Folsom's History Cont'd

Industry & Commerce

Also in 1856, the 22-miles of Sacramento Valley Railroad track linking Sacramento to Folsom were completed, and the new town became the hub for commerce between Sacramento and the foothill mining camps.

Because of its accessibility to the railhead, Folsom became the western terminus for the Pony Express in 1860. The trail from Placerville to Sacramento was rerouted through Rescue to Folsom, where dispatches were transferred by train to Sacramento.

Charles B. Miller was born in a covered wagon as his parents were traveling to settle in the West. Miller claimed that he was in Sacramento with his father when he was 11, and it was time for the mail to leave, but there was no rider. His father lifted him onto the horse and said, "He knows the trail. Ride like hell son!"

From On the Winds of Destiny"

In 1870, Horatio Livermore began an industrious project to dam the American River that would provide power for Folsom's growing industry. His plan required a cheap labor source, which was provided by convict labor from Folsom Prison. The dam was completed in 1893. By this time, generators were producing electricity, and in 1895, the Folsom Powerhouse began the first long-distance transmission of electric current, lighting the streets of Sacramento, 22 miles away.

Theodore Dehone Judah (1826-1863)

In 1853 a group of Californians organized to build the Sacramento Valley Railroad (SVRR). By 1854 Colonel Charles L. Wilson, president of the fledgling SVRR, made a trip to the east coast to purchases supplies. While he was there, Governor Horatio Seymour of New York introduced him to Theodore Judah, who was eager to come to California to work on the railroad. His work on the Niagara Gorge line in New York had secured his reputation as a top engineer.

Judah was an enthusiast for the transcontinental railroad project. "The Pacific Railroad will be built," he stated, "and I am going to have something to do with it." This must have been his major motivation for accepting Wilson's offer for the SVRR. He would not have crossed an entire continent for the purpose of designing a twenty-mile line across a flat valley.

At any rate, he departed with his wife, Anna, for California, and began the survey. On May 30, 1854, fifteen days after he began work, he issued a report on the preliminary survey and future business prospects of the SVRR. Judah continued with the SVRR until the tracks were completed to Folsom in February 1856.

When the railroad was well under way, Judah set himself up as a consulting engineer in Sacramento. During this time he also made several other railroad surveys, attended Congressional sessions in Washington to lobby for a transcontinental line, explored in the Sierras, and accepted employment from Captain Joseph Folsom to survey and lay out the town of Granite Bay.

All this time Judah's uppermost thought was the transcontinental line. He helped to raise $46,500 in subscriptions in the little town of Dutch Flat for railroad surveys, then went to San Francisco to raise more money. Financiers with heavy investment in stage lines, express companies and steamship lines turned him down, ridiculing him. They even called him insane, and dubbed him with the "Crazy Judah" nickname. Judah persevered, only to be more bitterly disappointed once the railroad was under way in 1863.

The "Big four," Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker, seemed to him to be concerned only with taking the largest profit with the least risk. Appalled at their tactics in building "his" railroad, Judah in September 1863, left for the east coast with the intention of raising capital to buy them out. He never accomplished this objective. In Panama he contracted yellow fever, and died at 37 years of age shortly after his return to New York City.

The 1900's

In the early 1900's the Natomas Company began surface mining operations in the Folsom area. Dredgers extracted over $100 million dollars worth of gold between 1906 and 1962. In the 1910's, Mather Air Force Base was established on dredger tailing land, later becoming an important military training center.

Railroads once again played an important part in keeping Folsom prosperous during the 1920's and 1930's. Orangevale and the surrounding area had grown to be a major agricultural center. In the late 1940's, work began on Folsom Dam, providing essential electrical energy and flood control, allowing for the massive growth of the Sacramento Valley. The dam was completed in 1956 and has quickly become one of the State's most popular year-round recreational facility.

These are just some of the events that shaped Folsom--a living memorial to the human sage of glory and tragedy that built California.

Ethnic Connections

Besides the Nisenans, African-Americans, and the Chinese, many other ethnic groups have played an important role in shaping the history of Folsom. The Folsom Historical Society Archives can assist you with understanding how those ethnic groups participated in Folsom's history.

Other historic events and information that shaped Folsom's history

Additional information is available on request by calling the Folsom History Museum, 916-985-2707.


