The busy town of Penryn bases its prosperity upon the enduring granite, and a more solid and lasting foundation could not be found or desired. The town is located on the line of the Central Pacific Railroad, eight miles southeast of Auburn, twenty-eight miles from Sacramento, and at an elevation of 610 feet above the sea. The population, as given by the census of 1880. was 238; but the vote of the precinct in the same year being 91, a larger population is indicated by growth of the granite quarries in the neighborhood, which were opened in 1864. This was not at once made a station, and passengers to and from Penhryn - as it was then spelled, after its patronym in Wales - were obliged to go to some oilier station. Later a station was established, and the spelling of the name changed by Judge Crocker to suit the modern method of simplicity. Penryn owes its existence and prosperity as a town to Griffith Griffith.
The proprietor of the celebrated Penryn granite quarries. This gentleman is a native of Great Britain; was born December 8, 1823, at Ty Gwyn, Llanllyfni, Carnarvonshire, North Wales. His parents were David and Mary (Roberts) Griffith, the father being superintendent of a large slate quarry in that country. The elder Griffith died when the subject of our sketch was but fourteen years of age, leaving a family of seven children, the youngest being but one year old. Hard labor on the farm, to aid the mother, burdened by heavy taxes and high rents, added to the support of the large family, occupied the next five years of his life. At the age of nineteen, he went to work in the slate quarry, and soon became foreman over a gang of thirty men.
In June, 1847, Ms. Griffith came to the United States, taking a sailing vessel via Quebec, and making his way to the granite quarries of Quincy, Massachusetts. There he obtained employment of Wright, Barker & Co.; first as a quarryman, and then as a stonecutter. For this firm he wrought sonic years, at Quincy, Milford, and Lynnfield, in Massachusetts, and at Millstone Point, in Connecticut, for Barker &-Hoxie, of Philadelphia.
In 1853 he removed to California, arriving in San Francisco on the 14th of April, of that year. His first effort in this State was in mining at Coloma, and afterwards at Mormon Island and Negro Hill, in El Dorado County. There the bedrock was granite, and along the river banks were immense boulders and projections of this rock, glistening with the polish of the waters, and as hard as adamant. The experienced quarryman viewed these as his familiar companions of past years, and here was promised a vocation more to his taste than the precarious search for gold. But of Mr. Griffith's experience in this new line of business for California, we will relate in our notice of the Placer County granite.
Mr. Griffith is fond of society, and is a genial companion. His wife is a native of North Prospect, Maine, her maiden name being Julia Ann Partridge. lie is a member of the Masonic Order, a Knight Templar, Thirty-second Scottish Rite, Knight Defender of the Shield and Star, and a life member of the Cambrian Mutual Aid Society. In politics he is a Republican since the Charleston Convention of 1860, but, never has held or aspired to office.
PLACER COUNTY GRANITE
While fruit-growing, the product of gold, raisin manufacturing, the grain interest, wool-growing, lime burning, pottery manufacturing, smelting of iron ore, the production of wines and brandies, and other industrial interests in which multitudes are engaged, are noted in their proper order in this work, there is another important industry, which, though even at this time may be considered large, is yet in comparative primacy This is the quarrying, dressing, and preparing of granite for builders use. This primitive rock occurs in a zone which, upon the eastern side, reaches well up in the foothills - to an elevation, approximately, of 800 feet - and crops out as far to the westerly as a height above the tide level of about 150 feet, at which point the abrasions of centuries have washed down and hidden it under the undulating surface of the higher plain lands, where it is no longer seen. This granite zone extends across the entire county from north to south, and is visible in width, from east to west, a distance of at least twelve miles. In traveling through the granite region, one is impressed favorably by the peculiar aspect of the landscape; with the smooth roads, which are without dust in summer and mud in winter, the white-oak, with its hanging mosses; the first appearance of the silver leafed pine; the live-oak with deep verdure; the chaparral and the buckeye, with an occasional bush of holly; while not infrequently will be seen monumental nodules of the solid granite itself rising to a height of twenty or more feet, that have been left as the erosion of thousands of years of frost and sunshine has worn away its surroundings, leaving it unscaleable without the aid of ladders - a reminder that once the overhanging cliffs of granite looked down upon a deep, yawning chasm, now occupied by the fair valley of the Sacramento.
