Sutter Street yields its secrets

By: Laura Newell Telegraph staff writer
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The last time major digging hit Sutter Street was 1917, so the current construction project has turned up a treasure trove of historic finds.

“Everything here tells a story. We don’t know every story, but when you do the research you can pretty much tell why it’s here,” said Pam Conrad, Folsom History Museum volunteer.

She said there are no easy answers behind the finds.

“You can only speculate about why items are here,” Conrad said. “Did it get discarded on purpose? Or fall off a truck, unknown? Or was it littering on the street?”

After a year of construction on Sutter Street, archeologist monitors and construction workers found a variety of artifacts during the $8.4 million project.

In a new exhibit called “Sutter Street Secrets” opening this weekend, the Folsom History Museum is revealing the story of the revitalization project featuring the construction, the finds and the tunnel.

Mike Lawson, archeologist monitor with Peak and Associates, worked on preserving artifacts found along Sutter Street and underneath the street in the tunnel during construction.

“If anything looked significant, we would take some time to look it over,” Lawson said.

He said one of the more interesting items found under the street were lead water pipes. “We know now how poisonous lead is, but apparently they didn’t know then,” Lawson said.

He said the development of the infrastructure underneath the road was also very interesting and always changing.

“Every 50 years or so they would just update the infrastructures and put a new water pipe in because when they went to a higher water pressure system, they needed better material,” Lawson said.

Water pipes developed over the years from wood pipes to wooden wire wraps to steel pipes, Lawson said.

Lawson said he also saved some old pieces of the Lincoln Highway that used to run along Sutter Street.

“This is so important because it marked a change in roadways,” Lawson said. “It changed from muddy highways to paved highways.”

Another interesting find was a Folsom Soda Works bottle from 1900 to 1906 marked “FSW EA Shumway/Folsom.”

“Who knew there was a soda shop in Folsom?” Lawson said. “But we have proof of Folsom Soda Works.”

The bottle was found on Sutter Street near the old assay building, he said.

He also said a lot of bottles were found underneath the basement of Hop Sing Palace, which is closed off to the public.

Many glass alcohol bottles including, bitters, were found in the street as well as clay bottles dating back to 1897.

He said his favorite item found on Sutter Street was a Budweiser beer mug that was engraved with “C C Co,” which is associated with Carl Conrad & Co.

“When you see this monogram, you know it was before Anheuser acquired (Budweiser),” Lawson said.

The marketing symbol probably dates the mugs between 1876 and 1883, he said.

“There was a garbage trench 5 or 6 feet down in the road,” Lawson said. “They would fill the land as they worked and they would fill the trenches because they would throw trash in it.”

He said while littering is bad for the environment in many ways, in this instance it was interesting because it provided a time capsule to the history of Sutter Street. Littering, he said, was common back then because there were no restrictions.

He also found brass beer taps and bottles from Buffalo Brewing Co., in Sacramento along Sutter Street.

Other artifacts found include 1,000 horseshoes, donkey shoes and two ox shoes.

They also found thousands of animal bones because of butchers who worked on Sutter Street.

“It’s always interesting to see how things have changed,” Lawson said. “These are all butchered bones and we can actually see how a butcher tried to cut the meat and tossed it.”

Pipe stems were also discovered throughout the street dating from 1850 to 1900.

“Every man had a tobacco pipe,” he said. “Pipes were constantly breaking so they would just toss them into the street. Pipe stems are interesting because it shows how Folsom had stuff from all over the place (because the stems were made from different states and countries).”

Coins dating from 1857 to 1962, buttons and games including carpet balls were also found in the street.

Lawson said he came across an 1873 half dime dated.

Many of the coins found were affected by fires that were common in Folsom in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Tools found include a padlock, file and big kitchen knives.

“A lot of food preparation went on in the area with all the local restaurants in town,” Lawson said.

One of the last items to be found, was a straight razor, he said.

Other household items included an ivory toothbrush handle and a J.B. Thorne, London, cosmetic jar that was probably filled with cold cream, Conrad said.

“I think one of the most interesting finds was a part of a doll face,” Conrad said. “I guess it was from the late 1800s because the detail on it was so tiny and intricate.”

She said while there is no way of knowing how the face piece found its way to Sutter Street, one interesting theory was a girl carried the doll and dropped it off a wagon. After getting lost over time, the doll’s body, which was probably made of cloth, deteriorated along with its hair, and all that was left was the porcelain painted face, she said.

“The tunnel is probably the biggest mystery in town and everyone has a story of their memories of the tunnel,” Conrad said. “And they are all interesting and fun. In the exhibit, we will feature the illusion of walking inside of the tunnel. Then videos will be shown of the … tunnel.”

Both Conrad and Lawson said this exhibit is important because it shows people the history of Sutter Street and how the town evolved into what it is today.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness about our past by doing projects like this,” Lawson said. “There was a great cooperative effort among all groups working on this project. Teichert was beyond helpful.”

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What: Sutter Street Secrets exhibit

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, from Feb. 19 through Mar. 20

Where: Folsom History Museum, 823 Sutter St., Folsom

Cost: $4 adults, $2 youth ages 12 to 18 and free for children 11 and younger

Info (916) 985-2707 or

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To see the Telegraph's photo gallery of the tunnel (published Aug. 5, 2010), visit

To read the Telegraph's first story, visit

To read about the myths surrounding the tunnel, visit

To read some reader feedback on the tunnels, visit