, had been through two childless marriages and was ready to settle down with Lucy and the two children. Although he continued to travel frequently, he decided to establish his permanent residence at his Spring Valley Ranch near Rocklin. He married Lucy in Sacramento in 1882.and embarked on a six year project to convert parts of the ranch into a baronial estate for his family.
Parker and Lucy were enamored of Lucy’s English culture and developed their estate with English themes. Later this affinity for things English would motivate Parker to develop the Placer County Citrus Colony, a project to attract Englishmen to the area to buy citrus ranches north and east of the ranch in Clover Valley, Penryn and Loomis.
Parker flattened about 5 acres on a knoll overlooking the ranch’s headquarters and started construction of his Oaks mansion in 1884. He built tennis courts nearby and set aside 4,200 acres for English-style fox and rabbit hunts. Later Parker surrounded the Oaks with a golf course. He tended his own garden of vegetables and spices in the style of an English gentleman. 1884 also saw the birth of the couple’s youngest child and only daughter, Helen Beryl Whitney.
According to records by Parkers own hand, he spent $6,826.46 building stone bridges between 1883 and 1888 while he was building the Oaks and his family’s estate. This is the only period during which Parker’s records show bridge construction. So there is little doubt that Parker built his Twelve Bridges in the mid 1880s.
Neither Parker nor Miller left a map, so the exact route of the road from Rocklin to ranch headquarters and the locations of all of the Twelve Bridges on that road are unknown. However Miller lived at the Oaks as a child and young teenager in the 1930s and 1940s when the ranch buildings and roads were still largely intact. He would have known the locations of the bridges and he would have traveled over them. So there is little doubt that there were actually 12 bridges on the road.
There are at least nine granite bridges visible in Rocklin’s landscape, at least six with keystone arches as might be seen in stone bridges of the English countryside.
There is a bridge on the seventh hole of the Sunset Whitney Country Club Golf Course, barely visible in the rough, almost entirely buried during course construction in the early 1960s. This is the bridge closest to Downtown Rocklin and could be the first bridge on Parker’s road to his headquarters. There is also a mostly buried bridge on the 8th hole, possibly the second bridge on that road.
Another bridge is the often photographed centerpiece of Clover Valley Park. This is possibly the largest of the Twelve Bridges. Former Rocklin Mayor and quarry operator Roy Ruhkala recently determined that the granite in this bridge is from the 19th century Griffith Quarry in Penryn. None of the known bridges contain granite from a Rocklin quarry.
All of the bridges show rough but skillful forming of their constituent granite blocks. From Parker’s notes it appears that he contracted for construction of his bridges with a local quarry operation possibly with Griffith Griffith, owner of the Griffith Quarry in Penryn. There are three bridges on the Whitney Oaks Golf Course. One of these is in daily use on the twelfth hole. One is in the rough on the thirteenth hole and one is out of sight, covered with vegetation, on the fourteenth hole.
There are three bridges in the Mansion Oaks neighborhood. One is in Mansion Oaks Park. Two are in weedy fields nearby; one of these two shows extensive dismantling. The granite blocks in Parker’s bridges are similar to stones that beautify home landscapes.
Granite was an often-used construction material in our area in the 1880s, so Parker might have built granite bridges in places other than on the road that Miller describes. Because we don’t know the exact route of Parker’s road we can’t be certain that the bridges that we see today are actually among the Twelve Bridges described by Miller, although, the bridges on the Sunset Whitney Golf Course, the one in Clover Valley Park and two in the Mansion Oaks neighborhood are clearly aligned along a route from Downtown Rocklin to ranch headquarters.
Nevertheless, at least three of Parker’s Twelve Bridges are missing. Perhaps the three have yet to be discovered, or perhaps they yielded to bulldozers as developers reshaped Rocklin’s landscape during the past 45 years.