The pioneer worker of granite in California for budding purposed is Mr. G. Griffith, whose works are illustrated in this book. His experience was brought into requisition in the year 1853, by the Meredith Brothers, at Folsom, Sacramento County, in testing the quality of some large granite boulders, which were then lying near the American River, at Negro Bar, to determine the worth of the material for constructing large buildings. The granite proving to be of fair quality, Mr. Griffith soon had large contracts at Sacramento, and opened his first quarry of importance near Mormon Island, While established in that locality, he furnished the granite used for all buildings of importance in the State, such as the Adams & Co.s Express, Sacramento; for the fortifications at Alcatraz, Fort Point, and other costly structures.
As the demand for cut granite steadily increased with the progress of the State, in 1864 Mr. Griffith located a quarry at Wildwood, on the line of the Sacramento, Placer & Nevada Railroad, and when this road was destroyed he moved to the Penryn Quarry, upon the line of the Central Pacific Railroad - thus securing most advantageous shipping facilities. Ibis location being nearly in the center of the granite bell, the stone is here found to be of a superior quality to that lying nearer either the eastern or western edges of the zone, in that it is entirely free of iron, and, therefore, never changes color from atmospheric effects, nor, where polished and placed in position in buildings, or as monuments, can Tunes corroding tooth mar the beauty of its glassy and faultless surface. In appearance, the Penryn granite is beautifully mottled in white and black, equally proportioned, and in larger spots than that of the granite from quarries nearer the edges of the zone, while occasional dark-gray - knots - of varying sizes and form occur to relieve the block or column of monotonous color.
Besides the mottled granite principally wrought, there are several other kinds at the Penryn works equally susceptible to finish, and quite as durable. One of these is a beautiful black granite, polished columns and ornaments of which can be seen in most of the important business buildings and private mansions of the State.
Samples of the several kinds of granite were sent to the Centennial Exhibition, as a part of the Central Pacific Railroad Companys cabinet exhibit, and were pronounced to be the best in the world with reference to freedom from iron, and liability to stain or abrade. This fact brought it to the notice of the officials of the Interior Department, at Washington. whose duty it was to report upon the building materials of the United States, who wrote to Mr. Griffith for samples, which were sent.
And yet, with such quarries as these in Placer County, to the derricks of which are laid the rails of a commercial highway; where there is no difficulty in procuring all the building material necessary for the wants of the whole Pacific Coast, in as large blocks as any contract ever called for; when the present United States mint at San Francisco was built the architect saw fit, for some reason the outside looker-on cannot divine, to only procure a portion of the rock used therein from the California quarries, obtaining the rest from British Columbia, a sort of sandstone in which there is iron, and which being laid above the California granite, sends down upon it, from its own discolored surface, unsightly stains which nothing but the chisel and hammer can efface.
In 1874 Mr. Griffith erected at the Penryn quarry a large polishing mill, the first and only one of the kind in the State. This building is 200 feet long by 40 feet wide, with a polishing capacity of 100 feet per day. A fifty-horse power engine is the motor. There are two stone-polishing carriages for flat surface work, 26 feet long by 6 feet wide, worked by a spring wheel driven by two belts. A block of stone weighing upward of ten tons can be polished with ease upon these carriages. There are also two polishing pendulums in the mill, as well as eight vertical polishers, so arranged that the operator can readily handle them for the smallest and most intricate portions of his work either upon flat surfaces or moldings. Two large end powerful lathes occupy space in the building, upon which are placed, and turned, and polished, granite columns often tons weight. Railroad tracks are laid in the building, and cars run immediately under each of these polishing and turning machines to deliver the rough granite, and again receive the polished block or column.
The granite of Placer County is steadily gaining favor, and this industry must increase us the years go by, as a feeling of permanency obtains among the population, and those of other generations appear upon the scene, who know no other home but California. Then will wood be discarded as the principal material for building, and the eternal granite, so easily obtained, more generally substituted.
Other extensive granite quarries besides those at Penryn are also in operation in Placer County. Mr. Griffith has one at Rocklin, also; and A. D. Hathaway and J. N. and J. W. Taylor have large, fine quarries there, with steam hoisting apparatus. and many men constantly employed At Pino there is also n good quarry opened.
Myron Angell, History of Placer County, California (Oakland, California Thompson & West, 1882) Excerpt provided by Roberta Murray.