For some locals, it might be difficult to imagine a full-fledged brewery operating in the Land Park area. But long before there were such destination places as William Land Park and the Sacramento Zoo, this then-rural area was home to the Sutterville Brewery.
This brewery, which was established just south of today’s zoo in a two-story, brick building with a basement in 1861, was originally owned by the Prussia-born Martin P. Arenz (1826-1949).
The brewery structure, which was constructed 160 years ago in what was then the town of Sutterville, was initially occupied by a grocery store owned Robert H. Vance of San Francisco.
Arenz purchased both the building and its property from Vance for $1,500 in August 1861.
According to The Sacramento Union, in its June 15, 1872 edition, the brewery building measured 62 feet by 62 feet and stood on a 160-foot by 180-foot lot.
Among the improvements made to the premises during Arenz’s ownership of the brewery was an addition of a new roof.
On May 28, 1867, the Sutterville Brewery was among several local breweries that had their lager beer delivery wagons seized by revenue officers during their deliveries.
According to the following day’s edition of The Union, it was charged that these breweries “did not properly cancel the stamps in the manner required by the revenue law, but so contrived matters as to make one (revenue) stamp answer the purpose of many, thereby depriving Uncle Sam of his just and lawful dues.”
Arenz remained the brewery’s proprietor until September 1868, when he sold the business to Patrick H. Lyman for about $8,000.
A biography regarding Captain Frank Ruhstaller in the 1890 book, “An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California,” recognizes Ruhstaller and Joseph Bechler as having owned interests in the brewery.
And in following the sequence of events presented in the book, Ruhstaller purchased an interest in the brewery in mid-October 1869.
The book also notes that Ruhstaller “was in a partnership there (at the Sutterville Brewery) with Bechler for seven or eight months.”
Another biography about Ruhstaller in the 1913 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” mentions the following: “(Ruhstaller) bought an interest in the Sutterville Brewery, where he carried on a partnership with Joseph Bechler for seven months until the high water forced all work to cease.”
Both biographies mention that Ruhstaller continued working with local breweries before returning to his Swiss homeland for a short period of time in 1873.
No other historic accounts regarding Ruhstaller and Bechler holding interests in the Sutterville Brewery were discovered during research for this article, and there is no firm indication, based on research for this article, that Lyman was not involved in the ownership of the business from 1868 until the sale of the business in 1873.
A fire occurred at the brewery on Jan. 27, 1871. Flames were spotted on the roof of the drying room in the malt house.
The Union, in its Jan. 30, 1871 edition, noted: “Part of the Sutterville Brewery was discovered on fire, but which, by dint of strenuous efforts of the proprietor, Patrick Lyman, and his neighbors, was extinguished before much damage had occurred.”
In 1873, Fritz Futterer and Nicholas “Nick” Thielen became the new proprietors of the brewery.
In regard to this new ownership, The Union, on July 12, 1873, ran the following advertisement: “READ THIS! SUTTERVILLE BREWERY. This well-known brewery was purchased a few months ago by the undersigned, two experienced German brewers, and many improvements added thereto, and they are now able to supply the old customers, as well as new ones, and their friends generally, with the very best of beer in this market, in quantities to suit. THIELEN & FUTTERER.”
This partnership continued until February 1877, when Futterer sold his interest in the brewery to Thielen.
But well before this business change, half of the ownership of the brewery was offered for sale through an advertisement in editions of The Union in April and May 1876.
In part, the advertisement read: “One-half interest in the SUTTERVILLE BREWERY, finely improved and a well established business. Will be sold cheap. For full information, inquire of NICK THIELEN.”
Various non-brewery meetings were held at the brewery, including an April 25, 1878 meeting of residents of Swamp Land District No. 1. The purpose of the meeting was to make nominations for levee commissioner.
In being that a portion of Sacramento, including part of that district, experienced a major flood in 1878, several other very timely, levee-related meetings were held at the brewery around that time.
The 1880 book, History of Sacramento County, California, refers to the brewery, as follows: “This brewery is eighty-two feet long by forty-two feet wide (which are different dimensions than those given in the aforementioned 1872 Union article); employs four men, and has a capacity of fifteen barrels per day. Nicholas Thielen is the proprietor.”
The Union, in its Oct. 17, 1883 edition, reported the following: “Saturday evening (Oct. 13, 1883), a large party of ladies and gentlemen from Sacramento gave a surprise party to Nicholas Thielen, proprietor of the Sutterville Brewery. They were finely entertained. There was dancing and feasting until near morning.”
