Penryn

The story of Penryn begins in late 1864 when a Welsh immigrant by the name of Griffith Griffith established a granite quarry on quarter section of land leased from the Central Pacific Railroad. A siding was completed on February 6, 1865, and the first load of cut stone was shipped less than a week later.

The quarry was open for business, but as yet, had no name. The railroad, matter-of-factly, designated the siding “Griffith’s Granite Station,” but Griffith had something else in mind.

Back home in North Wales, G. G., like his father before him, worked in the Penrhyn Slate Quarry. In Welsh, the word penrhyn translates to headland or promontory, which aptly described the seaport from which the Penrhyn Quarry took its name. When it came to naming his new enterprise, the choice was obvious, but not the spelling.

To simplify things and avoid the inevitable misspellings that were likely to occur, on the evening of May 17, 1865, Griffith, after discussing the matter with Central Pacific legal counsel Edwin Bryant Crocker (known later for the Crocker Art Museum), agreed to drop the “h” from the original Welsh spelling and settled on the name, and spelling, we know today. The following day, Griffith recorded this auspicious event in his diary:

“Concluded last night with Judge Crocker to call this quarry Penryn.”

It was in 1869 that Griffith’s mercantile monopoly came to an end. That year, a large frame building housing a railroad depot, store and saloon, went up on the West side of the Central Pacific mainline, just South of today’s English Colony Way. In time, other businesses followed, but this single event marked the beginnings of what would soon evolve into the town of Penryn.

Penryn granite is noted for its beauty and strength. Mottled in more-or-less equally sized specks of black and white, it appears a medium-to-dark gray in color, at first glance, but takes on an almost bluish-gray hue when viewed in a subdued light or, when wet or polished. This unique stone can be seen in the foundations and walls of a number of California landmarks including The State Capital and the old U.S. Mint in San Francisco.

Joel Parker Whitney owned thousands of acres of land in the Penryn area in the late 19th century. In the early 1890s, about 1,000 California fan palms were planted along the boundaries of Whitney’s Placer County Citrus Colony citrus farming venture, and many still stand along English Colony Road. These palm trees, otherwise out of place among the native Sierra foothill oak forest, are a signature of the area.

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