Monday, April 25, 2016

History Revived In Locke

Locke. California
This past Sunday, the Native Sons of the Golden West dedicated a bronze plaque in Locke, in order to honor what they claim to be the history of the town. If you read the wording on the plaque, their information is vague at best, and the last part of it doesn't have anything to do with Locke's early history at all. I contacted the NSGW twice in the past several months and received no response. It wasn't until a Facebook post on the California History group when I was able to speak to another member of the NSGW, and explain to him that the wording they chose was too exclusionary.

In a private message he admitted to me that he agreed Locke was not an exclusively Chinese town, although he didn't explain why his group allowed a plaque with such exclusionary and erroneous information to be erected. Obviously he wasn't the one who researched the history of Locke, so I couldn't really be upset with him personally, but someone out there somewhere who was responsible for making sure of its accuracy really dropped the ball to allow so much misinformation to continue to be perpetuated.

Most people look at those historic landmark plaques and assume that it wouldn't be in a plaque, a permanent fixture meant to last a lifetime if it wasn't true. It appears that most of the people in charge of historical research today, aren't really researching as well as they claim to be, otherwise Locke's complete history would have been made known long ago.  Thankfully there are people such as myself who continue to search for the back stories, the deeper research, and seek out primary sources to find out the whole history of Locke, from its beginnings to the present.

On Saturday, April 23, 2016, a day before the NSGW dedicated their bronze plaque, store owner Martha Esch posted her own plaque or sign you could call it, summarizing a more well rounded history of the town of Lockeport (aka Locke) from its earliest beginnings up to the present day. She asked me to verify certain sources, which I already had in my possession, so I was happy to help her in this effort to revive Locke's true history.

When I first came to Locke several years ago, I had heard the stories that the town had been built by and for the Chinese. I really didn't have any reason to doubt it at first, so I didn't think much of it at the time. I mean, why wouldn't you believe it if everywhere you look that is what is being told, right? It wasn't really until I started researching the town of Ryde, just on the other side of the river to the south, that I started really uncovering more information about the Georgiana Township, that these Delta towns belong and learned of the Locke family. I recognized the last name in story tied to the Ryde Hotel, and decided to check and see if that person, Clay Locke was in any way affiliated with the town of Locke just across the river.

I started doing some research at the library, and after reading some books on the subject, I noticed most of them did not cite their sources, and when they did, the sources were for the most part just books by other authors who cited other books by other authors, instead of using primary sources. So I decided to go back farther, to all the primary and secondary sources I could find. Census records, directories, voting registries, etc., I read all I could find on Locke, spending hundreds of hours of personal research with no intention of publishing it, just for my own curiosity. From the architecture of the town, the people who owned businesses and lived there, legal troubles and scandals in the news, and the history of the Locke family themselves, I searched it all and continued to be amazed at what I found.

As I started digging further and further into the past, I noticed that there were not just Chinese living in Locke from the beginning, there were all sorts of people in the town, and living all over the Locke family property, which was also considered part of Locke. I noticed names of people coming from all walks of life; Americans, European immigrants, Japanese, etc.  It started to bother me as time went on, because it appeared that not only had the Locke family been basically erased from the history of Locke all together, or merely mentioned for a sentence or two in most books, but the other residents of Locke from its early beginnings had been forgotten as well. I realized there was so much more history that went on in that little town of Locke, and for the most part, none of it had been written about before. The question I had was, WHY?

One day, while I was on one of my photography trips to Locke a few years back, I ran into a lady by the name of Martha Esch. She's a very talented painter who owns The Shack, an art gallery on the corner of Levee and Main Streets in Locke. When I first saw her, I noticed she had a painting in her hand, a portrait of a man from the 1800s. When I approached her about her painting, she told me that it was a man named George Locke. I was so happy to hear that someone other than myself knew who George Locke was, and she immediately smiled with joy that I knew who he was, too. We talked for about an hour or so, while she showed me census records and newspaper clippings in her art gallery that I too had copies of at my own home. She was amazed at the research I had done, and we started sharing information.

She told me that she first heard of George Locke when she first moved there several years back. According to Esch, when she asked one of the residents there, Clarence Chu, who George Locke was, he told her that he was Chinese merchant. She did some research on her own and learned quickly that was not true. She then when to search census records and found the same things I did, residents from other ethnic backgrounds living in Locke!  Eventually she approached the board in Locke* and asked them about the fact that a lot of the towns history had been untold, or better yet, told inaccurately, and that was when they began to give her trouble. I guess the people in charge there like the history they have set in stone, and don't want anyone questioning it, even if they have verifiable research to show the accepted history isn't actually completely accurate history.