The operation of the Sutterville Brewery was only about a 22-year venture.
From Nov. 12 through Dec. 31, 1883, The Union ran the following advertisement: “FOR SALE – ON ACCOUNT OF THE removal of the brewery business of the Sutterville Brewery, the buildings and property of same are offered for sale on reasonable terms. Inquire of N. THIELEN, proprietor, or of CADWALADER & PARSONS.”
Nearly four months later, The Union, reported details regarding an auction, as follows: “REAL ESTATE AT AUCTION – Bell & Co. will sell at auction Tuesday, March 18, (1884), on the premises, at 11 a.m., the property of N. Thielen, known as the Sutterville Brewery, and about five acres of good land connected therewith. It includes the brick and frame buildings, barns, sheds, windmill, pump, tank with capacity of 4,500 gallons; underground pipes connecting with frame and brick buildings; large lot of fruit trees and shrubbery, etc. Sale positive. Terms, 10 percent on day of sale; balance when deed is made. Buildings open for inspection until the day of sale.”
The brewery auction, which The Union noted “should receive more than ordinary attention,” was postponed until the following Saturday.
However, for some reason, the auction did not occur until July 19, 1884, when Sheriff Alfred H. Estell sold at auction the brewery property and its buildings to the Germania Building and Loan Association of 1011 4th St. for $2,200. The brewery’s machinery was not included in the sale.
A grand opening for a new business, the Sutterville Garden, owned by William Emerson at the old brewery site, was held on Saturday evening, July 14, 1884. The event, which was free to the public, included music and dancing.
The property changed hands once again in 1890 and was reopened as the Mount View House. Owned by J. P. Melchior, who had previously owned a saloon at the southeast corner of 10th and S streets at the present day site of the Old Ironsides bar, the business advertised itself as featuring “the finest wines, liquors and cigars.”
In the Jan. 27, 1899 edition of The Union, it was noted that George Gray, who resided on Riverside Road (today’s Riverside Boulevard) “is now proprietor of the old Sutterville Brewery on the lane between Sutterville and Freeport Road.”
The two-story, brick Sutterville Brewery building was demolished in 1952, and occupying the site today is the Land Park Business Center at 1250 Sutterville Road.
For some locals, it might be difficult to imagine a full-fledged brewery operating in the Land Park area. But long before there were such destination places as William Land Park and the Sacramento Zoo, this then-rural area was home to the Sutterville Brewery.
Note: This is part 10 in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
The topic of riverboats on the Sacramento River is undoubtedly a rich part of the river’s history.
These vessels played an important role in transporting freight and passengers.
In the January 1920 edition of the Southern Pacific Bulletin, it was noted that “long before the railroad came, the Sacramento River was the ‘roadway’ along which commerce first traveled.”
Among the earlier vessels to ply the Sacramento River was a schooner known as the “Sacramento.”
In an article in the May 27, 1858 edition of The Sacramento Union, this schooner was described as having been purchased by Capt. John A. Sutter in 1841.
A July 7, 1860 letter written to The Union by a newspaper correspondent known as St. George refers to this vessel, as follows: “The only regular packet running between the embarcadero of New Helvetia (now the beautiful city of Sacramento, capital of the state of California), and Yerba Buena (now the great city of San Francisco, the New York of the Pacific) was Captain Sutter’s launch, ‘Sacramento,’ a schooner of seventeen tons. She was built by the Russian American Company, I think, at Sitka, for the sea otter service at Bodega and Presidio Ross, and sold to Capt. Sutter in 1839. I last saw her laying (sic) at Washington (now part of West Sacramento), opposite our city, in 1858, roofed over and used as a house for salmon fishers.”
In being that the 1858 Union article and 1860 St. George letter differ as to when Sutter acquired the Sacramento, it should be recognized that this event occurred in 1841.
The 1858 Union article noted that the Sacramento remained in operation until as late as 1848-49, and “after performing a number of important offices during the (Mexican) War, was, in the spring of 1848, the first to take down to San Francisco the tidings of the gold discovery.”
It was also mentioned in the same article that the Sacramento continued to be the largest schooner on the Sacramento River “up to the period when the commerce with the mines began.”
