While attending an antiquarian book fair, I stumbled across some photos of Rocklin, California from 1914. Several of the photos had descriptions on the back along with the name M. E. Reitenour. The photos are very good quality, so I decided to investigate the potential photographer and the image of the infamous Rocklin fire of 1914.
There are four photos of Rocklin that look to have been produced after the original capture, sometime possibly in the 1950s or 1960s. They are in a horizontal 4” x 6.5” format suggesting 35 mm film. There were several commercially available consumer cameras in the 1910s that accepted 35 mm film. What caught my eye was the clarity of the images with nice contrasting details. The individuals in the photos are relatively sharp implying a camera with a fast shutter speed and a fast film speed.
Who took these historic Rocklin photos?
Two of the photographs are street scenes of Railroad Street in Rocklin and a third of Burchard’s Hotel is on Front Street. These streets were part of Rocklin’s business district and fronted the Southern Pacific railroad tracks close to the passenger depot. If these are reprints, some of the negatives had inscriptions on them about the location and dates. (As 35 mm film is relatively small, this may indicate a larger film type).
So, who took these photos? One of the photos is published on the Rocklin Historical Societies website. All of the photos, on the back, have a hand written note, in ballpoint pen ink, M. E. Reitenour, Rocklin, Cal. In addition, in pencil, is a description of the photo. The description intimates a familiarity with the town and people. One photo of the Burchard’s Hotel is described as “Before the fire.” Another lists the names of the people in the photo, “…Alex Levison and Rose Mary…”
From my research using Ancestry.com and the California Digital Newspaper Collection, M. E. Reitenour was Myrtle Euretta Reitenour, born to James Waddell and Ida (Clow) Waddell on May 15, 1882. Myrtle also had a younger brother Joshua Waddell who went by the name of James Waddell, who was born on September 6, 1894. The family, while moving to different homes, always lived in Rocklin. James Waddell, the father, worked for Southern Pacific Railroad.
On the 1910 census, the family was living on Railroad Street in Rocklin. James Waddell’s occupation was listed as Station Agent. In 1914, Myrtle would have been 31 years old at the time of the May 4th fire that swept through Rocklin. Her brother would have been 20 years old.
MATCHES START SERIOUS FIRE, Business Center of Rocklin Swept by Flames Started by Children. ROCKLIN. Cal., May 4. —Children playing with matches started a fire here yesterday that swept the business district and resulted in a property loss of $30,000. The fire started in the rear of the Dewitt Porter building and a stiff south wind fanned the flames until the. entire business section was a roaring furnace.Riverside Daily Press, Volume XXIX, Number 106, 4 May 1914
FIRE AT ROCKLIN. ROCKLIN, May 4. —Fire, which started in a hayloft here yesterday destroyed more than $30,000 worth of property. – Morning Union, 5 May 1914Morning Union, 5 May 1914
Fires were a constant threat to the town, which was protected by a volunteer fire department. Fire Chief James Clydesdale was sitting in front of the Porter Building on May 3, 1914, when perhaps the worst fire in Rocklin’s history erupted. Clydesdale heard a faint cry for help that day and went around the corner of the building to see smoke rolling out of a barn, according to The Bee. The fire swept through Front Street, heavily damaging or destroying many buildings such as barns, saloons, a hotel, an undertaker’s parlor, a confectionary and notion store and a “movie show,” according to The Bee.https://www.sacbee.com/community/roseville-placer/article2589507.html
The photo of a barn burning is dated May 8, 1914. While the description of the photo matches with the details of the Rocklin fire on May 4th, the dates obviously do not. On the historic map of the Rocklin business district, there as a Dewitt Porter building next to a livery stable on Front Street. Even though there are conflicting dates, it would appear that the locations are the same with regards to the fire.
The next question is; did Myrtle, her brother, or father take these photos? It’s possible that either her brother or father took the pictures, and after they were reprinted at a later date, Myrtle attached her name to the photograph only indicate ownership. Regardless, one of the photos with the description, “Before the fire” indicates that all the other images were taken prior to the 1914 fire and that someone in the family had an active interest in photography.
It is surmised that Myrtle married Carl J. Reitenour in 1914. They had a son, Carl Waddell Reitenour, whose birth place is listed as Sacramento, June 29, 1915. On Carl’s WWI draft registration for 1917, he lists his address as Donner Street, Placer County, which may have been in Roseville. Carl was also employed by the railroad.
