Folsom Powerhouse is a former power plant and now the main part of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area in Northern California. The state park preserves an important piece of American history, as well as providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities at the lake level. Located about 10 miles (16km) east of Eureka, California, United States, it was built to provide electric power for the town of Folsom which was growing rapidly following the gold discovery at Sutter’s Mill. Construction began on what would become known as the “Castle” in 1874 by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company; however, due to financial trouble, the company abandoned the project soon after completion.
The area has since grown to over 3,300 acres (1,400ha). The old powerhouse building has been converted into a visitor center and museum, while another similar structure nearby serves as the headquarters for the non-profit organization Friends of Folsom Powerhouse. Exhibits inside the Castle include historical artifacts, photographs, printed materials, and displays featuring the architecture and technology of the original power house.
Visitors can also see a video presentation about the power plant’s history. Outside, there are walking trails through grasslands dotted with wildflowers, oaks draped with Spanish moss, and stands of ponderosa pine trees. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the site, only eight parking spots per visitor, and annual passes are available. On weekends from May through October, volunteers dressed in Edwardian clothing give living history tours of the castle. Tours are given by appointment only, and reservations are required.
Visitors needing a parking pass for their vehicle must purchase one from the self-registration stand. Annual Passes cannot be registered at the gate but may be purchased at the Self-Registrar’s Office. No pets are permitted within the grounds of the park. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by Westar Energy during the 2008 update to the accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Their report found issues with access to some walkways and ramps, and concluded overall that the facility was accessible. Folsom Powerhouse receives many visitors throughout the year, especially around holidays such as Presidents’ Day, Mother’s day, Easter weekend, etc.
In 1888, the property was sold to investors from San Francisco who completed construction of the powerhouse and started operation in 1890. However, again faced with financial troubles, this time caused by the 1906 earthquake and the subsequent collapse of the stock market, the company decided in 1915 to liquidate its assets, including the powerplant. At that point, ownership of the land transferred from the PG&E corporation to the newly formed Pacific Properties Corporation, which quickly ran into financial difficulties itself.
By 1930, most of the properties were owned either by Jack where he resided or by his wife Elizabeth, except for one small parcel held by their daughter Jackie. This parcel, along with some other parcels of land, was put up for sale in 1935. A year later, all the land was sold back to the Jacksons, with Jackie retaining the rights to the water and mineral rights to the land. Following her death, the land passed to her son Steven, then to his widow Mary Coyle Chase, until it was inherited by Peter Jackson in 1956. He in turn bequeathed it to the state upon his death in 2007, requesting that it be used for public recreation. It became Folsom Lake State Recreation Area when the dam across Snake Creek was removed in 1969.