Magazine article Sunset

Bridge to the Past

Magazine article Sunset

Bridge to the Past

Article excerpt

A historic downtown and new recreation make fast-growing Folsom worth a detour

Maintaining a bridge to the past is often difficult for a town undergoing the type of rapid growth that is happening in Folsom. But unlike many communities, this California Gold Rush town that straddles the American River 22 miles east of Sacramento manages to sustain its bridges--both literally and figuratively.

Famous mostly for its prison, the town had changed little in its 145 years--until the last decade, when a ring of high-tech-spurred development spread quickly across the fields and piles of mining tailings surrounding Folsom. Fortunately, the sudden tech rush left the town's Gold Rush district intact, and a heightened community appreciation of Folsom's past has emerged.

This is embodied in a remarkable trio of bridges across the American River, the newest of which (Lake Natoma Crossing) opened last spring. The new span's design reflects the graceful arch of Folsom's 1916 Rainbow Bridge just upstream. The third bridge, Folsom Historic Truss Bridge--a narrow 1893 steel truss--was recently restored and returned to its original stone foundations for use as a pedestrian and bicycle crossing.

Philosophically, the three bridges represent Folsom's connection to its past while acknowledging the growth looming in its future. Practically, they also make the historic downtown a logical stopping point on a looping, 10-mile bike trail that is the newest addition to the American River Parkway--a waterside swath of riparian greenbelt stretching 32 miles from Sacramento to Folsom Lake. This flat and easy loop features picnic areas, parks, and resting points where riders can stop and appreciate the river and the trail's willow, white alder, and valley oak woodlands.

At one such turnout last fall, a group of cyclists rested after traversing the truss bridge, as purple and green shadows stretched across the river. They had just eaten at the Lake Forest Cafe, where owner Barbara Rubin serves 43 types of omelets and fortifying sandwiches like Emily's College Fund Pastrami Philly Cheese. The spindly black girders on the old bridge the cyclists had just crossed still bear a sign warning of a $25 fine for those who attempt to cross with more than "20 head of horses, 40 head of cattle, or 200 sheep, hogs or goats."

It's not just dining that makes people stop in Folsom. Historic Sutter Street, a once-bustling Gold Rush thoroughfare of iron-shuttered stone buildings and covered sidewalks, attracts visitors for art, antiques, and gift hunting.

Sutter Street became a tourist destination long ago, yet somehow it doesn't feel that way. It has no cookie-cutter franchises in its four-block commercial district, and locals seem to shop here as often as visitors. People come to check out the latest pottery offerings at Clouds, where owner G.F. Cloud eagerly describes the minerals he uses in his kiln across the street to color floral designs. There are whimsical gifts and furnishings at Fire & Rain Gallery, and at the Sutter Street Emporium, Red Riding Hood and thousands of other dolls crowd shelves in what is reputed to be the largest doll shop in California.

The discovery of gold by African-American miners at Negro Bar--not far from the foundations of the new bridge--and other nearby discoveries quickly made Folsom a jumping-off point for gold seekers, By 1856, the first railroad west of the Mississippi was bringing miners here from Sacramento. …

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