During our summer vacation of 2022, we visited our niece Deepti and her family at Sacramento. While touring California in 2008, I believed that either Los Angeles or San Francisco or San Diego could be the capital of California. That time Sacramento did not find a place in our destinations.
The city derives its name from its location near the confluence of the American and Sacramento River. The word Sacramento signifies Sacrament or Lord’s Supper. Sacramento came into prominence during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). Then it was a hastily built city with wooden structures covered with canvas.
The California State Legislature officially moved to Sacramento in 1854 and at the 1879 Constitutional Convention, Sacramento was named the permanent State Capital. With its new status and strategic location, the city quickly prospered. Sacramento became a major distribution and transportation point as the western end for both the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad.
A series of devastating fires prompted a group of citizens to establish the first volunteer fire department in the western United States. Sacramento Fire Department was established and became the first paid professional fire department west of the Mississippi.
The Firehouse No 3 in Sacramento was built in 1893. The existing structure remains the oldest Fire House in California, dating from 1853. When restored in 1959 for occupancy and use as a restaurant and bar, every effort was made to preserve as much as possible of the original building.
During the Gold Rush, Pioneer Square, a two-storied brick building housed Professor LA Lauriet’s Assay Office. If a miner stuck gold, Lauriet determined the authenticity of the gold. The miner could then save it, gamble with it, or spend it at a saloon.
The City’s waterfront location made it extremely vulnerable to flooding. After three seasons of severe flooding, thousands of cubic yards of soil were brought in to raise the entire city one storey. The original street level can still be seen throughout Old Sacramento under boardwalks and in some basements, as in the image above. The street level of Old Sacramento was raised in the 1860s and ’70s as much as 14 feet.
The B.F. Hastings Bank Building was erected in 1853, after the fire of November 2, 1852. This historic site was a banking house and it housed the State Supreme Court and the offices of the State Attorney General and the State Librarian. It also contained the offices of Wells, Fargo & Co., the Alta California Telegraph Company and the Pony Express.
River City Saloon was one of the original houses of ill repute owned by Johanna Heigle. Shortly after that it became Parker French’s Saloon. This saloon was also known as an unruly place at times. During Prohibition, it was continually raided as it insisted it was only serving alcohol for medicinal reasons. In 2007, the saloon was remodeled to its original grandeur and renamed the River City Saloon.
This is all that remains of the original Union Hotel built in 1855 and replacing the Verandah Hotel that occupied the site from 1852 until 1855. The Union Hotel was the social, political and business center of Sacramento until 1870. It housed the headquarters of the stagecoach lines and steamboat lines.
Livingston Low Baker & Robert Muirhead Hamilton came to California in 1849 with the hope of finding gold. Mining for gold was hard work with little rewards, so Baker & Hamilton started selling general supplies, tools and provisions to the miners. In 1850 the pair opened their first store in Sacramento concentrating on agricultural equipment and general merchandise.
The Hall, Luhrs & Company was a wholesale grocery business that operated from 1885 to 1906. It is the largest brick building in Old Sacramento.
In 1855, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins formed a partnership and opened Huntigton & Hopkins hardware store. The store was demolished and reconstructed at this site in 1970 because of the construction of the Interstate 5 Freeway. The inside of the store is typical of a hardware store of the mid-19th century in that Huntington used the second floor of his original building as his living quarters. In 1861 they conceived a plan for linking the East Coast and the West by a railroad. Thus, the Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated on June 28, 1861.
Built as wholesale and import house by four German immigrants who arrived in 1849 on the ship Lady Adams and started a wholesale business under that name. This is the only building to survive fire of 1852 as it was built with bricks. It was raised to its present level in 1865. In recent years it has been used as a lodging house.
The Mechanics Exchange Hotel catered to that segment of the Sacramento population. It served those connected with the iron works, mills, and railroad activities during the gold rush. In 1854, it was known as the Mechanics’ Saloon and Ball Alley. In 1860, owners replaced it with a brick building. They raised the buildings and added a third story when the city elevated the streets.
Old Town Sacramento brings to life the Wild West we’re used to in Hollywood movies. Many of the streets and buildings, dating from the 1800’s tell the story of gold rush miners, merchants, and madams.
When most cities around the world moved ahead with the times, Sacramento city preserved old buildings which are historically significant and aesthetically appealing. These buildings have been put to good use for businesses and offices and they also attract a lot of tourists year around.
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One thought on “Sacramento: The Capital of California”
Reji. Superb analysis. I have some stories to share with you:: about my 6500 mile Greyhound Trip in 1987, when I first landed in JFK Airport!
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