Historic Old Town Folsom, California Walking Tour
- Early Local Native American History
- Early Local California History
- The History of Folsom and its Early Residents
- History of the Railroad in Folsom
- Victorian Architecture
- History of Hydroelectricity in Folsom
- Revitalization of Old Town
|Jedediah Smith (1799 - 1831) Public Domain|
At the corner of Riley and Sutter Street, turn right to view the multi-story brick building from the front. This is the Folsom Electric Power and Lighting Building. Local resident and developer Doug Scalzi completed this in 2010. Constructed by A. P. Thomas Construction Inc., this multi use structure houses offices, retail and residential space as well as the Sutter Street Steakhouse. It was designed to reflect the original architecture of the Folsom Powerhouse and blend in with the historic district's character. We will be visiting the Folsom Powerhouse which was built in 1895 later on this tour.
|1895 Folsom Powerhouse|
Our next stop is the simple American Foursquare across the street. The address is 605 Sutter Street.
This house was constructed in the early 1920s. It has housed the Folsom library, an art gallery and hair salon. There is an interesting story associated with the Candy Store Art Gallery, run by Adeliza McHugh from 1962 to 1992.
Adeliza was born in Utah in 1912. In the 1960s she moved into this home on Sutter and set up what was on its way to being a successful candy making business selling almond nougats called “groovies.” Unfortunately her efforts were rebuffed by the local health department and her candy store shuttered.
What next? In 1962, at 50 years young, without any formal experience in the art world, and far removed from any major art capital, Adeliza decided to convert her candy store into an art gallery. The gallery gained wide attention from art collectors and became legendary for its “way out” collections known as Funk Art.
She exhibited many artists over the years, the main group dubbed the Candy Store Bunch included teachers and students from Sacramento State University and the University of California at Davis, among them, Robert Arneson and Roy DeForest, while continuing to show at the Candy Store, both would go on to achieve national recognition.
How to sum up Adeliza’s influence on the Sacramento art scene? Former Sacramento Bee art critic Charles Johnson who covered the Candy Store during its heyday summed it up this way, “Adeliza was rebellious and defiant of convention. The works she showed were not pretty, but she was sure they were absolutely wonderful.”
Out in front of this house is a 9-foot tall Sierra white granite totem. This is one of 5 interpretative totems scattered around town. They tell stories of the early days of Sutter Street. This one features Old Town's residential area. Make sure to take a look at the historic pictures on the totem. Two relate to the Cohn house which we will be walking by next.
The picture above taken from the totem depicts the Cohn family in their Victorian garden.
Also take note of two pictures near the bottom of the totem. They are of two early churches in town. The first St. John's Catholic Church established in 1856 shown in the c. 1857 picture above still stands outside of town, further than we will be walking. The the actual parish has moved to Montrose Street in the center of Folsom. The picture below shows St. John's on Sibley and Natoma Streets in 2020.
The last picture on this totem I want to call your attention to, is dated from 1934 when the bell tower still sat atop the Methodist church on Figueroa Street. It was moved in 1969. We will be walking by this church, now the Landmark Baptist Church shortly.
Our next stop is the Cohn house Victorian garden on Scott Street. So walk back to the corner and carefully cross Scott Street. Take notice of the ornate granite pillar which marks the north edge of town. You will see another set later on this tour at the south end of town by the light rail station.
This area features some of the oldest homes in Folsom, many built in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Before we get to the main house, if you take a look to your left up the steps in between the two rock walls, that is the Cohn garden. I will tell you more about the Cohn family shortly.
Now take a look across the street to the one and one-half story tan home with shingle siding. This home was built in 1859 by pioneer businessman Augustine Colwell. It was originally located down the block on the corner of Figueroa and Scott Street.
From 1877 to 1908 the home was owned by James H. Burnham a Folsom assay agent, banker and druggist. In 1891 Burnham moved the house a ¼ block in order to make room for a larger home he would construct in its place. The home remains largely as it was in 1891 when it was moved. In 1908 the home was sold to John A. Russi a butcher at the Palace Meat Market in town. The Palace Meat Market was located at 723 Sutter where Emily's Corner is today. Russi would go on to become a Sacramento County Supervisor in 1913.
