Johnny Cash didn’t ride a bicycle, so far as we know. And he never served time in Folsom Prison. What he did was make the city of Folsom famous worldwide with the recording of an album from two live concerts he performed at the state’s second maximum-security prison with his wife, June Carter, and his band, the Tennessee Three, on Jan. 13, 1968. His “Folsom Prison Blues” from that album is instantly recognized around the world.
Cash paid a Los Angeles Times writer and a Columbia photographer to document the album.
Folsom Prison, constructed with granite blocks quarried nearby, opened in 1880 with a rated capacity of 1,795 inmates. Not to quibble, but the prison isn’t actually in Folsom. Folsom Prison has its own post office at Represa 95671. (Represa means “dam” in Spanish.)
Also, Folsom Prison no longer houses maximum-security inmates. It now houses medium-security inmates.
Folsom Prison’s architecture is iconic. Its history is compelling. And Johnny Cash performed there and brought it to the attention of music fans and beyond.
This summer the Folsom City Council approved renaming the proposed Folsom Lake Trail to the Johnny Cash-Folsom Prison Blues Trail. A majority of the trail alignment is within the Folsom Prison property, along Natoma Street.
Parks and Recreation Director Robert Goss said the trail is 2-1/2 miles long. It is being planned as a Class I bike/pedestrian trail from the Historic Truss Bridge to the Sacramento/El Dorado County line on Green Valley Road. Pedestrians and bicyclists can access the American River Parkway from the Historic Truss Bridge.
Goss said the first segment includes an overcrossing over the Natoma Street entrance to Folsom Lake Crossing. The ramp uses fill that has been stockpiled on site from excavation for the Folsom Dam Spillway. Construction is under way.
The overcrossing was designed by Louis Kaufman, the Sacramento architect who designed the Historic District improvements. Kaufman took as his inspiration the gothic East Gate of Folsom Prison. It is the most photographed gate of any prison in the world, said Goss.
Funding for the overcrossing and trail all the way to Rodeo Park behind City Hall, the library and Zoo Sanctuary may be in place. Additional grant requests are in process.
The Johnny Cash Trail is envisioned to be an audio and visual arts trail as well as a recreation trail. Six solar-powered music and visual arts stations are proposed along the trail.
In the future, there may be a Folsom Prison Blues concert in Folsom.
The trail reflects Folsom’s community values of recreation and the arts and its historical heritage, said Goss. It’s Johnny Cash’s legacy.