Locke Historic District: visit the only Chinese town built by and for Chinese!

View looking down the relatively preserved Main Street of Locke, CA

This old Chinese boarding house is now a museum and visitor center in Locke
Al the Wops Restaurant on Locke’s Main Street has long been a mainstay for good food!
This Chinese Medicine Shop on Locke’s Main Street is open for business!

The unincorporated town of Locke, on the south bank of the Sacramento River just above Walnut Grove, began as the town of Lockeport in 1912 when Chinese businessmen from nearby towns constructed three buildings, including a dry goods store, beer parlor, gambling hall and the Lockeport Hotel and Restaurant.

Soon thereafter, other buildings and businesses followed, with some of the merchants hoping the town would attract riverboat and rail passengers, which was slow to develop due to discrimination against Chinese prevalent at the time.  In October, 1915, the Chinatown of Walnut Grove, just south, burned to the ground, displacing hundreds of Chinese residents – Locke was a natural choice for relocation.

The land was leased from George Locke – at the time California law prohibited selling of farmland to Asian immigrants.  Hence, Locke became a town built by the Chinese, for Chinese, and offered a Chinese-language school and businesses and restaurants with direct appeal to the Chinese.  Nearby canneries also offered jobs, and a lively town developed.

By the 1950s, many of the town residents, now better educated, began moving on to larger cities and the town fell into disuse.  Today, it is part of the Locke Historic District, and preserves many of the buildings and way of life from the 1920s.

Visitors would be wise to stop first at the north end of Main Street, where the former boarding house is now the Locke Boarding House Visitors’ Center, offering historic overview and free of charge.  Other attractions include the Chinese Association Museum, former home of the Jan Ying Benevolent Association, the Locke Chinese School, a language school that opened in 1926, Locke Memorial Park and Monument (which honors the Chinese who labored in agriculture and helped build the levees and railroads early in the century) and the Dai Loy Museum (showcasing gambling paraphernalia).

Two notable restaurants are the Locke Garden Restaurant and Al the Wop’s Saloon and Restaurant (which was earlier also a brothel).  Walnut Grove also offers interesting restaurants, just a mile to the south.

How to get there: From Stockton, Walnut Grove and Locke are about 25 miles and 40 minutes; take I-5 north, exit at Walnut Grove Road, then go west to River Road, which takes you into Walnut Grove.

For more information: Go to www.locketown.com, call: 916.776.1661  or email  lockeinfo@comcast.net.

For more nearby getaways, see my blog: http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com.  Happy travels in nearby California!

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