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Sacramento Boomer

Fiddyment Ranch: Roseville’s Agricultural Empire

Jul 01, 2019 11:44AM

The historic Fiddyment Ranch in Roseville pays homage to Elizabeth Jane Fiddyment Hill Atkinson, whose indomitable spirit and disregard for the conventional role of women in the late 19th century allowed her to become one of the largest landowners in the area. 

Elizabeth Jane Crawford married Walter Fiddyment in February of 1850 and settled in Joliet, Illinois. She bore a son, Walter Frederick, in November of that year. Tragedy struck the family just 14 months after the marriage when Walter Sr. was stabbed to death in an altercation with an ex-employee at the distillery where he worked. 

The 1879 Fiddyment Ranch Home was last remodeled in 1949. This current photograph shows the house with its recent repairs, roof addition and exterior paint. The windows continue to be boarded for security.

In 1853, Elizabeth left her home in Illinois with two-year-old Walter and made the journey to California. She settled with her sister and brother-in-law near Elk Grove and soon after married George Hill. Two years later, the couple and their children relocated to the area near present-day Roseville and took up farming in the Pleasant Grove District. Here Elizabeth obtained the first parcel of land—in what would become an agricultural empire—from her brother-in-law as payment for a debt.

The Hill family increased their landholdings over the next few years in what is now West Roseville. Hill died in 1861, leaving Elizabeth to manage the ranch and her five children by herself for the next several years. Her seemingly tireless energy never failed, and she became a pillar of the community, donating an acre of land for the Pleasant Grove School and officially starting the Pleasant Grove School District. She even served as a teacher at the school and also ministered to the sick and infirm in the community.

Smokehouse that was erected in 1879 and used to smoke all of the meat the family needed to store for future meals.

Elizabeth married Ashby Jones Atkinson in 1869. This marriage was short lived and ended in divorce. Elizabeth, however, continued to purchase land parcels in the town site that would become Roseville. Some of these landholdings were subdivided into Atkinson Tract in Roseville Heights. At the time of her death in 1906, it was reported that she was the third largest taxpayer in Placer County with reported landholdings of over 13,000 acres between Lincoln and present day Folsom Lake.   

Elizabeth’s son, Walter, and his wife purchased property adjacent to his mother’s and in 1879 built a modest home. Over the years, the home was improved and enlarged. The house that now stands on Fiddyment Ranch is the third iteration of the original home. Walter’s father-in-law built the two brick outbuildings that still survive—a smokehouse and cooler. Walter also owned and operated Fiddyment Block at the corner of Lincoln and Vernon Streets in the early 20th century.

Walter Fiddyment and two of his children in front of the original house. Photo circa 1888.

Over the generations, the ranch raised grain and cattle and ran sheep. In the early 20th century, the family raised turkeys commercially, developing turkey breeding as a viable enterprise and supplying markets in Sacramento, Roseville, and other parts of Northern California. 

Today, Fiddyment Ranch is a Roseville landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The majority of the family’s landholdings have been sold off, but the original ranch house and several outbuildings still remain and are owned by the City of Roseville.

In June of 2018, the Roseville Historical Society obtained a 90-day Right to Enter Into Agreement with the City of Roseville for the purposes of restoring the property’s 1.5-acre grounds. The city recently installed a new roof on the home and is working toward a longer, more permanent agreement with the Roseville Historical Society.

By Jerrie Beard
Walter Fiddyment with his wife, Ella, and children, in front of the newly renovated home in the 1890s.