Step back in time at Folsom Pioneer Village

Folsom Heritage
By: Jeff Ferreira-Pro
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There’s a place in Historic Folsom where you can relive life as it was during the Gold Rush. Most people discover it by accident and it’s often closed. But if you’re there on the right day (Thursday through Sunday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when there are volunteers available), you can try your hand at gold panning, watch blacksmiths working at the coal-burning forge, see how a miner’s cabin became America’s first mobile home, sit in the lookout seat aboard the caboose at the site of the first railroad west of the Mississippi, or marvel at all the creative ways to find gold – from the gold pan to the gold dredge. We’ve just renamed this quaint little area in the heart of old town “Folsom Pioneer Village.” It’s on Wool Street, down the hill from Sutter Street and behind the Chamber of Commerce building. For those of you who’ve been there, you’ll remember it as “The Folsom History Interpretive Area.” Folsom Pioneer Village came into existence in the 1970s and was the brainchild of a fellow named Jim Phillips. Everybody called him “Folsom Jim.” He built the place from salvaged barn materials and actually lived for a time upstairs in the Carriage House. It is a hands-on outdoor museum that allows people to experience 19th century pioneer life. Today, the place is managed by volunteers from the Folsom Historical Society. Bill, Darlene, Ed, Ernie, John, Merv and Pete have been blacksmithing there for years. Watching them turn a white-hot piece of metal rod into a work of art with only a pair of tongs, a hammer and an anvil is truly amazing. They’re now offering classes to a new generation so the art of blacksmithing can live on in Folsom. Andrea, Bev, Gaynel, Nancy, Sandra and I dress as 19th century pioneers, teach gold panning and share stories of Folsom’s past. There are about a dozen kids who occasionally abandon their iPods and cell phones for the day to become children of the Gold Rush. We’d love to have more school tours – with classes coming from throughout the region on Light Rail. This past year we held bluegrass jams and blacksmithing demonstrations. We’ve even thought of offering overnight campouts. Until recently we had a paid director who was helping us craft a business plan to make the place into a more popular and sustainable regional tourist destination. But alas, thanks to the harsh economy, we had to let her go. There are plans for improvements (such as a new entrance, better walking surface, improved visibility) as a part of the Historic Folsom Station Plaza construction, planned for completion in 2010 or 2011. In the meantime, running the place for a five-hour shift is physically demanding, so finding people to keep it open consistently has been a struggle. Maybe you can become a volunteer yourself and help us keep the blacksmith’s forge hot and the gold pans in the water! Come and visit. Drop some money in the donation box. Tell your friends. Volunteer. For more information, contact the History Museum at 985-2707 or Jeff Ferreira-Pro is a volunteer docent with the Folsom Historical Society.