Now continue walking up Scott to the stately Cohn Mansion, it will be on your left.
Victorian architectural style describes a design popular between 1860 and 1900. And just like one would have different hair or clothing styles, there were more than one Victorian home style.
Gothic Revival kicked of the Victorian style and was characterized by steeply pitched roofs with gables accented by ornately carved trim.
The Italianate style, inspired by the villas of Northern Italy, featured rectangular houses with low or flat roofs.
The Second Empire style, which took its inspiration from French architecture, was characterized by its mansard roof, usually pierced by a dormer with elaborate surrounds.
The Queen Anne style, virtually synonymous with what the general public knows as Victorian style, are multi-storied and feature porches and balconies with elaborate brackets banisters and spindles, large bay windows, turrets or towers and siding decorated with patterned shingles, trim and accents.
The Stick style’s most distinguishing feature are its planks laid horizontally or vertically on top of exterior siding. Eastlake, which is a derivative of this style, features decorative wood elements cut by a lathe or jigsaw. Many times these are placed near the roof line.
The Shingle style features homes nearly 100% covered by shingles. And the Folk Victorian style differentiates itself by being less elaborate and plainer than say the Queen Anne style. There are others but that is enough for now.
The Cohn Mansion with its wraparound porch, decorative woodwork and pointed tower, may best be described as a hodge-podge representation of Queen Anne, and Stick Eastlake.
The portion of the mansion visible from the street was built in 1894 by Simon Cohn. And although it is certainly unique, it is not the original home was built on this property. The kitchen near the back of the house is all that remains of the first home built here in 1859.
Simon Cohn was born in Poland in 1830, he arrived in California in 1856 and opened Cohn’s General Merchant Store on Sutter Street and lived in the 1859 house here on Scott.
Around 1874, Phillip Cohn (no relation but same last name) arrived in Folsom from New York. Shortly thereafter he met and married Simon’s daughter Alice and then went to work for his father-in-law in his store. The store was located at 726 Sutter, where the Painted Cork is today.
After Simon died in 1894, Alice inherited the house and lived there with Philip who continued to run the general store. He also went on to serve as a State Senator for Sacramento County from 1913 to 1920. The home remained in their family until 1966 and the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Now continue walking straight. At the end of the sidewalk carefully cross the alley and continue walking straight along Scott.
The home to your left was built around 1859. It would be the home of Edward Levy, his wife Augusta and their family. Edward a prominent Folsom pioneer owned the Natoma Billiards Saloon and cigar store downtown on Sutter Street. Edward won this house in a lottery in 1870. You may read more about that on the plaque that stands in front of the gate on Figueroa.
At the corner continue straight across Figueroa. Then turn right and cross Scott Street. Continue along Figueroa staying to the right of the white picket fence. And as a reminder, these are all private residences, so please respect the homeowners privacy and stay on the street side of the fence.
Take a look to your left behind the white picket fence at the two-story Victorian; it is yellow with white and green trim accents. It was built in 1881 by German native Jacob Hyman who arrived in Folsom around 1860 and opened a dry goods store on Sutter. This store which was located at 801 Sutter, where Dorothea's Shoppe is today, was run by family members until 1942.
The Hyman home with its rectangular shape, low roof line and elaborate window hoods and surrounds may best be classified as an Italianate style Victorian.
Now turn and look directly across the street at the two-story gray Victorian, it has white trim and sticks placed on top of decorative shingle siding.
James Burnham, I mentioned him before, built this home for his family in 1891. Before he built this home however, he lived in the smaller home that we saw earlier across from the Cohn mansion. He moved that home up the street to its current location to make room for this larger home in 1891.
Burnham's Drug Store was located at 727 Sutter where today you will find Sutter Street Taqueria. It is interesting to note on the 1899 Sanborn Fire Map, that this was the location of a drug store express office and bank and James Burnham was a druggist, assay officer and banker.
