For centuries, the area around what is now known as Downtown Roseville was home to oak groves and a few groups of Maidu Indians. However, in the first half of the 19th century, some of the adventurers drawn to the California Gold Rush began to settle in the region. Taking advantage of excellent grazing land, early settlers with names like Astill, Fiddyment, Atkinson, Pratt, and Dyer established ranches and raised livestock.
Then, in 1855, work began on connecting Sacramento to Folsom with the Sacramento Valley Railroad. Railroad expansions, from Folsom to Marysville in 1857 and then eighteen miles east out of Sacramento in 1864, eventually intersected in “Junction.” The completion of the Central Pacific Railroad resulted in new towns and increased settlement. In the Junction area, investors named Cirby, Doyle, and Kaseberg began to establish themselves and their families. A Sacramento businessman, O.D. Lambard, laid out a city with numbered blocks on both sides of the railroad. Some streets were even given names: Pacific, Atlantic, Washington, Vernon, and Lincoln.
Although the history behind the name "Roseville" remains open to conjecture, local historian Leonard “Duke” Davis notes that the first mention of Roseville in the newspaper appeared during the 1864 presidential race. Apparently, the people of Roseville cast 29 votes for the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and 17 for Democrat General George McClellan.
Roseville’s first store was opened in 1865. The Old W.A. Thomas store was located at the corner of Atlantic and Lincoln Streets. Still, Roseville’s growth was slowed when Rocklin was selected as the site for the area’s major railroad facility. It would be years before pioneer Theodore Judah’s vision of Roseville as the western hub of the railroad industry would be realized.
The 1870’s and 1880’s were periods of slow but steady growth in Roseville. Although Southern Pacific Railroad absorbed the Central Pacific Railroad in 1887 little else changed regarding railroad operations. In the 1890’s, however, the area began to bustle with activity as orchards began to ship fruit out of Roseville. Still, the greatest changes were yet to come.
At the turn of the century “Roseville Junction” continued to experience slow growth. Then, in 1906, everything changed. Southern Pacific Railroad announced that it intended to move its railroad switching yards from Rocklin to Roseville. The Big Move would take two years to complete. Atlantic Street was even moved back 100’ to accommodate new tracks.
Pacific Street, followed closely by Lincoln Street, quickly established itself as the center of the economic boom created by the railroad relocation. The Roseville Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1906 to serve as town council and to consider much needed infrastructure improvements. In July of 1908, the first issues of The Press Tribune were published. After inspecting the new Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator plants, Southern Pacific announced that all fruit cars would now be iced in Roseville.
Public sentiment, despite some opposition from Southern Pacific, was for incorporating as a city. After a vote of the community supported this action, the City of Roseville was incorporated on April 2, 1909. William Sawtell was subsequently elected the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Roseville’s first mayor. In 1901, Vernon Street became the site of the City Hall. State Highway 40 was routed along Riverside, Vernon, and Lincoln Streets in 1912. From 1910-1919, the population of Roseville increased over 70%.
Significant construction on Vernon Street, and a huge fire on Pacific Street in 1911, started to shift the business center of Downtown Roseville. Projects constructed included the Carnegie Library in 1912, the Roseville Theater in 1926, and Fire House 1 in 1927.
The Great Depression deeply impacted the City of Roseville in the 1930’s. And yet, spurred by federal programs and determined citizens, a number of projects added to the landscape of Downtown Roseville. These included the Citizen’s Bank of Roseville, the opening of the J.C. Penney Co. and Veteran’s Memorial Hall (1930), the City Main Post Office (1935), and the expansion of the City Hall Annex (1936). The Placer County Fair was also established on a 76-acre lot at the northern edge of town in 1937.
In the 1930’s Roseville citizens voted to become a “charter city.” This gave residents the ability to change how their city was governed. In addition, the city acquired the privately owned Roseville Water Company. City owned utilities would prove to be a hallmark of Roseville and a model for other California communities.
