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Bridging the past and present

Folsom: City of Bridges special section
By: Lance Armstrong, Special to the Telegraph
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Sitting on the banks of the American River, Folsom has always had one engineering feat to aid its transportation needs — bridges. And in celebration of the city’s newest bridge, the Folsom History Museum is highlighting the structures, both past and present, with a special exhibit that opened earlier this week and runs through May 10. The exhibit, “Celebrating Folsom’s Bridges,” was established as a way of generating excitement for the city’s newest bridge, Folsom Lake Crossing, which will open to traffic on March 28. Featuring many historic photographs, artifacts, maps, artist renditions and even a historic Model T Ford, the exhibit will detail the history of seven of the about a dozen bridges that have spanned the American River at various times during the area’s history. Karen Mehring, the museum’s director, said that the exhibit is a great way to demonstrate the history and importance of Folsom’s bridges. “Bridges have definitely been an important part of Folsom’s history,” said Mehring, whose father was a bridge engineer for bridges throughout the state. “I think what is fascinating about bridges is not only are they architecturally incredible, but they link communities. And as I’ve watched this exhibit come together, it is fascinating to see the history and the importance of how these bridges not only connected communities, but were essential in making them viable communities.” Considering that the idea to create this exhibit at the museum was conceived due to the construction of Folsom Lake Crossing, the exhibit naturally highlights the short history of this very new bridge. The new bridge stands 200 feet tall and spans 970 feet across the American River and will add a much needed addition to the city’s family of bridges. The bridge will alleviate local traffic congestion caused by the post-Sept. 11, 2001 closure of Folsom Dam Road, which was a major thoroughfare for commuters traveling to and from El Dorado Hills and Placer County. Constructed by Kiewit Pacific through a partnership between the Army Corp of Engineers, the city of Folsom, HDR, the California Department of Water Resources and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, Folsom Lake Crossing features a 2.3-mile roadway with four lanes for automotive traffic and separate lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. The bridge, which was built to handle 40,000 vehicles per day, also provides a scenic view of the Folsom Dam to the east and Folsom Prison to the west. Lake Natoma Crossing, another one of the exhibit's featured bridges, was completed in 1999. The 2,264-foot-long, 105-foot-wide span has been the topic of humorous discussions among the museum’s volunteers and staff. “Lake Natoma (Crossing) was always referred to as the ‘new bridge’ and we’ve been laughingly talking about how the Folsom Lake Crossing bridge is now going to be called the ‘new, new bridge,’ ” said Melissa Pedroza, the museum’s administrative assistant. The construction of Lake Natoma Crossing, which bypasses the city’s historic district, resulted in the unearthing of a variety of Chinese artifacts from a late 19th century Chinese community. The exhibit will showcase many of these artifacts. Another artifact of the exhibit will be one of the few existing markers from the historic Lincoln Highway, which was conceived in 1913 to identify the fastest automobile routes between New York and San Francisco. Routed along this highway was the city of Folsom. The exhibit will also pay tribute to Drury Butler, the county engineer who was instrumental in the creation of Folsom’s Rainbow, Figueroa Street, Orangevale Avenue and Canal bridges – all of which will be featured in the exhibit. Widely considered to be the most beautiful and definitely the most photographed of these four bridges is the decorative, high-arched Rainbow Bridge. Built in 1918 and enhanced with widened lanes and a pedestrian walkway in 1969, this bridge connects the city’s historic district at Riley Street with Greenback Lane and Folsom-Auburn Road. Constructed three years prior to the Rainbow Bridge, Orangevale Avenue Bridge, which was once part of the Lincoln Highway, formerly served as a vital connection between Folsom and Orangevale. The existence of this bridge today is the direct result of a joint effort by the Heritage Preservation League of Folsom and the Lincoln Highway Association, which convinced the city of Folsom to thwart its plan to have the bridge dismantled due to disrepair. Another one of Drury’s Folsom bridges highlighted in the exhibit is the single lane, 1915 Figueroa Street Bridge, which is the city’s smallest and narrowest bridge. This bridge spans the small ravine that parallels Riley Street. The last of Drury’s Folsom bridges is the Canal Bridge that once had a direct connection to Riley Street, but now serves as a bike path. The name of this bridge derives from the fact that it rests above the canals in front of the historic powerhouse. The exhibit would certainly not be complete without the inclusion of Folsom’s oldest existing bridge, the Truss Bridge. Built in 1893 to replace a suspension bridge that had collapsed, the Truss Bridge, said Mehring, has an interesting story behind it. “It has a great little history, because it was there (just north of the Rainbow Bridge), then it left and then it came back again,” Mehring said. “After years of non use, the (bridge’s) 55 steel arches were dismantled during the 1940s and put to use near Walker, Calif., where the Pacific Highway crosses the Klamath River. When a larger bridge was needed in that location, Folsom was contacted to see if we would like it back and the bridge was soon afterward returned to Folsom.” Candy Miller, who is one of the museum’s many dedicated volunteers, said that it seems very appropriate for the museum to present a bridge exhibit, considering that Folsom is home to half of the county’s bridges along the American River. “One of the highlights of the story about our bridges is that the city of Folsom has four crossings across the American River and the county has a total of eight (American River crossings) with Sunrise, Watt, Howe and the crossing by Discovery Park being the other ones,” Miller said. “To me, that’s a fascinating sidelight.” Commenting on the educational aspect, Mehring said the exhibit provides an inexpensive way to learn about the city. “This exhibit is an opportunity to learn more about Folsom’s history and how the city’s bridges have enhanced both the past and present times in our great community,” Mehring said. “And with the economy the way it is, people also appreciate that we offer a family-friendly activity for much less than the cost of going to a movie.”