History of Sacramento

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Sacramento: Found and Named

In 1808, Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga found the Maidu Indians living peacefully in the Northern California valley formed by the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east and the Pacific Coast Mountains to the west. Warm summers, mild winters, a dependable yearly "rainy season" and water from the confluence of two great rivers, resulted in a landscape so verdant and abundant that Gabriel Moraga named the valley after the Holy Sacrament--Sacramento.

Before The Gold Rush

Word of Moraga's lush western valley spread slowly. By the 1830s and 1840s, only a handful of Anglo-American settlers were living in co-existence with the native Maidu and other Indian tribes. While their numbers were few, these first settlers had learned the secret of the Sacramento Valley: If you plant it, it will grow. Both agriculturally and economically, they had no idea how right they were.

Mr. Sutter Comes to California

In 1834, Johann Augustus Sutter (John A. Sutter), a 19-year-old clock merchant's clerk, sailed from Switzerland hoping to find success in America. Sutter's most lofty dream, that of founding a great new city for his fellow European immigrants, led him to California by way of the Sandwich Islands, Alaska and Oregon.

Sutter was sent by the Governor of Mexico to explore the rivers and valleys of Northern California and to establish an outpost on any 26-square mile area he chose.

Sutter and his party came to the confluence of what are today the American and Sacramento Rivers on August 12, 1839 and established Sutter's Fort. Sutter then made a decision that would forever change the history of California and the westward expansion of America.

Deciding more large trees would be needed to build homes for future settlers, Sutter wandered about 40 miles up the American River east of Sacramento and into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here, he found plenty of tall evergreen trees and fast-flowing water. It was a perfect spot for a sawmill, which, when completed in 1847, became Sutter's Mill.


On January 24, 1848, James Marshall was conducting a routine inspection of the millrace from Mr. Sutter's sawmill when a certain glitter caught his eye. This time, all that glittered was gold. By May of 1848, the news of gold in Northern California had reached San Francisco and by early 1849, the whole nation had gold fever. The 49rs were coming.

Hoards of miners and people hoping to make money off the miners arrived in San Francisco and made their way to the Sacramento gold. The history of the Gold Country is preserved today not only in Sacramento, but in nearby destinations like the Empire Gold Mine State Park in Grass Valley.

Sacramento Becomes a City

Shortly after gold was found at his father's saw mill in 1848, John A. Sutter, Jr. officially founded Sacramento. Sutter's Engineer William H. Warner laid out a simple grid-pattern city of 31 north and south streets identified by numbers, and 26 east and west streets identified by the letters of the alphabet.

The presence of gold and thousands of gold miners also brought just about every railroad in the new West to the new Sacramento. Vital not only for transporting people, but for getting the gold ore from the mountain mines to bays and ports of the Pacific coast, railroads are commemorated today at the California State Railroad Museum, one of the most popular attractions in Old Sacramento.

Over the early years, Sacramento benefited greatly from its role in transportation. It was chosen as the western terminus for both the Pony Express and Wells Fargo, and as the headquarters of the transcontinental railroad. As late as the 1930s, riverboats like the Delta King glided the Sacramento River carrying passengers along the only water to San Francisco. Today, the beautifully restored Delta King, anchored in Old Sacramento serves as a floating luxury hotel and restaurant.

Sacramento Rises Above the Flood

In spite of being almost completely wiped out by devastating floods in 1850 and 1852, Sacramento was selected as the location for the Capitol of California in 1854. Today, visitors can learn more about the state's history at the California State Capitol Museum.

After yet another massive flood in 1862, an ambitious project to actually raise the city above flood level was undertaken. Evidence of the tens of thousands of cubic yards of earth and miles of masonry work used to raise the streets can still be seen today in Old Sacramento.

Old Sacramento Goes from Slum to Jewel

Over the ensuing years, the Sacramento Valley flourished both agriculturally and economically. But, a gradual shift of commercial and residential growth to the east left Old Sacramento a virtual slum. Recognizing the area's historical importance and related potential as a tourist attraction, a plan to re-develop Old Sacramento started in the middle 1960s. Today, its 53 historic buildings are designated as both National Landmarks and as a State Historic Park. Its many shops, fine restaurants, historic landmarks and museums, plus a full calendar of special events highlighted by one of the largest jazz festivals in the world, now attracts more than five million people a year to the cobblestone streets and boardwalks of Old Sacramento.

The Modern Sacramento

The "New" Sacramento Valley, while maintaining its ties to the Gold Rush also serves as the political hub of the world's eighth largest economy and as home to the second generation of "Silicon Valley" and its related high-tech industrial growth.

From quaint shops on downtown arterials that look more like tunnels through a forest than streets, to upscale shopping malls and renowned cultural attractions like the Crocker Art Museum, all the elements of a diverse and vibrant urban environment come together in Sacramento.

During July, 2000, Sacramento hosted the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials, and the successful NBA Kings, WNBA Monarchs and Pacific Coast Baseball League River Cats lead the way toward a bright future in professional sports.

Want to talk about location? Lake Tahoe, Reno, the wine country of the Napa Valley and the San Francisco/Pacific Coast are all within a two-hour drive of Sacramento.

Great location along with a respect for history and a handle on the future has combined to make Sacramento a highly desired location for spending a day--or a lifetime.