Locke History

Established in 1915, Locke is the last remaining rural Chinatown in America. During its heyday from the 1920’s to the 1940’s Locke was an autonomous island of Chinese culture with a permanent population of about 600, including many families, and seasonal farm laborers of about 1000. At one time Locke had four restaurants, a half dozen markets, dry goods stores, five brothels, a post office, two slaughter houses, a flour mill, canneries, shipping wharves , an opera, speakeasies during Prohibition, and five gambling houses.

Located about 30 miles south of Sacramento, Locke is the legacy of the extraordinary  efforts made by the Chinese in developing agriculture in California. On August 2, 1970 the entire town was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Sacramento County Historical Society.

California Delta 1925, (CA State Library)
Chinatown, California Delta 1925, (CA State Library)
Locke still looks very much like it did 70 years ago. It has withstood the threats of fire, floods,the pain of poverty, discrimination, and neglect. Of the seventy or so residents in Locke today, less than a dozen are Chinese. Although many of Locke’s storefronts, facades and homes have fallen into disrepair over the years, there is now a concerted effort, led by the Locke Foundation, to repair and restore Locke’s structures back to their historic appearance. In 1990 Locke became a National Historic Landmark. National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the United States Secretary of Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Today, fewer than 2500 historic places (nationwide) bear this national distinction.

Statement of Significance

by the U.S. Secretary of Interior – December 14, 1990

Founded in 1915, Locke is the largest and most intact surviving example of an historic rural Chinese-American community in the United States, including more than 50 commercial and residential buildings and covering approximately 14 acres along the east bank of the Sacramento River, south of the city of Sacramento. Locke is the only such community remaining in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which was a particularly important area of rural Chinese settlement.

national historical plaque