According to St. George’s letter, Sutter also had another line, which ran from New Helvetia to his Hock Farm agricultural settlement along the Feather River. The riverboat of this line was referred to as the “‘White Pinnace’ – an open boat, rowed and poled by six nude (Indians).”
The aforementioned 1920 edition Southern Pacific Bulletin article referred to the first steamer to travel on the Sacramento River.
That vessel, which was known as the Sitka, made its way from San Francisco to today’s city of Sacramento in 1847.
Nearly four decades later, The Union received a letter, dated Feb. 6, 1885, from a Mrs. James Greyson of Sebastopol, Calif., who claimed to have been a passenger aboard the Sitka.
The letter included the following words: “In the San Francisco Call of January 24th, I see the request for the name of the first steamer that plied on the Sacramento River, and being a passenger on the occasion of the first trip, I feel myself competent to give the information desired. She was a beautiful steam yacht, bearing the name of Sitka. She was, I believe, presented by the Russian government to Captain (William Alexander) Leadsdolph (Leidesdorff, Jr.). She left San Francisco on the 15th of December 1847 and arrived at the embarcadero on the Sacramento (River) on the 24th of the same month.”
Different dates for this voyage were presented in another account of the Sitka in the St. George’s aforementioned 1860 letter.
The 1860 letter noted that the vessel left San Francisco on Nov. 28, 1847 and “arrived at New Helvetia December 4th – six days and seven hours out.”
Also included in St. George’s account were the following words: “I made the first and only trip on Captain William A. Leidesdorff’s little Russian steamer from San Francisco to New Helvetia (today’s Sacramento). She had no name, but has since been called the ‘Sitka.’
“I have the notes I took at the time to be published in (the San Francisco newspaper) The California Star. I was the Sacramento correspondent for the paper, but did not publish them, as my friend, Captain Leidesdorff, was very sensitive at that time on the subject of steamboats.
“The day after her arrival from the Sacramento (River), she was sunk by a south-easter in what is now Battery Street (in San Francisco). She was raised and hauled up with an ox team in Bush Street, above Montgomery (Street), the engine taken out, and she was made a schooner yacht, christened the ‘Rainbow,’ and ran as a packet on the Sacramento River after the discovery of gold.”
The 1890 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” also describes the Sitka, which is referred to in some 19th century and early 20th century references as the “Little Sitka.”
It was mentioned in that book that the steamboat arrived at the Port of San Francisco aboard a Russian bark from Sitka on Oct. 14, 1847.
Leidesdorff, who had been in business with the Russians at their American settlement for seven years, purchased the steamer from the Russians for his hide and tallow commerce.
The Sitka was described in the 1890 book as being “long, low and what the sailors termed very ‘crank.’”
It was also noted in the book that the weight of a person on her guards would throw one of her wheels out of service.
Various historic accounts refer to the Sitka as having made two trips in California.
According to the 1890 county history book, on Nov. 15, 1847, the Sitka left Yerba Buena Island – in the San Francisco Bay – where she had been reassembled, and took a voyage to Santa Clara, “with indifferent success.”
The book also notes that during its second trip, the Sitka, after making its way up the Sacramento River in the latter part of 1847 and arriving safely, took a long time to return to San Francisco.
This portion of the book reads: “Nearly a month elapsed, however, before her return; and in the meantime, various were the jokes and jibes ‘launch’-ed at her and on the proprietor, who nevertheless persisted that he would yet ‘make the smoke fly on the bay,’ and hand the name of his first steamboat ‘down to dexterity,’ as he pronounced the word.”
But, as previously noted, the Sitka made two trips in California before being dismantled.
Note: This is part three in a series regarding past and present details about the Sacramento Zoo.
As referred to in the last article of this series, the Sacramento Zoo has experienced many changes throughout the years.
The zoo became a much different looking place in the 1960s.
On July 26, 1960, The Sacramento Bee presented a proposed layout of the zoo under a major modernization and expansion project that had been then-recently approved by the city council.
The 21 sections shown on the illustrated layout were birds, aquatic birds, seals, small animals, otter, orangutan and gorilla, monkeys, gibbons, chimpanzee, open air grottos for tigers, lions and bears, cat cages, monkey island, field animals, alligators, reptile house, penguins, flamingos and non-flying tropical birds, bird house, entrance and concessions and new rose garden.
The initial phase of the zoo’s building project included the entrance structure and concessions building, a flamingo pond, five moat enclosed animal confinement areas and new animal cages.
