Sacramento History (In Brief)
John Augustus Sutter, a Swiss immigrant, arrived in Sacramento in 1839. Soon after arriving he established Sutter’s Fort, an adobe structure with walls 15 to 18 feet high and 2 ½ feet thick.
Sutter’s Fort, which is located in Midtown Sacramento, is the oldest building in Sacramento, and the oldest restored fort in the United States. Sutter’s Fort is part of the California State Park System. The fort has been reconstructed based on a map published in 1847 and it is furnished as it would appear in that time period. “Living History” docents, in period costume, recreate what life was like in that time period.
John Sutter Jr. commissioned engineers to survey and create a street map for the area. Captain William H. Warner of the United States Topographical Engineers, headed up the project. The map created has a gridiron pattern of streets somewhat similar to Washington, D.C. The original street grid, which was later expanded, featured streets running north and south, from Front Street to 31st Street (now Alhambra Blvd.), and running east and west, ranging from the letters A through Y (now Broadway). The original grid remains in use today.
It was the gold rush in 1848 that really created the City of Sacramento. After the discovery of gold in the nearby foothills by James Marshall, a carpenter working for John Sutter, the city grew rapidly into a trading center for miners outfitting themselves for the gold fields.
The foundation of John Sutter’s fortune was agriculture, and the discovery of gold ultimately ruined him. Wave after wave of gold seekers (aka 49’ers) destroyed his crops and orchards, and butchered his cattle. He died while still trying to receive compensation for his losses from the government.
Sacramento’s waterfront location, ideal for commerce, was also prone to flooding due to its location. Today, flooding is still a threat at times despite the system of levees, weirs and reservoirs. Flooding can be protected against – but it can’t be prevented.
The city also experienced numerous fires during its early years which leveled the mainly wood and canvas structures repeatedly.
In 1854 Sacramento was the hub of commerce for an estimated 150,000 miners, ranchers, frontiersmen, and others residing in Northern California. Sacramento had 55 hotels, 14 stages a day leaving town, and 28 river steamers operating regularly between Sacramento and San Francisco.
There were devastating floods in both 1850 and 1852 followed by another in 1862. After the 1862 flood a massive effort was undertaken to raise the street level. A network of tunnels remain under the city and today in “Old Sacramento” you can take a tour of some of these underground areas.
As the citizens of Sacramento prospered as the city grew, over time the commercial district sifted east. What is now known as “Old Sacramento” became a notorious skid row called the “West End”.
The “West End” was home to what were then called “bums” (drifters, vagrants, derelicts, tramps, winos, hobos). Front to Seventh Streets saw hotels and apartments become flophouses. Cafes and taverns devolved into cheap saloons.
All of that changed when the State decided to run Interstate 5 down Third Street. Redevelopment opportunities stimulated by the freeway’s placement sealed the fate of the “West End” (for the better).