History

Brews to flow at Folsom Powerhouse where hydroelectric history was made

Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park

Beer will be poured at a fundraiser Saturday at the Folsom Powerhouse, where 120 years ago electricity flowed to turn on the lights in Sacramento.

“We are looking forward to a nice crowd,” said Brad Livingood, president of Friends of the Folsom Powerhouse, which is hosting the event. “We have four craft brewers providing their different selections.”

Called “Powerfest: Taps & Tunes,” the evening will include local beers, opportunities to speak with brewmasters, live band music and a chance to tour the powerhouse. Parking is limited and eventgoers are encouraged to park near Sutter Street. Food will be available for purchase.

The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, 9980 Greenback Lane, Folsom, and is meant to raise money for educational and interpretive activities at the park. Tickets are available for $20 online at www.ffpaonline.org or at Safeway, 1850 Prairie City Road, Folsom. Tickets are $25 at the door. Eventgoers must be 21 or older.

“We also want to increase visitation to the park,” Livingood said. “This Powerfest is an effort to do that, as well as raise money. A lot of people in Folsom don’t know that the powerhouse exists.”

The Folsom Powerhouse began transmitting electricity 22 miles to Sacramento on July 13, 1895, demonstrating the feasibility of long-distance, high-voltage transmission.

The Sacramento Bee pulled out all the stops in describing the significance of electrifying the capital:

“From the condition of a small town, the end of a railroad division, dependent on the Southern Pacific Company and the Legislature for its existence, Sacramento will become a manufacturing center to which the rest of the state must pay tribute. … This is the birth for us of Power, of Growth, of Greatness.”

The powerhouse’s opening spawned an “electric carnival” in downtown Sacramento a few months later, drawing an estimated 30,000 people to the city. A round trip on rail to the carnival from San Francisco cost $3.33. Accommodations in private homes and hotels were $1 a person, $2 for a double bed.

Meal prices started at 15 cents, and coffee and cake cost a dime, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The current moved streetcars and lit up the city. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. later took over and ran the powerhouse. In 1952, it was shut down and PG&E donated the property to the state of California.

Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park is open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Docent tours are available during those hours. Visitors can view the huge General Electric transformers, along with forebays and a canal system that brought water from the river.

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