Recently I ventured to Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park which claims to be one of the oldest known hydroelectric facilities in the world and was one of the first systems to transmit alternating current over long distances for major industrial and municipal uses. According to the docent It was in operation from 1895 to 1952 and only closed because a new dam was built upstream. When the powerhouse was closed they just shut the doors and left so it’s remarkably intact.
This is definitely a place to do a self guided tour unless you are an engineer. I happened to get a particularly verbose guide, as often happens to me, who was passionate about telling the story of he powerhouse but also took more than one tangent including one about husbands having to learn to accept their wives tendencies to run late. The story came about when he was pointing out the only supposed effect of the 1906 earthquake which reminded him of the 1989 earthquake. Short version: on the day of the 1989 earthquake he was supposed to be heading into the City with his wife but their departure was delayed because she was running late therefore they were still in the East Bay when the earthquake hit rather than on the Bay Bridge. Fascinating. But I digress.
One of my favorite things on these ventures is being surprised. As I drive along I’m constantly looking around for interesting stuff. As I neared the Folsom Powerhouse I noticed a sign pointing to the Negro Bar State Recreation Area. “What the…?” I thought, “Did I read that right?” Yep. I did.
After thinking about that a bit more I figured that place name is not that different from things like “Chinese Camp”. Often places were named for the majority population in an area, though those majorities may have been relatively small. Anyway, I looked up Negro Bar and learned from the California Department of Education the area near the Folsom Powerhouse was named for a group of African American gold miners, and that, “A February 9, 1850 newspaper article in the Sacramento Placer Times describes the diggings at Negro Bar as being located “about four miles below Mormon Island, on the American River…” The article later goes on to say, “Some colored gentleman discovered them. Gentlemen just from these diggings inform us that one to two ounces (of gold) to each man is the average per day…” (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/im/negrobar.asp). According to the California Department of Education most of the African Americans had moved out of the area by 1852 to places like “Negro Hill, Little Negro Hill/Negro Flat, and Massachusetts Flat.” and were replaced by Caucasians and Chinese miners. I suppose I was taken aback at first because the letters “Negro” were so big; did not expect to see that in this day and age. I wonder what the locals say when they’re making plans to go there and swim, kayak or whatever. Do they say, “Hey, let’s go to Negro Bar.” or “Let’s go to the recreation area.” or “…to the beach.”? I suppose it depends on one’s level of political correctness. I wanted to ask the African American couple on the tour with me what they thought about it but thought better of it.
I also enjoy reading local signs when I drive from place to place. For example a sign on a golf course near the freeway was announcing a fundraiser. Their sign read, “BBQ, Beer and Balls”, I smiled an thought envisioned hilarity ensuing with Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray. I also imagined Ted Knight gasping at the verbiage.