Historically, the waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers flowed unrestrained down into the Sacramento Delta, ultimately finding their way to the San Francisco Bay. Annual flooding brought fresh layers of sediment to the valley, slowly building up fertile soil underneath the extensive estuary.
To encourage reclamation of the land for farming, California passed the Swamp and Overflow Act in 1861. The following twenty years brought thousands of laborers, most of them Chinese immigrants, who dredged canals, built up levee walls and drained excess water from over 88,000 acres of land to create agricultural islands.
Many of the Chinese laborers settled into the Walnut Grove area to become farm workers, but when large portions of the city’s Chinatown burned down in 1915, some of the residents rented land from George Locke and built the only town in America constructed for Chinese by Chinese.
Locals stop by the unchanging town of Locke to visit Al’s Place (better known as Al the Wop’s), after a long day of waterskiing on the regions 100s of miles of navigable waterways.
The agricultural islands themselves continue to be some of the state’s most fertile lands, growing a wide range of vegetables, grains, and fruits, and contributing billions of dollars to the state’s economy.