If I were to place this in a Victorian category I would say, Queen Anne and Stick. The home was originally two and a half stories, but a fire in 1974 destroyed the top floor.
Continue walking along Figueroa to the one-story mustard yellow color house with white trim. Jacob Miller, his wife and seven children moved into this home in 1879. Jacob owned the Miller furniture and casket-making business on Sutter. This home may best be described as a Folk Victorian, similar to the Queen Anne style but plainer and more modest.
Now turn and look directly across the street. This charming home, painted white with dark blue siding was built in 1859 and was associated with a few early Folsom pioneers. One of the more notable being William Jarvis a partner in the Natoma Water and Mining Company.
Bradley House is one of only two hotels in old town. This bed and breakfast features five uniquely decorated rooms surrounded by a lovely garden.
Now continue walking along Figueroa and you can't miss the brick Gothic Revival style Landmark Baptist Church on your left.This church was built in 1860 for the Folsom Methodist community. It was the first kiln-fired brick structure in Folsom, the cost at the time, $9,000. It also served as a Presbyterian church, and for a few years as Folsom’s High School. In 2010 it became the home of Landmark Baptist Church. There is a historic picture of this church from 1934 earlier in this blog post.
The following year, Fr. Quinn built St. John the Baptist Church at Sibley and Natoma Street for the Catholic community.
Now continue walking down Figueroa and carefully cross the very busy Riley Street. Continue along the cement bridge and along Figueroa. Our next stop is at 714 Figueroa.
This two-story neo-classical wood home behind the white picket fence, was built around 1864. It was first the home of the town dentist, Dr. Benjamin Bates and his wife Jennie. After the Bates, this home was purchased by Bill Rumsey, he owned a grocery and hardware store on Sutter Street.
Walk a little further along Figueroa to the corner of Wool and look for the one-story white Italianate Victorian style home with blue and gold trim. The name over the door reads Trinity House.
This building was constructed in 1886 by Edward Christy, a miner by occupation who also served as Folsom Deputy Sheriff and Sacramento County Supervisor.
Today this is Trinity House, the office for the Rector and staff of the Trinity Church next door. The church was constructed for the Episcopal community during the early 1860s for approximately $4,000. Today it is recognized as the oldest house of worship still being used for weekly services in Folsom.
Now we are headed downtown where the families who lived in these homes worked. So walk along Wool Street toward Sutter Street.
While you walk I will tell you about another historical figure that left his mark on Folsom, West Indian immigrant, William Leidesdorff. There is a street as well as a plaza named after him in old town.
|William Leidesdorff (1810-1848)|
William arrived in the United States in 1834, and built a prosperous business in New
Orleans. Seven years later, shunned by his future father-in-law and
fearing imprisonment due to the enforcement
of the Negro Seaman Act, William, a biracial free U.S. citizen, sold his
business and left for Yerba Buena. There he became a Mexican citizen and was
granted a 35,500 acre parcel near the American River called Rancho Rio de los
After gold was discovered near the American River, William's land dramatically increased in value. Unfortunately, he would not realize his plans for this land as he died suddenly at the age of thirty-eight in 1848.
Alright you should be at the corner of Wool and Sutter by now, turn left and continue walking.
These first four buildings constitute the most intact portion of historic Folsom with all buildings dating to 1895.
In the late 1800s these store fronts were comprised of Hyman's Dry Goods, a grocery store and saloon. Today you will find a clothing store, ice cream parlor, and the blocks mainstay since 1957, Hop Sing Palace.
In 1891, this was the location of one of Folsom’s hotels, the American
Exchange, today it is home to Folsom’s largest concentration of wine rooms.
In 2015, D’Artagnan, was the first tasting room to move to Historic Folsom. Bob and Bonnie Reitz own and run the operation, their son Brandon is the winemaker. They serve a number of red varietals; all sourced from their family estate vineyard in El Dorado Hills. They share space with Crystal Basin Station where as well as finding a merlot, syrah and savignon blac you might want to sample one of their creative blends such as Kougar Coolaid, Pommie Sparkler, Quijote or Xpealidocious.
