Gold Towns: Sacramento

Gold created Sacramento, although the precious metal wasn’t embedded in its soil. In early 1848, the only structure of any importance or substance in the entire Sacramento Valley was John Sutter’s trading post two miles east of the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, just 40-odd miles distant from the gold discovery site at Coloma.  Merchants set up shop in rooms inside Sutter’s Fort, but soon decided that Sutter’s private landing place—right on the Sacramento River—was a much better spot from which to snag newcomers as they disembarked from San Francisco boats. The town was surveyed and mapped in December 1848; in January 1849, lots were sold at auction. Sacramento City, as it was originally named, grew at a dizzying pace as tents and shanties sprang up between the oak trees, and frame-and-canvas stores lined the waterfront.  Fortunes were made as thousands of miners passed through the town to buy equipment and supplies, to drink or gamble at myriad saloons, to pay exorbitant prices for a restaurant meal or a boardinghouse bed. Freight and transportation suppliers, whether river-based or overland, as well as messenger services and real estate speculators, raked in profits beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The merchants had been right: the location was perfect for commerce. Not so perfect for a townsite, though, situated as it was on lowlands vulnerable to seasonal floods. The first flood, in the winter of 1849/50, inundated the entire town. More floods occurred in the 1850s, as well as two major fires, the first of which, in 1852, burned 90% of the city. Undaunted, Sacramentans rebuilt after each disaster and kept right on developing as a financial and trade center. For several decades, the “City of the Plains” was second only to San Francisco in population and importance. It has been the state capital of California since 1854.


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