The project’s second phase, which would be completed at a cost of about $90,000, included confinement areas for penguins and alligators and cages for monkeys, gorillas, reptiles and small animals.
Prior to the 1960-61 project, many animals were housed in wooden cages that had been constructed by Works Progress Administration laborers during the Depression.
Assisting with the reptile house, which would exhibit the zoo’s first snakes, was Kenneth C. Johnson.
In addition to serving as the director of the Sacramento Civil Defense Area, Johnson was one of the region’s most notable reptile experts and owned one of Northern California’s most extensive private collections of snakes.
The monkey island exhibit, which would be constructed by John F. Otto, Inc. (today’s Otto Construction), would allow zoo visitors to obtain a full view of its monkeys.
Among the monkeys that were transferred to monkey island upon its completion was Spooky, who had been a resident of the zoo since its opening in 1927.
In an update about the project, The Bee reported on Aug. 7, 1960 that $200,000 had been allocated by the city, while an additional $100,000 in contributions was being sought from the public. The latter sum would be used to modernize the old portion of the zoo.
It was also mentioned in the same Bee article that Emil A. Bahnfleth, president of the Sacramento Zoological Society at that time, announced that individuals donating $100 or more would have their names placed on special donors plaques at the zoo’s entrance.
Anyone donating $5 to $99 would receive an Honorary Z-B (“Zoo Builder”) certificate.
As for Bahnfleth, whose name was later memorialized through the naming of Emil Bahnfleth Park at 950 Seamas Ave., he never witnessed the opening of the expanded zoo, as he died at the age of 70 on March 30, 1961.
With the new, spacious zoo only two months away from the completion of its initial phase, The Sacramento Union, on April 9, 1961, ran an article, which included the following words: “The sumptuous new quarters are designed with an eye to convenience and animal comfort, and are a combination of sweeping, curved architectural lines, sharp, straight lines and blended landscaping that brings the creatures virtually into their natural setting and provides zoo visitors with a walk through the park.”
The article also noted that the society’s campaign to raise $100,000 had reached the $41,000 mark.
While anticipating the opening of the newly improved zoo, which was designed by architect Douglas M. Kelt, the zoo’s superintendent, Anthony A. “Hank” Spencer said, “People don’t know what this means to me. I’m the kind of guy who is lucky enough to have his hobby and his work all wrapped up in one job. And think what it will mean to the animals. Oh, it’s a wonderful thing.”
In preparation for its reopening, the zoo was closed for the 10 days prior to its June 11, 1961 dedication, which would be directed by the city and the zoological society.
During that time, the animals were moved to their new locations.
The reopening of the zoo was a grand occasion that drew thousands of people, including special guests, state Senator Albert S. Rodda; Assemblymen W. A. “Jimmie” Hicks and Edwin L. Z’berg; Leslie E. Wood, chairman of the county board of supervisors; Milton Schwartz, chairman of the city board of education; Maj. Gen. Robert B. Landry, commander of the Sacramento Air Materiel Area at McClellan Air Force Base; Brig. Gen. Norman Callish, commander of Mather Air Force Base; and Col. Leo Tamamian of the Sacramento Signal Depot (later renamed the Sacramento Army Depot).
To present more people with the opportunity to visit the zoo during its reopening week and to bring awareness to the $100,000 Zoo Builders campaign, Mayor James B. McKinney proclaimed the week as Zoo Builders Week, and the zoo maintained longer hours, as it remained open until 7 p.m.
Later changes for the zoo during the 1960s included the redesigning and rearranging of animal enclosures.
A new master plan for continued improvements and another expansion of the zoo was approved by the city council on July 9, 1970. The master plan was the first of its kind in the zoo’s then-43-year-history.
A month later, the Sacramento Zoological Society adopted its docent program. The program has since grown to include about 1,400 volunteers, who donate about 34,000 hours of their time to the zoo each year.
In September 1971, the zoo experienced a major change, as William “Bill” Meeker replaced Spencer as the zoo’s superintendent.
Four years later, the zoo received accreditation by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums – today’s Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The zoo became a participant in the International Species Inventory System in 1979. The mission of ISIS is “to facilitate international collaboration in the collection and sharing of knowledge on animals and their environments for zoos, aquariums and related conservation organizations to serve institutional, regional and global animal management and conservation goals.”
