The Rise of Sutter’s Fort

John Sutter landed along the banks of the American River in August 1839, accompanied by a small, but loyal crew of Hawaiians and Germans he hired during his sojourn in the Islands.  The first order of business was to construct shelter. About a mile south of the river landing place, on a knoll that rose above the flat valley floor, the Hawaiian workmen constructed a number of tule huts for temporary living quarters. Sutter himself lived in a tent while a one story, three-room adobe house was under construction. Then, when Sutter returned from Monterey in mid-1841 with his New Helvetia (New Switzerland) land grant of nearly 50,000 acres from Governor Juan Alvarado, the real work of building his trading post began. The largest structure had a main floor, an attic and a basement. Around this central building he erected an 18 foot high adobe wall and a second, shorter wall within the outer one. The space between was then roofed over and divided into numerous compartments for crafts and mechanics shops. The whole was made of hand-made, sun dried adobe bricks. Sutter’s purchase of Fort Ross gave him framed glass windows, and wood for the mighty gates. After a building period of four years, the huge compound rising above the surrounding plains made an impressive sight. For ten years the fort was a lively trading post, Sutter’s year-round home, shelter and employment to a floating population of 200 or more trappers and craftsmen—and to overland immigrants coming to settle, a bastion of safety against the hazards of the wilderness. Read the full story in Rise, Ruin & Restoration: A History of Sutter’s Fort.


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