If you prefer hops over grapes, continue walking just a few feet to the Filling Station. This tap room opened in 2019. Make sure to check out their unique bar, it is crafted out of a reclaimed VW bus recovered from the devastating 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Red Bus lagers and ales are brewed just up the street, (literally a few blocks away) on Reading Street at Folsom's first brewery since the 1880s.
Next door, look for Merlo Family Estate Vineyards. Their varietals include zinfandel, pinot noir, syrah and chardonnay, all sourced from the family vineyard about four hours north west in the remote Hyampom Valley near the Trinity River.
The building just next door houses Folsom History Museum. The story of this museum as well as the Wells Fargo Assay Office starts with Charles Palmer, a Yale University graduate who headed west to the gold fields in 1848. Finding himself not suited for mining, he tried his hand at a number of different professions, school teacher, mercantile owner, and lawyer. But nothing seemed fit until 1852 when he walked into Henry Wells and William Fargo's gold-buying office in Sacramento and signed on as a Wells Fargo assay agent.In 1857 he transferred to the Folsom office and, partnered with this brother-in-law Robert Day. Their advertisement read “Palmer & Day, Assayers of Gold, Silver and Ores Office with Wells, Fargo & Co. Granite Banking House, Folsom.
The Pony Express lasted eighteen months before the transcontinental telegraph made the service obsolete.
Today only the facade of the Wells Fargo Assay Office exists. The original building was demolished in 1961 to make room for a gas station. Some residents had the foresight to salvage the front of the building and later when the gas station was ultimately not built, they used the reclaimed materials to recreate the facade that you see today.
Those residents became the founding members of the Folsom HistoricalSociety. Founded in 1961, they operate the Pioneer Village outdoor museum we will visit later and the Folsom History Museum, which is the brick building to the left of the assay office. The History Museum is home to a collection of artifacts that chronicle the development and settlement of Folsom. There is a charge for admission but no charge to enter the gift shop.
Continue walking to the corner. You will pass the Fat Rabbit Public House, a great place for British grub and brews. Back in the 1890s this was the location of the Natoma Livery. Before the advent of the automobile in 1910, a livery was essential to every American town. Besides selling hay, grain, coal and wood, the livery provided boarding for horses and wagons.
At the corner, carefully cross Decatur and continue walking along Sutter past the Central Valley Commercial Bank
During the 1890s this area was the edge of town and the location of the Chinese Laundry and Blacksmith. Today it is known as Sutter Court, a mixed-use project completed in 2007 by developer Jeremy Bernau.
Turn to your right and take a look across the street. The three-story brick parking garage with the clock tower is another one of Bernau’s projects, also completed in 2007 it is part of the multi-phase railroad block redevelopment, called Historic Folsom Station.
Both structures are similar in style to the Folsom Electric Power and Lighting Building we saw on Sutter at the beginning of this tour. These commercial projects were architecturally designed to fit in historically with this quaint gold rush era town, and serve as modern bookends to Folsom’s Historic District.
A short distance further and you will come to the Chan House. It sits behind a chain link fence and will be in some state of restoration when you pass by.
Howard and Mabel Chan, moved into this home in the 1920s. Howard was the son of Oak Chan, who emigrated from China as a teenager during the Gold Rush and became a leader in Folsom’s vibrant Chinese community.
In 2017 this home was donated to the Folsom Historical Society. Their goal, to restore the home and open it as a Chinese Heritage Museum. It has a way to go, but if you have any interest in this effort contact the Folsom Historical Society.
After William's death in 1849, Folsom traveled to the West Indies, there he located William’s mother, Anna Spark, and offered her $75,000 for the title to her son’s Rancho Rio de los Americanos real estate. Then things got a bit complicated.
