Before Joseph Libbey Folsom’s death in 1855, the city of Folsom was known as Granite City (this came after Negro Bar), and for good reason, besides being a destination for miners, one of Folsom’s other natural resources was granite and could be found in many places throughout the area. Granite from Folsom was quarried to build the State Capitol Building in Sacramento and to fashion the often asked about granite pillars that appear throughout Folsom.
The pillars’ original purpose was for decoration at the State Capitol, where two stood at each of the five entrances to the Capitol Park from 1886 to 1952 when the building and surrounding park was remodeled, and the pillars were deemed too “old fashioned”. They were thankfully not destroyed but gifted to a Catholic Church in Carmichael before they were purchased by Folsom in 1967 for $850 dollars.
The State Capitol Building and the pillars are not the only examples of lasting history taken from Folsom’s granite resources. Of course, there is our museum, the Wells Fargo Building was built from granite bricks, and many, many monuments in Folsom and Sacramento’s cemeteries, but the more obvious choice to talk about is Folsom Prison.
The land on which Folsom Prison sits was once a mining settlement called Stony Bar Mining Camp and owned by the Natomas Water and Mining Company. The Livermore family had controlling interest of the company at this time and in 1868, made a deal with the state prison board, they would give the state 350 acres of their land which included Stony Bar, in exchange for convict labor once the prison was built so they could cut down on labor costs for their projects such as Folsom’s first dam.
Of course, the prison would need to first be built and the obvious choice of building material was granite as there was a surplus at Stony Bar. Several contracts were given to different construction companies through the years, but each failed to complete the first building needed to house prisoners that would provide the Natomas Company the agreed upon labor, which led to a long delay. The prison finally opened in 1880 after the prison board stepped in and made sure the prison was completed and in 1881, the granite rock quarry was opened at the prison. It was here that prisoners worked for 50 cents a day to fulfill contracts such as the granite pillars in Sacramento, to expand the prison with new buildings and later the granite wall, the prison powerhouse, roads throughout California and the promised dam. A track was placed by the Natomas Company to quarry at the prison so the granite could be loaded up and shipped by a train straight from the source. The rock quarry at the prison was used until 1943.
While one of the most active and long lasting, the prison’s granite quarry was far from the first in Folsom. In the early 1860s, the Natomas Water and Mining Company owned other quarries which they also built railroad track for, one of which was recorded to be “above the town” of Folsom and had contracts with businesses in San Francisco. A smaller quarry was used on Mormon Island in the late 1850s, where the later Red Bank Winery, owned by the Mette family and later the Davies family, was located.