The Grand Electric Carnival

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.

Horatio Gates Livermore and his sons, Horatio P. and Charles E. shared a dream of using the American River to generate electricity that eventually led to the Grand Electric Carnival, a beautiful display of lights unlike anything else had seen in September of 1895.

Before we can fully appreciate the carnival, let us take a look back at the Livermore family and what led up to this moment in history.

Starting with Horatio Gates Livermore in the 1850s, the Livermore family was heavily invested in the Natoma Water and Mining Company (NWMC) and creating a more industrial Folsom that better utilized its proximity to the American River.

View of the American River surrounded by Folsom's famous granite
The Old Dam

In 1864, Horatio Gates Livermore and his sons, Horatio P. Livermore and Charles Livermore, gained a controlling interest of the Natoma Water and Mining Company. In 1866, they began work on Folsom’s first dam, however it soon proved to be more expensive than originally thought and the NWMC could not afford to support it alone. In exchange for convict labor, the Livermores offered the State Prison board 484 acres of land for a prison in Folsom. Prisoners from San Quentin arrived in Folsom to build the prison out of local granite and then began work on a dam, canal, and small powerhouse. This made Folsom Prison the first prison in the world to have electricity. These projects were completed in 1893, over ten years after the death of Horatio Gates Livermore.

Livermore’s sons continued in his name but also began to dream bigger than their father. Horatio P. Livermore wanted to channel water from the dam through a canal to power generators that would send electricity 22 miles downstream to Sacramento to power trolley cars. At this time, the longest distance electricity had been sent was 5 miles.

The Livermore brothers, in partnership with Albert Gallatin and wealthy financiers, formed the Folsom Water Power Company, and the Sacramento Electric Power and Light Company to control the dam and canal. Through this, the Livermores and Gallatin brought the Natomas Company a new asset in the Folsom Powerhouse. Built from bricks recycled from the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s old shops and buildings, the Livermores once again utilized convict labor to build the Powerhouse.

Folsom Powerhouse

In the early morning on July 13th, 1895 the Folsom Powerhouse made history by sending electricity 22 miles to Sacramento in the world’s first long distance electric power transmission.

Now that you know the history behind it, we can finally get to the Grand Electric Carnival, an event that was over 40 years in the making.

The idea for an electric carnival came from the Sacramento Bee. Committees formed to plan this event before the historic transmission and talks of light covered floats and buildings were discussed with an estimate of $20,000 to illuminate the Capitol Building and park alone. Today that would be $618,852! Funds were raised by donations from groups interested in taking part in the carnival, investors and locals. September 9th was chosen to coincide with the state’s 45th anniversary.

Invite to the Grand Electric Carnival

Sacramento Capitol Building

An estimated 30,000 people attended the Grand Electric Carnival on September 9th, 1895, many coming from San Francisco. At this time, fare from San Francisco to Sacramento was $5.00 round trip per person but the Southern Pacific Railroad worked with the city to offer roundtrip fare for $3.33. Sacramento residents and business owners on J and K streets were encouraged to decorate their homes and businesses in red, green and golden yellow to match the carnival’s chosen color pattern. Lights, lanterns, large rosettes and banners covered all of the buildings. Floats were attached to electric street cars and pulled along the tracks using electricity from Folsom. A parade was organized by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West (they also had floats) and the carnival was followed by a ball the next night with tickets sold for 50 cents each.

K Street

Sacramento Bee Article from September 10th, 1895

The Folsom Powerhouse continued to provide the area with power until 1952, today it still stands in its original location on Greenback Lane and more information about it can be found in our archives!