FOLSOM, Calif. (KTXL) — A rundown building at the base of Sutter Street seems a bit out of place given the facelift historic Folsom has gotten over the years.
But the structure will soon house the Chinese Heritage Museum — a testament to the role Chinese immigrants played in the development of the city starting with the Gold Rush in 1849.
“Some estimates suggest we may have had the second largest Chinese community in the state,” Folsom Historical Society President Jeff Ferreira-Pro said.
The house was donated by the descendants of Oak Chan, a prominent Chinese businessman who became a civic leader after arriving here in 1850.
The museum will tell history through the eyes of people not initially recognized as contributors to the creation of the city, beginning with Chinese miners and laborers who created a Chinatown there. The long range goal is to create a cultural museum including other ethnic groups as well.
“We had Portugese, Black miners, Italians, pretty much anyone you can think of, coming through California and a lot of them stopped in Folsom,” Meghan Toland, executive director of the Folsom Historical Society, told FOX40.
The Chan House has not been occupied in decades but enough money has been raised to lay a new foundation and begin restoration work. The historical society says it’s $100,000 shy of its fundraising goal for the restoration project.
Once the restoration is complete, the Chan House will be added to the stable of historic buildings the Folsom History Museum has opened and made available to the public.
The museum is located in the old Wells Fargo building just down the street and a block away is the historical society’s Pioneer Village, which features the oldest train station in the west, along with replicas of Gold Rush-era buildings and a working blacksmith shop.
The facilities are shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but work continues on gathering artifacts, diaries, mementos and exhibits for the Chinese heritage project.
“It’s very difficult to tell the stories of the people who weren’t rich and famous at the time, and how all these ethnic groups interacted and evolved into what California is today,” Ferreira-Pro said.
The Folsom Historical Society believes the experiences of early residents are worth exploring.
“We want to be part of those stories and make sure people know those stories,” Toland said.