On the lower end of Sutter Street, not far from the Light Rail station, sits a small nondescript house. This tiny building, so easily overlooked, actually holds the key to a rich and fascinating — and mostly forgotten — chapter in Folsom’s history that reaches back to the 1850s gold rush. During the 1880s, Folsom contained a vibrant Chinatown with a population that was second only in size to that of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Many of these Chinese arrived in the 1850s to mine for gold and later found work with the local Natoma Water and Mining Company, which paid them $1 a day (source: History of Sacramento County, California, 1880).
Oak Chan settled in Folsom in 1852, and by the 1880s he owned both a boarding house and a dry goods store in Chinatown. He became a community leader and earned the respect of both Chinese and Caucausians in the area. Folsom’s Chinatown burned in 1908 and most of the population was scattered, but Oak Chan and his family remained, living in this small house from the 1920s until the 1970s — however, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act it wasn’t until 1943 that they were allowed to own the property where they lived.
Oak Chan died in 1924; but his descendents still live in Folsom, and they’ve continued the tradition of community involvement. They graciously donated this property to the city for a museum dedicated to sharing the forgotten stories of the many Chinese who lived and toiled in this part of Northern California. The Folsom Historical Society has been working very hard for awhile now on the Chinese Heritage Museum project. This past summer they were able to install a number of display cases built by a local Eagle Scout. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I hope the community will continue to support the project and make this long-overdue dream a reality.