Folsom's First Jail

Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.

If you are even a tiny bit acquainted with Folsom, it is probably because of Folsom Prison, one of the most famous prisons in California if not the world because of a semi-popular song called “Folsom Prison Blues”. Obviously, I am being fatuous, but when I tell people where I work their first comment is usually “oh, where Johnny Cash was?” or something like that. If Johnny Cash and the prison are the stepping stones to getting people interested in Folsom, then who am I to complain?

Anyways, let us back up before Folsom Prison and Johnny. Folsom had to have another place to house men and women awaiting trial, removal to Sacramento or those sobering up from one of Sutter street’s many saloons, right? Of course!

Image showcases the jail's flat roof

1891 Sanborn map. Jail location is circled to the right

The old jail (also mistakenly called the Chinese jail in the 1960s) as it was later affectionately called was built at some point between 1860 and 1870. It was on Wool, located behind the Sterling Lumber Company and if you remember my past blog about the Brums, Domingos worked at the lumber company so he would have seen the jail every day at work. The building itself was rather unremarkable but that might be why I like it. It was made of granite stone and 16x20 feet with a steel wall splitting the interior in two and originally had a dirt floor. In 1897 the jail was moved between Leidesdorff and Riley at the request of the Southern Pacific Company who wanted to build a new depot in its place, which is where today's depot sits. After it was moved, a water tower was built on top on the flat square roof. Newspaper accounts discuss how the water tower had the propensity to leak and it was eventually taken down.

Visiting the old jail before it was torn down

A mother and her child peek inside

Looking back at old records, it seems that anybody housed in the little jail was left alone with nobody to guard them. In 1878, one man submitted a complaint that he spent an entire day and night in the jail without food or water and someone passing by took pity on him and gave him some water with a tea kettle spout through the barred windows. Other incidents at the jail included the jail catching on fire because a jailed man set his mattress alight with a cigarette, and another man’s friends digging him out of jail. During this time in Folsom’s history, there was very little law enforcement to go around and nobody could be spared for the jail to be consistently guarded.

Inside the old jail

In 1934, the jail was updated with a concrete floor, new roof, sanitary plumbing and other small updates. However, the jail still could hold no more than two or three people at a time. The jail was used until Folsom was incorporated in 1946, at which time Folsom was told it could no longer use the jail because an attendant could not be on duty.

Sterling Lumber is torn down shortly before jail

The jail remained empty and unused until the 1960s when the city moved to tear it down. The Folsom Historical Society was already active trying to save the Wells Fargo Assay Office and took on this project as well. An estimate was created to see what could be done to repair and move the old jail and FHS along with interested city members and locals strived to raise $4,000 dollars while also fundraising for the Assay Office. The jail was to be moved to Orangevale and be used as a part of a museum. They were unsuccessful, and in 1963 the jail was knocked down to make room for the parking lot that is currently by Traders Lane. The windows and door of the jail were saved and moved to a warehouse by the city of Folsom and the rest of the building was moved to the sewer plant. It is unknown if the door and windows are still in Folsom today or if they were removed once it was clear that funds could not be raised, especially as the Assay Office rebuilding gained traction.

Today, the museum has a hinge that was part of the old jail, and photos shown throughout this blog to remember the little building that served Folsom for so many years.

Perhaps the last piece left of the old jail