O, Pioneers: Instead of finding gold, Roseville’s first families found homes, new beginnings

By: Brad Smith -- The Press Tribune
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It was the gold in them thar hills that spurred Roseville’s beginnings – but some of the city’s founding pioneer families were not gold miners. “I wouldn’t even call them failed gold miners,” said Phoebe Astill of the Roseville Historical Society. “Gold might have been the reason for them moving here. But when they got here they saw other opportunities.” Ohio-born Martin Schellhous made a small fortune in mining along the American River in 1850. He left for Michigan and returned to California in 1852, a newlywed and with a small herd of cattle. He had a ranch in the Dry Creek area. Along with cattle ranching, Schellhous raised grain and planted vineyards and orchards. Astill said the Schellhous family continued raising cattle on the family ranch well into the early 1960s. “It was one of the oldest family-owned ranches in the state for some time,” she said. Another opportunist, Thomas Dudley, arrived in California during the 1849 Gold Rush. “Dudley learned how to build stone walls and fences while living in Massachusetts,” Astill said. “While he came here initially to mine for gold, Dudley found another opportunity to make money.” He found himself in the stone removal business, Astill said. “He cleared stones from the riverbeds which helped the miners,” she said. “Dudley would pile stones like a wall and the stones couldn’t fall or roll back into the riverbed.” The stone removal enterprise proved profitable. In fact, he made more money than some gold miners. “Dudley then opened a store selling equipment and supplies to miners,” Astill said. “In time, he started raising pigs and expanded into ranching. He did quite well for himself.” John “Jack” Doyle left his native Canada to start ranching in the Roseville area. In 1874, he married Clara Mertes, a daughter of another pioneer family. Aside from ranching, Doyle saw the value of real estate. “In the 1890s, Jack Doyle started buying up properties believing that their value would increase over time,” Astill said. “He was right – but he died before could cash in on those real estate ventures.” The site of the old Doyle Ranch soon became home to Roseville’s first shopping center, Roseville Square. Astill herself is a scion of one of Roseville’s pioneer families. “Zachariah Astill came here in 1852,” she said. “He was English and arrived in America a few years before with his wife and son.” Astill started farming and opened a blacksmith’s shop, which his neighbors appreciated, she said. “In time, the family had a large ranch and worked with other pioneer families in building Roseville into what it is today,” Astill said. Unlike some communities whose pioneer families shunned newcomers, Astill said Roseville’s pioneers were open and welcoming. “Roseville always accepted newcomers,” she said. “ No matter one’s skin color or what country they came from, the community accepted them. Take Jack Doyle, for example – an outsider, a Canadian, marrying into a pioneer family. “In some places, that didn’t happen. But Roseville was different.” Kirk Doyle, Jack’s great-grandson, agreed with Astill. Doyle feels that many of Roseville’s pioneer families never forgot their ancestors’ work ethics and beliefs. “There was never any pretenses or folks acting like they were better than others,” he said. “I remember Friday or Saturday nights when men got together and played pool. You’d have the cook from the local Denny’s playing alongside the mayor or police chief – everyone would be laughing and having a good time.” Doyle followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps by starting his own real estate business. “You can say it’s in my blood,” he said. “Jack was a hard worker and good businessman. Even though he didn’t live long to see his vision take shape, I think he’d be proud of how far the family and Roseville has come.” While many people would leave a place once the gold was gone, Roseville’s pioneer families stayed as the town soon became a railroad boomtown. “Yes, gold lured many of them out here but they found something else that made them stay,” Astill said. “For some of them, the idea of making a home for themselves and their families was more important. Whatever their reasons for coming here and staying, they shaped who we are today and who we can be tomorrow. “To do something like that is far more important than gold.” Brad Smith can be reached at