The first ZooZoom, the zoo’s annual 5k and 10k run fundraiser, was held at William Land Park in October 1980. This year, the event will be held at the park on April 14.
Other events that have attracted visitors to the zoo during its history include the California Celebration multicultural day (May), the King of Feasts food and wine luau (June), Zoo Camp (June through August), the “Boo at the Zoo” Halloween event (October) and Holiday Magic (December).
Another highlight of the zoo occurred in 1983, when the zoo became involved with AAZPA’s Species Survival Plan for Siberian tigers, Asian lions and Sumatran orangutans.
In 1987, the zoo celebrated its 60th anniversary and zoo guests, 60 years old or older, were admitted into the zoo free of charge for the entire month of March.
During the 1990s, the zoo opened its Lake Victoria exhibit, Rare Feline Center, gift shop and office space structure and concessions and conference facility.
It was also in the 1990s when the Sacramento Zoological Society assumed complete financial and daily operational management of the zoo.
Zoo highlights of this new century have included the opening of the on-site Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital and the Red Panda Forest, Australian Outback and Tall Wonders giraffe exhibits, the debut of the Conservation Carousel, and the zoo’s first Sumatran tiger birth.
In its 85th year, the now 14.3-acre zoo continues to serve its visitors through its mission to “(inspire) appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation.”
Editor’s note: This is the twelfth part of a series related to the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
As this 12-part series comes to a close, it is quite fitting to include a brief history of the very place that the locally renowned shopping centers and several businesses of the four corners of Watt and El Camino avenues were named after – Del Paso Country Club.
This well-known private country club, which was established in 1916, is located at 3333 Marconi Ave., just east of Town and Country Village.
When the club was founded, the north area was many years away from becoming a developed area, thus the club was constructed in a very rural location.
In selecting the name of the club, the club’s founders honored the history of the property, which had been part of the old Rancho Del Paso Mexican land grant.
The rancho was most renowned as the one-time site of the breeding and training ground of thoroughbred racehorses, the most famous of which was Ben Ali, who won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.
The idea to create a country club in the north area was that of members of the Sacramento Country Club, which was located off J Street, near Tullar Avenue (today’s 48th Street).
Members of this East Sacramento country club, which featured a nine-hole golf course on rented land, saw that the area was changing.
These changes included developers Wright and Kimbrough’s development of the nearby Tract 24.
In 1915, while standing with a group of people near the present day grounds of Del Paso Country Club, land developer Orlando A. Robertson, in referring to the site, declared, “This is it.”
The group included Harry S. Wanzer, Fred Peck, Lauren Stuart “Stu” Upson and Steve Day.
Unfortunately for the group, a crop of grain made it difficult to see the boundaries of the property, so the group reconvened to observe the land a month later, after the crop was removed.
With the 148.3-acre site meeting the approval of the group, the property was purchased for $22,253.80. The club increased its size with its $20,000 purchase of a 1.4-acre addition 31 years later.
With arrangements made to develop the property, a Bay Area man named John Black was called to the site due to his expertise in laying out golf courses.
The nine men behind the founding of Del Paso Country Club were Wanzer, Peck, Day, Upson, Clinton Harber, James C. Carly, Harold J. Furley, William Murcell and Rudolph A. Herold.
Upson served as the club’s first president, Carly as vice president and Peck as secretary and treasurer.
Additionally, Edward Olden and his wife were the club’s first managers.
On Feb. 5, 1916, The Sacramento Bee ran an article with the headline, “Club to have fine new home.”
The article noted that the construction of the club, which would include an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse and bowling, tennis and swimming facilities, would begin at the end of the winter weather.
The Bee also reported that these amenities, as well as landscaping and roads, would be completed at a cost of about $75,000.
Articles of incorporation for the country club were signed in January 1916.
To assist in the club’s membership campaign, which was launched on Feb. 7, 1916, a dance and dinner was held at Hotel Sacramento at 10th and K streets just eight days after the campaign began.
After much hard work and deliberation, the club was finally prepared for its Sept. 2, 1916 opening.
The Sacramento Union reported on this grand afternoon and evening gathering, which included an orchestra performance and dancing on the tennis courts.
Although the club’s grounds had not been completed in their entirety, The Union noted that Sacramento could nonetheless boast a country club that could “hold its own for situation and accommodation with any (country club) in cities of similar sizes.”
