Like the Erie Canal before it, the original Folsom dam and canal are little more than an after thought for the thousands of motorists who pass by it every day. Only Folsom Prison, which provided the labor to build the first hydro powered electrical generation on the west coast, remains as prominent. But you can still walk or run on top of history. Link to my page on Folsom lake and other historic structures.
From the forebay of the historic Folsom Power House to where you are stopped by the Folsom Prison fence is approximately 1 mile. I ran on top of the old canal to the fence and returned on a trail down by Lake Natoma. The site of the original dam and head waters for the canal are on prison property and can’t be accessed. Just imagine that the top of the canal levy once held a railroad to transfer granite blocks from the quarry to the power house. As I spied a coyote a couple hundred yards ahead of me, I wonder if the Folsom inmates, worked on the canal, also yearned to be free like him.
Different people and marks
If you trek on the south side of the lake you might be fortunate to come across old Native American grinding holes. Truly, this is cements the importance the American River has played in the communities that used its resources. Today, everything is dwarfed by Folsom Dam completed in 1958 and made the original 1895 Folsom dam, canal and powerhouse obsolete.
19th century engineering
After exploring the south side, I crossed over the pedestrian bridge and ran up to the state
property line. It is harder to get to the waters edge from the north side but the perspective is nice. The northside gives you the view of how Horatio Livermore, designer of the dam and canal, used the southern hillside as part of the canal.
More than meets the eye
From Native Americans grinding acorns, ’49er’s panning for gold, Folsom prison inmates cutting granite for the canal and powerhouse to present day kayaking catamarans the American River will never cease to be an opportunity. A great resource on the original dam and canal can be found at the Folsom museum titled Images of America Folsom California, Folsom Historical Society, 1999, Arcadia Publishing.
[schema type=”book” name=”Images of America Folsom California” description=”History of Folsom California” author=”Folsom Historical Society” publisher=”Arcadia” edition=”1st” paperback=”yes” ]