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.
I love a good Ghost Town. If you’ve ever driven on long stretches of road like Route 66, you know what I’m talking about. Little towns that are either run down and empty or are nearly unpopulated and turned into some sort of tourist attraction. Sometimes, these ghost towns have all but vanished completely.
Today I want to talk about Salmon Falls, a small Gold Rush town that was Northeast of present-day Folsom. Like the more famous Mormon Island, Salmon Falls fell victim to Folsom Dam in the 1950s and is now underwater. However, when water levels are low, you can still see some roads, foundations and the Salmon Falls bridge that was built in the 1920s.
Salmon Falls began in 1848 when a group of Mormons stopped to mine on the American River near Sweetwater Creek. As with all mining areas or towns, it didn’t take long for other people to hear that gold had been found and in 1849 more people came to mine. The town was on the main road from Sacramento to all mining camps in the northern part of El Dorado Co., and to all river bars on the middle and north fork of the American and all mines beyond there in Placer County. Its location made it an ideal spot for the Natomas Company, who dug out a ditch in the area for water use.
Reuben Kelly Berry, who came from New York with his wife Amanda Phelps Berry, was essential to the building of Salmon Falls. Together Reuben and Amanda were the parents of Romain Phelps Berry (1843-1850), Wellington “Willie” Berry (1845-1863), Roselia Berry (1848-1851), Charles Elihu Berry (1851-1853), Edward Theodore Berry (1854-1913), and Kat Adelaide Berry (1858-1859). Despite the loss they had suffered to make it to California (Roselia got sick and died on the ship from New York), and the deaths of later children once they reached California, the Berry family was determined to make a new and successful life in the West.
Berry took out a possessory claim of land then laid out and surveyed the town in May of 1850. Afterwards he opened a hotel and was appointed first alcalde of the district and appointed Postmaster in 1855. The town grew rapidly to a peak population of over 2,500 with a store, school, ranches, bakery, bridge and bar. The store was later run by the Campbell family and then the Gaines and Miller families, who were connected by marriage. The Post Office was run out of the Orr family home and later moved to the Campbell store until the Post Office closure in 1912.
By the time the Folsom Dam came in the 1950s, Salmon Falls’ population was much smaller than in its heyday with residents moving to larger nearby towns. However, the dam did disrupt the lives of the few long-time families still living in the area. For example, the Miller family who had remained in Salmon Falls for 5 generations and accrued over 300 acres of farmland. They were forced to sell the land to the government and purchase property in Pilot Hill.
Today, we can enjoy the many photos left over from this long-gone town and remember the names of the early pioneers who left everything to start a new life. It also makes for a pretty hike starting at Brown’s Ravine Trail where you can follow the Salmon Falls loop and see where the now vanished waterfall that gave Salmon Falls its name used to be and if you’re lucky, a peek at what remains of the town.