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Style: Folsom | El Dorado Hills

In History: Happy Birthday Folsom

Apr 27, 2016 12:32PM ● Published by Jerrie Beard

Sutter Street circa 1950s

 On a wet day in April, the City of Folsom held its 70th Anniversary Jubilee. What started as a young man’s vision back in the 1850s has grown into a vibrant community along the American River.

The first Europeans to visit this area were probably fur trappers who came up the river in the 1820s. After John Sutter established his fort in Sacramento, other Americans and Europeans began settling the area. William Leidesdorff, a successful trader, acquired a Mexican land grant of 35,000 acres along the south side of the American River; sadly, he died in 1848, before gold was discovered and the mining camps of Negro Bar, Prairie City, Salmon Falls and Mormon Island sprang up in the area.

Captain Joseph Folsom was the visionary who purchased Leidesdorff’s property. He hired Theodore Judah to plan the town of Granite City and a railroad terminus. The first train on the first railroad west of the Mississippi arrived in Granite City from Sacramento in February 1856—a year after Folsom’s death—and Sutter Street became a commercial center. The town was renamed Folsom that year and began to prosper. The Sacramento Valley Railroad brought supplies to Folsom, which were then loaded onto wagons headed for mining towns in the foothills. During 1860-61, the railroad also served as the western terminus of the Pony Express. 

Folsom became a railroad town manufacturing railroad ties, passenger cars and boasting maintenance shops and a foundry. The last train pulled into Folsom in the 1970s. In 1999, the city and the railroad association undertook the reconstruction of the railroad turntable and began development of the railroad block in the Historic District.

When placer mining had played out, dredge mining began. As early as 1894, a grab-dredger began working the Natomas area. Bucket-line dredging soon followed. By the early 20th century, the Natomas Company controlled most of the dredging operations, which covered the area from Folsom to Fair Oaks to Natomas and down to Mather Field. Dredging continued until 1962. It is estimated that over $125 million in gold was obtained and that over one billion cubic yards of gravel was displaced. The tailings left from these operations are still visible along Highway 50, along the river and bike trail, and throughout Folsom. 

In 1880, Folsom Prison was built on land donated by the Livermore family in exchange for prison labor to build a sawmill. The Livermores were also instrumental in building the Folsom Powerhouse, which supplied electricity to Folsom and Sacramento and, at the time, boasted the longest overhead run of electricity in the country. 

The transcontinental railroad bypassed Folsom, but the community remained a commercial center for families and ranches in the area. Sutter Street saw a resurgence of business around 1915, as highways and automobiles brought tourists to the Historic District.  

In 1946, Folsom was incorporated as a city. The first city council included Leland Miller, Harry Patton, Eugene Kerr, Wendell Van Winkle and Norbert Relvas, and Eugene Kerr was elected as the city’s first mayor. 

Folsom Dam was built in 1955 to aid in flood control for Sacramento and to produce hydroelectric power. The lake completely covered Mormon Island, a once thriving Gold Rush town.

In 1960, Folsom had a population of 4,000, and the first shopping center was built in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Bidwell. To counter the competition of the new shopping area, Sutter Street merchants spiffed up historic downtown.

Folsom continued to slowly grow for the next 20 years until 1984 when Intel moved into the area. The city expanded south to Highway 50 and east to the El Dorado County line, and by 2000 claimed a population of 52,000.

Today, Folsom’s Historic District encompasses the original 90-block town site created by Joseph Folsom and Theodore Judah back in the 1850s.


The Folsom Historical Society offers numerous tours, hosts various events and has three museums.

Those interested in learning more about and doing their own investigation into Folsom’s past, can check out the Folsom Historical Society archives and research desk Tuesday through Friday by appointment only.

Whether you want to become a member of the Folsom Historical Society, volunteer your time or donate to help make improvements to the organization, an opportunity awaits.

Article by Jerrie Beard. Historic Folsom photo by Alden Jewell, courtesy of  Folsom Jubilee photos by Tom Paniagua.

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