As gold continued to be discovered on the Americanos land grant, William’s West Indian relatives challenged Folsom’s purchase. After California was admitted to the United States in 1850, California challenged Anna Spark’s right to transfer the property to Folsom. Though the property remained mired in litigation for years, ultimately Folsom won and retained ownership of the land.
Unlike most towns that began as mining camps during the gold rush, Folsom was a planned city. In 1854, Joseph Folsom hired Theodore Judah to survey the town, that at the time was called Granite City. A name derived from the number of granite mines in the vicinity.
Joseph Folsom, just like William Leidesdorff, would not realize of his plans for the property. Folsom also died suddenly at the age of thirty-eight, the year 1855.
A few months later, the majority of the lots in town had been sold, three hotels opened, and the Sacramento Valley Railroad completed a 22 mile line connecting Sacramento to Granite City.
In honor of Joseph Folsom, Granite City's name was changed to Folsom and this growing gold rush town soon became the center for stagecoach and freight train lines running between Sacramento and mining camps in the area. It would be almost 100 more years before Folsom would finally be incorporated as a city in 1946.
Okay let's continue on. Walk over to the Folsom Telegraph Building. It is next door to the Chan House. This building, is the home of the 4th oldest weekly newspaper in California, the Folsom Telegraph. Established in 1856 by physician Dr. L. Bradley, it was originally called the Granite Journal.
Here is how Dr. Bradley described Folsom in his lead editorial in 1856: “For the last two weeks we have been in a state of confusion, packing up, moving and re-arranging our press, and as yet we are scarcely settled, we now commence in the bustle of this new city. Our town is situated on the left bank of the American River, in the heart of a rich mining region. On the 20th of February, we counted businesses, and found them to number 259, from appearances; we should judge that the number of inhabitants couldn’t fall short of 1,800.”
The Granite Journal name was changed to the Folsom Telegraph in 1857 and has had a number of owners since that time. Today it is part of Gold Country Media which publishes several community newspapers. Pick up the latest edition from the rack in front of the office. It is free!
Before you use the crosswalk to cross Sutter Street to the light rail station, look to your left. There you will find another set of ornate cement pillars. These mark the south end of town.
Alright, cross Sutter Street and walk over to the rectangular granite monument. This is a State Historical Landmark. This marks the location of California’s first passenger Railroad, the Sacramento Valley Railroad a 22 mile stretch of track connecting Sacramento to Folsom. Its inaugural run was February 22, 1856.
That same year Wilson reorganized the unsuccessful Sacramento, Auburn and Nevada Railroad into the Sacramento Valley Railroad.
|Report of Chief Engineer Theodore Judah: Preliminary Surveys and Future Business of the Sacramento Valley Railroad (Sacramento, Democratic State Journal, 1854) Public Domain|
Theodore Judah was hired to survey the land for the railroad which he issued in April of 1854 along with these written comments: “This whole country is impregnated with gold, and it’s not at all unlikely that the excavations, for this railroad, will discover many rich claims.”
1854 would be a busy year for Judah, besides lobbying Congress for a transcontinental railroad, he accepted employment with Joseph Folsom to survey the town of Granite City.
Construction on the Sacramento Valley Railroad began February of 1855. Over the course of the next year, Joseph Folsom would die unexpectedly, Granite City would would get a name change, and the Sacramento Valley Railroad would make its inaugural run between Sacramento and Folsom.
In 1898 Southern Pacific purchased the Sacramento Valley Railroad. Passenger train service ended here in Folsom in January 1939 and Southern Pacific discontinued all commercial rail services in the 1970s. In 2005 the Folsom rail yard opened once again, this time as the terminus of the Gold Line, the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s light rail.
...a seven-foot vertical bronze sculpture by Placerville sculptor Philip Sciortino.
In order to enrich the everyday lives of the Folsom community, a small percentage of the city budget is set aside for the commission of public art. Almost all of the light rail stations display a piece of art work that relates to the station’s history or environment. This one features an American eagle, Native and Chinese Americans, a train, Pony Express rider, and Theodore Judah.