During World War II the Roseville community sent 1,250 men and women to war. This was approximately 20% of the city population; a percentage that Duke Davis speculates was one of the highest in the nation. The war also created a shortage of workers. The Pacific Fruit Express and Southern Pacific hired students, women, and recruited Navajo Indians from Yuma, AZ and Mexican Nationals to meet their staffing requirements.
Although most of the development in Roseville during the 1940’s focused on new homes and auto related businesses along Riverside and Vernon Streets, there were some other notable additions. The Tower Theater opened in 1940 followed by the Roseville Meat Market in 1945 and Denio’s Farmers Market and Auction in 1947. Work also began on a highly anticipated railroad underpass near Washington Boulevard and Oak Street.
The completion of the Washington Boulevard (Seawell) Underpass in 1950 helped to clearly establish the area south of the railroad tracks, including Vernon and Atlantic Streets, as the primary business district in Downtown Roseville. Conversely, the area north of the tracks, Old Town, would begin a gradual decline that would last for decades.
Southern Pacific updated and expanded their local operations. By 1952, Roseville was home to the largest and most modern rail terminal west of Chicago. The diesel driven locomotive had replaced the steam engine.
Roseville voters approved a city manager/council form of local government in 1955. Construction of Interstate 80 was completed in 1956. During this time the business center of Roseville began to shift from Downtown to East Roseville along Douglas Boulevard, Harding Boulevard, and Sunrise Avenue.
By 1960, the population of Roseville was 13,421. The Roseville Shopping Center on Harding was opened in 1961. All in all, the decade of the 60’s was marked by steady growth and the continued expansion of business into East Roseville.
There were two significant occurrences related to the railroad operations in the early 1970’s. On April 28, 1973 a munitions shipment traveling through Roseville caught fire. The resulting explosions caused millions of dollars in damages and injured over 100 people. Fortunately, no one was killed. Then, in 1974, the Ice Plant that was such an integral part of early Roseville was torn down.
Otherwise, things were much the same in the 1970’s. A new Main Library at the corner of Taylor and Royer Streets was added in 1979.
The population of Roseville had reached 24,347 by 1980. From this point, Roseville entered an era of unprecedented growth and development. Ultimately, Roseville would emerge as one of the ten fastest growing cities in California. These changes can be partly attributed to the expansion of Hewlett Packard and NEC into Roseville.
In 1985 the city acquired the Bank of America building on Vernon Street. After renovations were completed this building became the new city hall in 1987. Amtrak brought passenger rail service back to Roseville. Foothills Boulevard was expanded in order to pass 30 feet over the Southern Pacific tracks and “West Roseville” began to experience significant residential and commercial growth. The Roseville Auto Mall, one of the largest auto retail complexes in the nation, was opened in 1989.
Despite all the residential development taking place throughout Roseville in the 1990’s, the growth of business continued to exceed the available labor supply. During this decade, it is estimated that approximately 20,000 people drove into Roseville for work each day.
Union Pacific Railroad acquired Southern Pacific in 1995 and established Roseville as the Northern California hub of the nation’s largest railroad. This resulted in a huge expansion to the Roseville railroad yard.
The whirlwind of development activity in the 1990’s resulted in a significant number of new projects including the Galleria and Del Webb’s retirement community. In addition, the City Council identified the revitalization of Downtown Roseville as a key objective. The Council charged the Roseville Revitalization Committee (RRC) with identifying and recommending policies and programs that would establish a comprehensive approach to revitalizing Downtown Roseville.
During the past decade, the community in Downtown Roseville has aggressively worked to revitalize the area. Public improvements include completed streetscape projects on Atlantic Street, Vernon Street, Historic Old Town, and Riverside Avenue. A 550+ space parking garage on Vernon Street was completed in 2007 and a five story privately owned office building was constructed directly adjacent to it. The Vernon Street Town Square opened in August of 2013 and has been actively programmed with events every since.