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Bridge Across Time

Since Folsom is located on the American River, Folsom has had quite the history when it comes to bridges and river crossings. It currently has 4 bridges, the famous and historic Rainbow Bridge, the Truss biking/walking bridge, the Lake Natoma Crossing, and Folsom Lake Crossing. But there are other bridges that it had in its history. And quite the history.

Now we go back to 1848 as we head to the Sacramento Valley a few months after James Marshall discovered gold in the town of Coloma. On the way there from Sacramento, we noticed there is a town 20 miles east which has been booming in population called Granite City. It is the commercial hub for the area serving the towns of Mormon Island to the east, and Prairie City to the south. And we saw the large American River glistening in the short distance. It looked very beautiful and a fun place to fish. Even though we didn’t think about it at the time, since the destination we were heading to was south of the river, we realized the river could be a major barrier to trade. Especially when we saw on a map and heard reports of fertile farmland north of the river. There wouldn’t be a bridge to connect Folsom to the north until 1858 when the first railroad of California and possibly the United States, the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was extended to include the area north of Folsom as far to Lincoln. This part of the railroad was the California Central Railroad. Since the line would cross the American River, this ushered in the first bridge in the history of Folsom, the Railroad Bridge, 92 feet above the American River waters and a span of 216 feet to cross. This was a very exciting day for Folsom as it provided a necessary bridge, but it also put Folsom ahead of its time. But it wasn’t enough. Since the railroad was not the only means of transportation and not effectively used for every purpose, a suspension bridge was built in 1861 for the horses and buggies traveling to the northern farmlands. It unfortunately was washed out a year later during the floods of 1862, partly because the bridge was only 42 feet above the river. And the railroad bridge didn’t have a much better fate, with the center railroad bridge trestle was damaged and was condemned as unsafe, and as a result came down in 1866. The next bridge built was the Ecklon Bridge, which lasted from 1862-1892 when its suspension cable snapped, most likely a result of vandalism, which caused the bridge to fully collapse into the water. The Truss bridge was built in 1893 and lasted until the Rainbow Bridge was completed in 1917, but wasn’t lost due to a flood. In fact, it was knocked down and the replica has actually been built next to the Rainbow Bridge in the mid-2000s as a walking and biking path. So, it is an honor that the Rainbow Bridge is still in use having been built in 1919, being 105 years old. At the time it was built, it’s concrete arch was the fourth largest concrete arch span in the world. It originally had a simple name, the American River Bridge named after the river it crosses. But in the 1950s, in order to lure travelers through postcards, the more descriptive name Rainbow Bridge was suggested, with its rainbow arch and picturesque scene around the bridge,

which took hold and has been name its used ever since. It is Folsom’s most picturesque bridge and was it’s only bridge for 79 years, which presented a problem as the city and its surrounding area rapidly grew. This led to crazy traffic going over the bridge. So, in 1999, the Lake Natoma Crossing was built connecting Folsom Blvd to Folsom Auburn Road up to Granite Bay and Auburn. But when another bridge opens, another one closes. Folsom Lake’s dam road which opened when the dam was built in 1955 and its lake flooded Mormon Island, because of the 9/11 attacks, was closed off as a precautionary measure. This led to more traffic through the city’s central district. And it wasn’t temporary unfortunately. So, the city decided to build the Folsom Lake Crossing for the travelers who frequented the Folsom Dam Road who headed to Roseville for work or leisure, which was completed in 2009.

The Folsom Lake Crossing actually has an interesting story to it. Since the Crossing is next to Folsom Prison and since Johnny Cash did the famous Folsom Prison Blues song, the bridge is known by locals as the Johnny Cash Bridge. It was considered to become the name of the bridge, but the City Council surprisingly decided against it. But Johnny Cash’s legacy was rightfully honored when the walking overpass was built at Folsom Lake Crossing and East Natoma Street naming that overpass after him and the bridge echoing the prison gates which played a centerpiece in his song and his visit to Folsom Prison in 1968.

Folsom’s bridges are considered to be the four most picturesque bridges in Sacramento County. The Tower Bridge in Sacramento actually has that claim to fame. But the Folsom bridges have been a major magnet for travelers and potential movers to Folsom with their beautiful elements adding to the already beautiful riverfront. And they continue to be a centerpiece of the Folsom cityscape. And hopefully for years to come.

Here are some resources that helped aid me with this research project:

Folsom Historical Society. Images of America: Folsom, California. Arcadia Publishing, 1999.


This article was written by Folsom History Volunteer Hayden LePore. He graduated Liberty University with an Associate’s Degree. Diagnosed at three years old with non-verbal autism, Hayden has worked hard to start talking and now shares his knowledge of history through YouTube and articles. With a passion for advocacy, local history, faith, and art, he hopes to discuss untapped community history.

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