Beginning in 1916, Myrtle is listed as an employee with the Southern Pacific Railroad as a Staff Operator. She was also mentioned in “The Railroad Telegrapher Vol. XXXIV, 1917, by the Order of Railroad Telegrapher.” It noted, “Sister S. V. McCarty, first staff operator Soda Springs, on a few days’ vacation, was relieved by Bro. A. Douglas, and later relieved Sister M. E. Reitenour, first staff operator, Spruce. H. S. Cooper relieved Bro. C. J. Reitenour, third there, on vacation.”
Employment records indicate that both Myrtle and Carl worked together beginning in 1918 at the Yuba Pass telegraph office until at least 1919. On the 1920 census, the Reitenour’s residence is listed as Township 15, in Placer County. This would seem to indicate they were living in the Sierra Nevada mountains close to work.
Carl died on March 17, 1925 at the age of 37, having been born on May 11, 1887 in Indiana. After her husband’s death, Myrtle would make her home in Sacramento with her son. In 1930 they were living at 1007 J Street and her occupation was listed as Hotel Proprietress. On a 1932 voter registration role, she was living at 819 O Street. By 1940 she would move to 1011 20th Street in Sacramento. However, her son Carl Waddell Reitenour had moved to San Francisco, got married, and enlisted in for WWII. He would go on to become a school teacher and lived the remainder of his life in Santa Cruz with his wife Nina Reitenour.
Myrtle and brother Jame’s mother died in 1920. Their mother Ida Waddell owned property in Sacramento. Myrtle Quit Claimed her ownership of the property to her brother that year. James C. Waddell, Myrtle’s brother, who also worked for the railroad, died on August 16, 1956, in San Bruno. Their father was still living in Rocklin. On the 1920 census, he listed his address as Cedar Street, Rocklin, and living alone. In 1930 James Waddell Sr. was back living on Railroad Street with Annie E. Beasmore. There was a Beasmore candy shop on Front Street in Rocklin and may have been the confectionery that burned down in 1914.
On the 1940 census, James Waddell Sr., had his residence listed as Sacramento Street in Rocklin, residing with his daughter, Myrtle. (I have not been able to locate Sacramento Street, Rocklin, on the maps that I have searched. This was either an error, the name has been changed, or the street no longer exists.) Myrtle’s father died on October 30, 1942. From my limited research, I could not find any public documents for Myrtle Reitenour after 1940 regarding her residence or occupation. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
In addition to James Jr., Mrytle also had an older sister, Lorrie, and a younger sister, Ida. James Waddell Sr., was also a Member of Board of Trustees and Superintendent of Rocklin Cemetery.
We do know that Myrtle died on October 24, 1966 and is buried next to her husband Carl Reitenour in the Rocklin cemetery. Of course, none of this answers the question of who took the photos: Myrtle, her father, her brother, or, perhaps, her husband Carl J. Reitenour? But someone close to Myrtle lived very near the spot where the 1914 occurred. Hopefully, these photos will be found by another historian and will help fill in the gaps and perhaps they have additional information regarding the photographer.
My best guess is that the negatives were unearthed while going through the personal affects of one of Mrytle’s deceased family members. She then had the the images reprinted noting her ownership and writing little a description on the back. Her son Carl, died in 1999, and he could have had the photos reprinted. Neither of these guesses negate the possibility that Myrtle, herself, took the photos.
Looking southwest down Front St., the street scene including Burchard’s Hotel, men, horses and buggies. Click to enlarge.
Looking northeast down Railroad St, Alex Levison building with a restaurant at the end.
Looking southwest down Railroad St, showing the Southern Hotel, and down the block a restaurant that also offered baths for 25 cents and ice cream
Fire at Rocklin hay barn, dated May 8, 1914. This may have been the hay barn behind the livery stable next to the DeWitt Porter building.
Also included in the set of photographs I purchased is a street scene with 1920s era automobiles. There is no description on the photo and no attribution such as M. E. Reitenour. This could be Sacramento and Myrtle may have taken this photo.
Finally, I also purchased another photo, separate from the Rocklin images, that shows the C. P. Huntington locomotive. It appears to be next to the Southern Pacific Sacramento passenger depot. In the early 1960s, the engine was moved to the California State Fairgrounds on Broadway. It was completely refurbished in the 1970s and now resides in the California State Railroad museum.