This is the future site of Granite House, the next phase of Jeremy Bernau’s Historic Folsom Station Project. Once it is built, it will reflect the look of an elegant gold rush hotel shown in the rendering below.
Take a look ahead and to the ground. Do you see the railroad tracks embedded in the sidewalk?
Turn right and continue walking, following the railroad tracks that are just to the left of the construction area for Granite House. There will be a line of granite boulders lining the railroad tracks.
Stay to the left of the boulders and follow the track toward the center of the plaza and the train turntable.
One year after the railroad arrived in Folsom this rail yard was built to support the line. By the 1860s it included a depot for passengers and freight, a car and machine shop, a freight warehouse, engine house and turntable.
|Sanborn Map Rail Yard 1891 (Library of Congress)|
The City of Folsom purchased this block from the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1990 and began restoring the rail yard. During revitalization, excavations revealed remnants of prior turntables.
In 1997 a replica of the second table, the 1867 A-Frame was built on top of the original site, and remains the centerpiece of this plaza. During the holiday season the turntable area becomes the community ice skating rink with the town Christmas tree trimmed and staged in the center.
Alright, it is time to get moving again. Walk to your left around the turntable toward the amphitheater. Off to the right will be a parking lot. This is the planned site for Jeremy Bernau's Leidesdorff Building which will be reminiscent of an 1880s railroad warehouse.
Continue walking toward the amphitheatre, and follow the rail road tracks just to the left of the theater. Opening in 2012 as part of the train yard revitalization process, at least one concert, play or civic event is scheduled to take place here every month.
Now walk over to the fence next to the red caboose. This is part of Pioneer Village a hands-on outdoor living history museum that allows visitors to experience 19th century pioneer life such as panning for gold or watching a blacksmith at work. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 3pm this museum is free (suggested donation $5) and is run by the Folsom Historical Society. The entrance is on Wool Street.
Continue straight ahead to the Folsom Railroad Museum. It is inside the Southern Pacific passenger train car. This small museum has a few educational displays and historic photographs, as well as a few books for sale. Next to the Railroad Museum is the Folsom passenger depot.
For a moment to imagine yourself here at the rail yard in the 1860s, at the time it was one of the largest in the country. Crowds gathered twice a day to meet the steam locomotive arriving from Sacramento which carried visitors, merchandise, newspapers as well as mail.
Stagecoaches lined up in rows along the street waiting to transport visitors on to their next destination, towns with names such as Mormon Island, Drytown, Hangtown, and Rattlesnake Bar.
Alright that’s enough daydreaming. With the Visitor Center behind you walk back to the sidewalk, turn right and continue on Wool Street.
At the corner, turn left and cross Wool Street then turn right and cross Sutter Street. Then climb the stairs to the front door of Snook's Chocolate Factory.
Candy makers John and Jeannie Snook opened this store in 1963; currently it is run by the second generation of Snook’s Jim and Renee. By now, if the door is open, the mouthwatering scent of chocolate should be driving you crazy. Stop in and try one of their candy creations, as everything goes better with a box of chocolates.
Continue walking to the red brick building. This is Roman’s Jewelry. Roman, a Swiss-Certified watchmaker opened this store in 1995. He carries a fine array of current and vintage jewelry, watches and clocks.
In the 1850s and 60s when buildings were first constructed along Sutter Street they were built of wood and canvas, these quite regularly became kindling for fires. As the buildings were rebuilt they were replaced with the brick ones you see here today. This went a long way to solve Folsom’s frequent fire issues.
The next building I want to call your attention to is the Folsom Hotel. Originally the New Western Hotel, it was built in 1885 by German immigrant Charles Zimmerman.
Giuseppe “Joe” Murer purchased the New Western in 1925, completely redid the interior woodwork and changed the name to the Folsom Hotel. Today this is a restaurant serving gastro pub food and craft beers.
Italian born Joe was a trained carpenter, and came to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake to help rebuild the city. In 1921 he moved to Folsom, purchased land at the south end of town and built a personal residence that still stands today on Joe Murer Court.