Esch also claims today that by her questioning the accepted history of the town several years ago, that was one of the major factors in why the L.M.A. chose to give her legal troubles later on. As she states she believes it was primarily because of the board members personal dislike for her that they chose to fight her over the purchase of her building, but that they used their bylaws as the legal excuse to sue her.

(*Note: Martha claims that she questioned the board about the town's history years before she purchased her art gallery in 2011.) 

Back To The History...

Over the years I have supplied Martha with a lot of primary source documents, and she has been more than capable of digging them up on her own as well. Our combined efforts have paved the way for others to become interested in learning the whole history of Locke, California- not the picked apart, exclusive history. I think that preserving an accurate account of our history is one of the most important things we can do for future generations. That is why my blog on Locke is so important to me.

Because of my busy schedule, I am not always posting on this particular blog.  I am regularly working on other projects at the moment with writing for the newspaper, providing historical content to various websites and finishing my latest historical non-fiction book, "Stories of the Forgotten." So, working on my personal blogs continues to end up at the back burner, but I'll try to post as much as I can, when I can.

I hope that whomever reads this blog can see my sincerity to stick to primary source material as much as possible, but I also enjoy mentioning oral histories and various sources
when the time calls for it. I think by using both together we can get a better view of the amazing history of this town.

Let me add this: There is no doubt that the Chinese played an integral part of the history here, but so did all the other residents who lived in Locke. Remember, the Locke you know today is much smaller than what once was long ago. The Locke family owned 490 acres of land and Locke sat at one spot of that land. The boundaries of the town, or "city limits" contained many businesses, structures and residences located in and around the area considered to be "Locke," and census records, voting registries and other primary sources prove this.  This blog is to honor the history of Lockeport (aka Locke).... All of it, which includes all of the people who lived and worked there from its beginnings to the present day, including but not limited to Chinese.

So far I have only focused on the early days, as it will take me a very long time to work my way up to the present. I will enjoy every moment sharing these stories with you all.  --

For now, please enjoy this summary of Lockeport's History (Locke) that was recently posted inside and outside of the Lockeport Grill and Fountain in Locke, California. I was happy to have provided the necessary primary and secondary source documents for this project that was written and posted by Martha Esch.

Here's to reviving history in Locke once again!!

Plaque in front of Lockeport Grill & Fountain

(wording on plaque at Lockeport Grill & Fountain, Locke, CA)

Lockeport, California

For hundreds of years when the Sacramento Delta was a swamp, nearly the size of Rhode Island, Native Americans inhabited this area. Documented archaeological burial mounds believed to be the remains of the Junizumne Plains Miwok are located in the immediate vicinity. [1]

In 1852, George W. Locke at age 22 was lured by the Gold Rush to California from New Hampshire, becoming a successful Sacramento pioneer merchant and self-described “Capitalist.” He purchased numerous properties including three large Delta swampland parcels with his business partner, Samuel Lavenson. [2]

Much of his Locke Ranch 490 acre parcel became developed. The eastern third was left mostly wild (now Delta Meadows State Park), the northern third was planted with a large pear orchard. The balance included a railroad workers’ permanent encampment and rail switchyard (South Locke today); a Russian settlement of 30 cabins along Locke Slough also were part of the early development and were removed by the California State Parks around the turn of the millennium.[3]Remnants of those foundations still exist today under the ivy.

There were also two huge canneries with dormitories, a fruit packing shed-railyard-shipping wharf (now the Locke Boathouse). A 10 acre global village of 38 two-story shops; gambling houses, lodges, boarding houses, saloons, restaurants, markets, brothels, theaters and opium dens, located on River Road, Main Street and Levee Road. Along Key Street there were about 20 mostly one-story residences, a flour mill, a church, a slaughterhouse and a four acre community garden. [4]

The original settlement of “Lockeport” in the early 1900’s housed the railroad, cannery and shipping wharf workers. An early photo showing a dozen ramshackle houses on stilts built along Sacramento River[5] may have existed before the levee roads along the river were raised an additional 10’ around WWI.

The Locke Boarding House was said to have been constructed as early as 1910 [6], while the Levee Road buildings were built in 1912 and 1913[7]. In 1915, The Sacramento Union newspaper referenced the George W. Locke Packing House, stating that there were employees living in dormitories[8] of the Locke Ranch, three months before the Walnut Grove fire on October 7, 1915. Members of the Locke family also lived on the property including Clay B. Locke and his wife, Alice.

