Written by Elizabeth Pinkerton
Call it Main Street, call it Old Town, or call it our treasury of history. Whatever name you give it, this special place is the heart of our great city of Elk Grove. In that east west stretch of road from Elk Grove-Florin Road to Waterman, we find our roots, and it is there that the foundation of our city was created and developed. Almost everything that we do today in Elk Grove can trace its origins to the area around those railroad tracks that mark the center of our Old Town.
Not only did many of our businesses get started on that long ago Main Street, but so did our fire department, our water service, and our Chamber of Commerce. In addition, we have two great historical markers to note great progress in education that took place there, and both were first in California! We had the first union free high school in 1893 and the first free county library branch in 1908. Main Street/Elk Grove Boulevard was the dividing line between the properties of two brothers, Joseph and George Harvey Kerr, who bought the 320 acres in 1852. Although the Elk Grove Stage Stop goes back to 1850 and it gave us our name, the town of Elk Grove started on the Kerr property a few years later in 1868 when the railroad came through.
The Western Division of the Central Pacific Railroad made its way south from Sacramento to Stockton, and it came across the Kerr property. It did not take long for business men to recognize the potential that the railroad would bring to the area, and Elk Grove has never been the same. Our main street had two names to the east. It was known as Elk Grove-Sheldon Road, and to the west it was known as Elk Grove-Franklin Road. And, to the north, as we still call it today, was Elk Grove-Florin Road.
Central Pacific built a railroad depot on the east side of the tracks, south of today’s Main Street. Little did the railroad folks, the Kerr brothers, or the first business folks know that a great city would rise from their efforts of so long ago. It took a while, but finally in the year 2000, the city of Elk Grove was born, 132 years after the railroad came through.
The Cox Brothers opened a store in the railroad depot in the new site of Elk Grove, and that was all it took to get things moving. By 1869, even the post office had moved over to the new location. It was Julius Everson, a farmer, who was the first to really recognize the potential of Elk Grove as a center for the farming community. Situated as it was in the midst of a growing agricultural industry, and with the great potential of the railroad to fuel that growth, Everson realized the possibilities of business success. There was only one problem. Everson had no capital to start a business. This did not however stop him; he formed a building association, and his plan quickly became successful. The Elk Grove Building Association was incorporated in January of 1876. It only took seven months to construct the first building, and by August, they had a 30 x 60 foot building open for business. Everson and his partner, Mr. Chittenden, began with a large stock of general merchandise, and in just 16 months, they claimed to have had sales of $52,000. Amazing – but this was just the beginning!
What happened in the next two years is almost unbelievable. Business growth, even though it has steadily increased in the past hundred years, has never been like the growth that took place in the two year period between 1878 and 1880. The 1880 History of Sacramento County (Thompson and West) listed a variety of businesses on the new Main Street, the shining star of 1880 commerce. This is what had developed in that short time:
- Railroad House, a hotel built by M.H. Davis; William Hicks, proprietor.
- Elk Grove Hotel, built by the Building Company in 1876; J. W. Martin was the proprietor.
- Elk Grove Flouring Mills, 1876 by H.S. Hill. They boasted of three run of stone with a capacity of 80 barrels of flour a day. The mill was run by steam power and was leased to Beaty and Leslie of Sacramento.
- General Merchandise Store, run by Everson and Chittenden, the founders.
- General Merchandise Store, run by J.N. Andrews.
- Central Pacific Rail Road, Agent, J. N. Andrews.
- Wells Fargo & Company’s Express and Telegraph Company.
- Furniture Manufactory, D.J. Nelson.
- Hardware and Tin Store, opened in 1877 by A.K. Longenecker.
- Meat Market, J. W. Martin.
- Drug Store, Dr. C. S. Bradford.
- Drug Store, A. W. Vance.
- Harness Shop, Clarence Parker.
- Variety Store, W. H. Talmadge.
- Warehouse, a frame building 80 by 100 feet, fitted to receive grain and hay. It was built in 1877 by Lewis Bower for $5,500.
- Dressmaking Establishment, Mrs. A. J. Longenecker.
- Millinery Store, Mrs. F. M. Jones.
- Millinery Store, Mrs. Marr.
- Boot and shoe store.
- Carriage and wagon manufactory, John D. Hill.
- Blacksmith shop, James Chinnick.
Those were all the new businesses that developed in the growing town of Elk Grove in the 12 years after the railroad came through in 1868. In 1880 there were 19 businesses lined up on both sides of the railroad tracks on what later was known as Main Street.
According to records we have, by 1887 there were even more places of business on Main Street than there had been in 1880. The Toronto Hotel and Saloon was there, and the Masonic Building had been constructed in the center of town. Not to be out-done, the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) built a big two story building too. Those two buildings still stand, although both were destroyed by fire and rebuilt, the I.O.O.F. building 1892, and the Masonic Building a century later in 1991.
Sometime between 1880 and 1887, Elk Grove’s most colorful business was born, for it is first listed in the records of 1887. It was the Iron Jaw Saloon, and another saloon, known as Bob’s Club today, is the oldest building in Elk Grove. It is the only building that survived the disastrous fire of 1892.
Agriculture was definitely the reason for all this rapid growth in our town of Elk Grove. Wheat was being raised most successfully all over the Elk Grove and Cosumnes River region. Yields were recorded at 25-30 bushels per acre. Barley too was very productive with reports of 30-40 bushels per acre. The good river bottom land with its outstanding quality of grasses was producing very profitable hay for landowners. By 1880 however, things changed. The mining debris from the upper river did no favors for farmers’ fields. Other crops were introduced, and this diversity paid off handsomely in future years.
It is interesting to note how community needs have changed over the years. Certain transitions are easy to figure out such as the blacksmith shop being replaced by today’s gas stations, and instead of carriage and wagon manufacturing, we have sales of new cars and trucks.