Alright, we are going to cross Sutter and walk down the other side back in the direction of the train depot. Walk to the corner.
Cross Sutter and turn left. Continue down the 700 block of Sutter Street, while you walk imagine yourself back in the late 1800s, sharing the road with horse and buggy. Sutter Street would have been dirt, dust or mud really. In the distance you might hear Honky Tonk piano tunes resonating from the numerous saloons that dotted every corner, or a train whistle, must be the afternoon train from Sacramento.
Since the 1850s, Sutter Street has been the heart and soul of Folsom, and while store tenants have changed over the years, it still reminds one of the American Old West.
Take a look ahead near the edge of the sidewalk. Do you see a tall white granite totem? This informational totem’s describes the evolution of Sutter Street from a dirt road with horse-driven carriages to the Lincoln Highway, one of America’s first cross-country highways.
In 1949, the highway was rerouted to bypass Sutter Street and residents were drawn away from Old Town to big box stores and shopping malls.
To avoid ghost town status, Jeremy Bernau proposed the multi-million dollar Historic Folsom Station project, and Folsom City Council committed $34 million in property taxes to redevelopment.
Historic Folsom's rebirth is ongoing, but with the Farmers’ Market, Lake Natoma, multiple wine rooms and restaurants, live theater, museums, concerts, and at least one festival every month it truly is a happening place. And did I mention it is all within a few city blocks!!
Now before we continue down the block take a look at the small white stucco building with the bell tower just to the right of the Gaslight building. This was originally the Folsom Firehouse. Today it is aptly named Firehouse Gifts. I mentioned it briefly earlier as built by Jo Murer in 1932. But Folsom's fire department dates back to 1857 when it established a volunteer fire department. The third one in California.
Walk straight to the elevator and use this to descend to the ground floor and the parking area of the Lake Natoma Inn. Walk straight across the parking lot, when you get to the inn, keeping the inn on your right, walk around the inn to the Lake Natoma Loop trailhead a 1/4 mile loop trail. The map below shows the trail in red.
Built to alleviate the traffic congestion on the Rainbow Bridge, this post-tensioned box girder bridge, was built 1999 by C. C. Myers, Inc. This Rancho Cordova based construction company, with a reputation of being an emergency contractor, has completed over 250 projects and over 1,000 bridges. They were one of the first on the scene of the collapsed Cypress Freeway, after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, helping to shore up the freeway while rescue efforts were still underway and in 1994 they won the contract to replace four bridges on the Santa Monica Freeway which were damaged during the Northridge earthquake.
After a short distance the path with circle back inland among the trees that line the riverbank.
While you walk I will tell you the story of Folsom's roll in the California Gold Rush.
|John Sutter (1803 - 1880) Public Domain|
It starts in January of 1848, with John Sutter and James Marshall, partners in a sawmill in Coloma along the American River, 20 miles northeast of Folsom.
While overseeing construction of the mill Marshall noticed something shiny beneath the surface of the water. Sharing his find with his partner, the two realized they had discovered gold!
|James Marshall (1810-1885) Public Domain|
Though they attempted to keep this quiet, rumors that gold was discovered were confirmed by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan a few months later. Brannan set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies and then walked through town holding up a vial of this shiny object shouting “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”
And just like that almost overnight mining communities popped up along the American River. Settlers staked their claim and hoped for fortunes.
Mormon Island, one of the largest, grew to a population of 2,500 by 1853. Today its ruins are covered by Folsom Lake. And there were others that made up the Folsom mining district, Mississippi Bar, Negro Bar, Texas Hill Diggings and Chinese Diggings are all covered by Lake Natoma. Beam's Bar is under Folsom Prison and Alabama Bar under Folsom Dam.Initially claims were placer mined, a painstaking process of sifting through sand and gravel to find gold. By the end of the 1800s bucket-line dredging had replaced placer mining, a method that continued through the first half of the twentieth century.