Stage Lines Sacramento Valley Railroad Old Folsom Dam
Pony Express Folsom's Newspapers Folsom Powerhouse
Natomas Company Folsom Prison Cemeteries
Folsom Historic Bridges Wells Fargo Co.  
Important Dates in Folsom History
???? Nisenan Maidu Natives Indigenous people of American River valley, existing as a peaceful hunting and gathering culture
1808 Jedediah Strong Smith
Trapper, explorer, leader of first American group of "mountain men" to reach California overland who visited this area.
1844 William Leidesdorff
Merchant-trader and business man, became Mexican citizen, received land grant of 35,00 acres called it Rancho Rio de Los Americanos where Folsom now stands. Died a bachelor when he was 38 years old.
1847 Joseph Libby Folsom
Captain U.S.A., quartermaster corps, arrived in California at the end of the Mexican-American War.
1848 James Marshall In January, discovered gold while building Sutter's Mill on the American River in Coloma.
1849 Gold mining begins Folsom purchased Leidesdorff estate for $75,000. Gold mining begins in the American River with camps known as Negro Bar & Mormon Island.
1852 Sacramento Valley Railroad First chartered railroad west of the Rockies. Col. Charles Wilson, President & Capt. William T. Sherman, Vice President
1854 Theodore Judah Engineer from New York hired to survey right of way for new railroad.
1855 Joseph Libby Folsom Becomes 2nd President of SVRR. Hired Judah to lay out town of Granite City, nation's first industrial railroad town. Capt. Folsom, a bachelor, died in 1855 at the age of 38.
1856 Granite City renamed Folsom Town lots sold out rapidly. First train arrived in Folsom, 21 stage lines moved to Folsom, and the Folsom Telegraph was begun.
1860 Pony Express April 3rd, Pony Express left St. Joseph, Mo. Arriving in Folsom 10 days later. Mail was then transferred to train. This Museum stands in that location today. Pony Express lasted only 18 months.
1862 Horatio G. Livermore Gains control of the Natomas Company. Begins negoations to build a dam and a prison in Folsom. Building to be done with convict labor.
1880 Folsom Prison First 50 cells completed, 100 convicts moved from San Quentin to Folsom to work on additional construction.
1882 Prison Quarry opened Provided stone for the dam and the prison powerhouse.
1895 Folsom Powerhouse First successful long-distance transmission (22 miles) of 3 phase alternating current.
1952 Folsom Dam Begun Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control. A collection of 9 dams, 8 earthen and one concrete dam went on line in 1956 producing 162,000 kilowatts of electric power. It is also a recreational resource.
1960 Folsom Historical Society Founded to rebuild the Wells Fargo building (Palmer & Day building). Palmer and Day were agents for Wells Fargo & Co.
1976 Folsom History Museum Historical Society rebuilt the Wells Fargo & Co. Assay Office on its original site with original doors, bricks, ceiling joints, granite face, and steps. Annex dedicate in 1991 on adjacent lot where Pony Express horses were once stabled.
2002 Folsom Interpretive Center Historical Society assumes operations of the Folsom Interpretive Center which houses a blacksmith shop, miners cabin, gold rush era artifacts, and preservation workshop to restore wagons and carriages.
Folsom's Firsts
First grist mill Stockton Mill on the American River in what is now Sacramento County.
First Newspaper The Folsom Telegraph first printed outside the City of Sacramento. Fourth in the State of California.
First Railroad Sacramento Valley Railroad was the first railroad west of the Mississippi.
First institute of higher learning Folsom Institute was one of the first in California.
First successful power plant. Folsom Powerhouse produced the first successful long-distance transmission of 3 phase alternating current hydroelectric power in the U.S.A.
Pioneer in Prison Reform Folsom Prison began prison reform in California.
First electric ice plant Folsom Prison Ice Plant was the first commercial electric ice plant in California.
First gravel plant Folsom Prison Rock Crushing Plant was the first to produce gravel for paving roads in California.

Folsom History Museum

Exhibits in 2014

"Slaves to Fashion"
Opens Jan 25

"Pioneer Jews of the
Gold Rush"

Opens Apr 12

"A Bundle of Joy"
Antique Quilt & Vintage Fashions
Opens May 31
Read Full Details (pdf)
Download Flyer

"Extraordinary Collections"
Opens Sept.20

"Pioneer Village Shindig"
Wool Street, Folsom, CA 95630
June 7, 2014, 5:00 – 8:00 pm

Tickets on sale now!
Tickets: $25 Adults, $10 Children – 12 and under

"Antique Evaluation Day"
Saturday, September 6, 10-1:00
$8 per evaluation, 5 evaluations
for $35
Register the day of the event
Read the flyer for more information

"History Unwined"
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Tickets on sale now

For more information download the PDF

"Museum of Wonder and Delight"
November, 2014
Donor Form

For more information download the PDF



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Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $4 for adults. $2 for youth. Children under 12 are FREE.
Parking: parking available in front and across the street from the Museum
Address:  823 Sutter St., Folsom, CA, 95630-2440 Get directions from MapQuest. 916.985-2707
Easy access from Light Rail and Bike Trail

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