You are here

Legacy Communities Help Define the Delta

May and June 2012

The California Delta is a unique place distinguished by its diverse geography, vibrant natural resources, rich agriculture and legacy communities. The Delta Stewardship Council (Council) envisions a future where the Delta’s unique qualities are recognized and honored, including the attributes of the Delta’s historic towns.

Chapter 5 of the final draft of the Delta Plan includes policies and recommendations to protect and enhance the unique character and values of the Delta. Chapter 7 deals with reducing risk to people, property, and State interests in the Delta.

Walnut Grove and Locke are examples of two of the earliest modern-day settlements along the Sacramento River. They are two of the legacy communities in the Delta with a rich past and vibrant culture, which can capitalize on “heritage tourism” as a means for economic development.


Both Walnut Grove and Locke had large Asian populations who worked at packing sheds and on local farms in the late 1800s. These early residents help shape and define the communities that are still thriving today.

Established in 1850, Walnut Grove quickly blossomed into an agricultural hotspot, and within 20 years, it was a bustling town full of small businesses. Chinese immigrants began to call Walnut Grove home during the 1880s. Just past the turn of the century, a large Japanese community began to emerge in Walnut Grove, relocating from Japan and from disparate places in California.

After a fire broke out in the Asian section of Walnut Grove in 1915, the rebuilding took on a much different tone than the previous architecture. Japanese builders from throughout Northern California arrived in the town and quickly made an impression by developing a Japanese commercial district.

The fire also heralded the birth of a new community, Locke. In search of a place to call their own, the Chinese immigrants who had called Walnut Grove home made a deal with George Locke to establish their own settlement. The Chinese immigrants took to their tools to build the town to reflect their culture and history. Originally called Lockeport, Locke looks almost the same now as it did when it was finished in 1920. At its peak, as many as 1,500 people called Locke home.

In 1970, the Sacramento County Historical Society added Locke to the national registry of historic places as the only town in the U.S. built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese.


The Delta Plan incorporates many of the recommendations in the Delta Protection Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), which notes the importance of enhancing the legacy themes of the Delta’s historical communities, and creating better awareness of them. The ESP recommends improving legacy towns’ lodging and entertainment; restoring historic buildings; and promoting context-sensitive infill development.

The final staff draft Delta Plan recommends the Delta be named a National Heritage Site to protect its status as a unique and special place in California.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)