Alright you should be back to the beginning of the Lake Natoma Loop, exit the trail and cross the parking area then take the elevator back up to street level. Walk out to Leidesdorff Street, and make a left. Stay to the left side of the path as you walk and watch for bicyclists coming your way.
Continue straight, up ahead you will cross Gold Lake Drive. Stay on the walking path, it will veer right then left. Just keep following the path. Our next stop is the concrete bridge over the Folsom Powerhouse forebay. While you walk I will tell you about the Powerhouse.
This story starts with Horatio Gates Livermore who came to California in 1850 seeking what everyone else was seeking at the time, gold! By 1861, he realized that he could make his fortune more easily by securing water rights on the American River. His plan was to harness the water of the American River and transform Folsom into a manufacturing center similar to his native New England where water wheels had long been used to operate factories.
To realize this plan, in 1864 Horatio, along with his sons purchased 9,000 acres of land along the river and controlling interest in the Natoma Water and Mining Company. By the mid 1860s construction began on the dam and canal central to their plan, and then labor costs thwarted their effort.
In need of cheap labor, Horatio approached the state of California. He offered to donate 350 acres of his land for the construction of a new prison which would relieve the overcrowding at San Quentin, at the time California’s only federal prison. A deal was struck, in exchange he received 30,000 hours of prison labor.
Well, more delays continued to uphold the construction project, Horatio passed away in 1879, and his sons took control of the business. The dam and canal were finally completed in 1893. But logging proved to be unprofitable for the younger Livermore’s who then turned their attention to a new vision. Instead of water to power manufacturing, they would generate hydroelectric power, to create electricity. In 1892, they created the Sacramento Electric Power and Light Company for that purpose.
In 1895, Horatio Livermore's sons powerhouse, the Folsom Powerhouse, would become one of the first alternating current hydroelectric power stations in the United States. Using General Electric’s design which utilized the rushing waters of the American River and pushed water through the forebay to turbines connecting to generators they created electricity.
In July of that year the powerhouse generated electricity that spanned over 22 miles, to downtown Sacramento and lit up the Capital building. It continued to supply electricity to the area until 1952. In 1958 the site was donated to the state of California for a park and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
...to the two-story brick and granite Powerhouse looks much as it did in 1895.
There are historic photos and interpretive exhibits that explain how the Powerhouse worked.
Cross Riley to the other side of the street and then turn left and cross Scott. Continue walking straight along the walking and biking trail, stay to the left side, watch for bicyclists and follow the sign that points to the Historic Truss Bridge.
Up ahead on your right you will see two signs for the Johnny Cash Trail. We are not going to stop there, but the trail is significant to Folsom so keep walking straight toward the Truss Bridge while I tell you about the Johnny Cash Trail.
This 2 ¾ mile Class 1 bike and pedestrian trail winds northeast toward the Folsom State Prison. Eventually it will feature a number of sculptures celebrating the life of Johnny Cash.
Cash wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1953, the single was so popular among inmates; they requested he play at the prison. He performed two shows at Folsom State Prison on January 13, 1968 and his Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison live album was released later that year.
Folsom State Prison opened in 1880, it is California’s second-oldest prison, after San Quentin.
Up ahead is the Truss Bridge. Its pin-connected metal components allowed for it to be easily assembled or dismantled at any time.
In 1917 the Rainbow Bridge, which is to your left, was completed as a replacement for this bridge. With the Truss bridge no longer needed, it was dismantled and moved in 1931 to span the Klamath River where it served proudly until the 1998 when it again was no longer needed.
The city of Folsom saw this as an opportunity to bring the bridge home. In 2000 it was once again disassembled and this time reassembled, back on its original 1893 stone abutments. It now serves as a unique walking and biking alternative to the Rainbow Bridge.
If you look to your left you get a great view of the Rainbow Bridge as well as kayakers and paddle boarders on the American River. To your right way in the distance is Folsom State Prison.
Well this is where I am leaving you. I hope that you have enjoyed your tour of Historic Old Town Folsom. Until next time, happy adventures!