Most of the buildings and houses you see today on Main and Key Streets were built between 1916 and 1926.[9] The National Register for Historic Places reports that Caucasian carpenters built the structures in town. The architectural style of the different buildings found in Locke has been described as “riverfront woodcutter’s gothic commercial” and “false front commercial,” a rural vernacular found in most Gold Rush towns. [10]  A half dozen structures have individually burned down or collapsed under their own weight. 

The town’s name was shortened to “Locke” between 1916 and 1920.  From 1916 to 1963 Locke had its own Post Office. Clay B. Locke was the official Post Master in 1916. [11] George Carlton was the town’s Constable.[12]  The California Voting Registries, Newspapers and Census records mention Locke and Lockeport simultaneously over the years with a diverse population of residents; including Americans, Europeans, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. [13]

By the 1920s there were even more residents which included Italians and East Indian families.[14] The 1930 U.S. Census lists approximately 550 Locke residents: 37% Chinese residents, while the other 63% were non-Chinese, with over 23 different countries of origin.[15] The 550 residents that were listed included workers living in the two separate settlements along the Locke Slough, the railyard (Locke south), dormitory cannery housing, and the George Locke Ranch.      

One of Locke’s two canneries, the Libby, McNeill & Libby facility was located (0.7) miles north of Main Street. Numerous publications as early as 1916, note their address being located in “Locke, California.”[16] Besides the canneries, the shipping wharf, railyard and George Locke & Son packing house employed and housed immigrants from all over the world.

Locke remained a gem among the Delta, with a wide array of ethnicities living together: Americans, Russians, Spaniards, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Mexican, Italian, French, Irish, Scottish, Armenian, Turkish and more.  All of Locke’s residents of diverse backgrounds provided patronage and a lively atmosphere to Locke’s restaurants, gambling houses, opium dens, brothels and saloons. 

There were many illicit businesses that were located in Locke according to legal affidavits and newspaper headlines of the time. The brothels were run by Caucasians[17], and the gambling halls and opium dens were run mainly by Chinese. [18] The Sacramento Bee stated that Locke was once considered the Monte Carlo of the Delta.[19] It was the only place where Caucasians could come and gamble freely without worry of the law. No other area in the Delta had that sort of freedom for gambling. [20]

Today’s population of Locke numbers about 160 including: 60 in town, 70 in Locke South, 10 in the Locke Boathouse Marina, 5 on the Locke Ranch, and 15 in camps along the Railroad Cut, Locke Slough and Snodgrass Slough.

Locke’s rustic leaning buildings, narrow Main Street, beautiful river setting and colorful history attract artists, painters, photographers, writers and musicians to visit and live here.
(Plaque written by Martha Esch, Copyright June 2016, document citation verification by J’aime Rubio~)

[1] Federal Register/Volume 80, No. 25, (Locke mound #1 and 2 CA-SAC-47; CA-SAC-76); Bennyhoff, James A. 1977. Ethnogeography of the Plains Miwok. Center for Archaeological Research at Davis Publication Number 5. University of California at Davis.
[2] History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the Sacramento Valley, California – by Professor J.M. Guinn, A.M., Page 668
[3] Sacramento River Delta Historic Society newsletter Vol. 31 #1 pg 3,.June 2011 by Kathleen Graham Hutchinson; J. Mello witness
[4] Sacramento County Planning Dept. 1968 aerial photo, J. Polenske
[5] Glass negative of town of Locke along levee of Sacramento River, ca. 1880's?sCalifornia photos from the Ted Wurm collection, BANC PIC 1994.005--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.  
[6] NCCSAH, April 2009
[7] Sacramento County Assessor
[8] Sacramento Union, July 27, 1915.
[9] Sacramento County Assessor
[10] NRHP, Form 10-900, OMB No. 1024-0018, page 4
[11] U.S. Appointment of U.S. Postmasters, October 13, 1916, Clay B. Locke for Locke, Sacramento County.
[12] Sac Bee 1919; California Voting Registry (1920-1922).
[13] California Voting Registries, 1916-1918, 1920-1922, 1926; 1920 Federal Census.
[14] 1920 Federal Census
[15] 1930 Federal Census
[16]Western Canner & Packer, Volume 8, 1916.
[17] Sac Union Newspaper, September 12, 1919, April 5, 1919
[18] Sac Union Newspaper, March 8, 1920; November 5, 1922
[19] Sacramento Bee, October 1, 1919
[20] Sacramento Bee, 1919 & 1920 (various)


(Copyright 2016; J'aime Rubio, 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.