The club’s living room was described by The Union as having colorful Oriental rugs, massive oak tables and luxurious couches and chairs.
Also located at the club were a kitchen, a dining room, a billiards room, a men’s lounging room and a ladies’ card room.
The club, which also included a skeet shooting range during its earlier years, hired its first golf professional, Scotland native Jim Smith, in 1916.
Three years later, Bill Selkirk was hired to replace Smith. And Selkirk continued in that role until 1924, when the club hired another golf professional, Bob Clark.
During Selkirk’s time at the club, grass was planted on the fairways and greens.
The club acquired one of its most notable golf professionals, Frank Minch, Sr., in 1925. He remained with the club for the following 40 years, during which time he became one of the state’s leading golf professionals.
Another early highlight of the club was its first golf tournament, which was held on Sept. 17, 1916.
A decade later, Joe Turnesa won the first Sacramento Open Championship, which was held at Del Paso Country Club.
Many local and national championship tournaments have been played at the club throughout its history.
To date, the club has hosted four U.S. Golf Association tournaments – the 1957 and 1976 U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championships, the 1960 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur Championship and the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
And with about a $10 million redesign and renovation of its world-renowned golf course in 2005 and 2006, the club earned the privilege of hosting the U.S. Senior Open from June 22-28, 2015.
The club also hosted the “Swing at Cancer” Celebrity Pro-Am, a one-day tournament that was founded by Bob Hurst and held from 1972 to 1997.
The tournament, which raised funds for the American Cancer Society and local cancer projects, featured such renowned participants as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Sam Snead, Hale Irwin and Billy Casper.
Bob Kunz, the club’s general manager/chief operating officer, described “Swing at Cancer” as “certainly the biggest golf charity in Sacramento history and maybe one of the biggest charities in Sacramento history.”
Although those associated with Del Paso Country Club take pride in the various prestigious events that have been held at the club, as well as Del Paso’s position of hosting the 2015 U.S. Senior Open, Kunz emphasized that first and foremost, the club is a social place.
“What (the club) boils down to on a grassroots level is community,” Kunz said. “It’s a reason to get together with your friends. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all around an excuse, if you will, to get together. A club environment; you take the physical plant, a golf course is a golf course. Whether you’re here or at Ancil Hoffman (Golf Course), it’s a golf course. Yeah, it’s a difficult golf course, but it’s a golf course. The restaurant is a restaurant. The difference is the social interaction.”
Editor’s Note: This is part four in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
As a city of two rivers, Sacramento has a long history of trying to protect itself from the very entities – it waterways – that provided its birth and its life’s blood for the future.
In explaining this point, The Sacramento Bee, on Dec. 11, 1861, published the following words.
“Ever since the planting of Sacramento at the confluence of two mighty rivers, she has had to fight for existence with an energy and constancy which have developed her nerve and muscle and proved her vitality beyond that of any city of modern times.”
Sacramento, which was once referred to as the “Levee City,” experienced about an eight-year period of prosperity in regard to avoiding major floods within the city limits.
The great flood of 1853 forced businesses and residents to acknowledge the dangers of Sacramento’s rivers overflowing their banks. But this period of inactivity and a lack of inundation lulled the citizenry into a false sense of security.
In 1861, this false sense of security, along with much property, dreams and visions for the future, were again awash in a flood, the likes of which had never been seen in historic California.
As a precursor to the great flood of 1861, the level of the American River reached its highest point since 1853 – about 18 feet above the low water mark on March 27 of the same year.
During that evening, the wing dam on the east side of the city at Rabel’s tannery was swept away and the levee at that site was damaged.
As a result of the same storm, water from Sutter Lake overflowed and cut a channel through Front Street to the American River.
Furthermore, bridges along the same river from the capital city to Folsom were either swept away or useless as a means to cross this waterway.
But surprisingly, this storm was considered to have produced only minor property damage and no loss of human life.
The lack of extensive loss was due to the fact that the floodwaters receded rapidly. But the damage done to the wing dam at Rabel’s tannery would come back to haunt the city.
The rains of December 1861 came faster and were heavier than any ever experienced in the Sacramento Valley.
Both the Sacramento and American rivers, as well as all rivers to the north, rose above their previously recorded high water marks.
Once again, the big bend in the American River at Rabel’s tannery became the weak link in the chain of Sacramento levees that some politicians suggested at the time had cost as much as $1.5 million.
The irony of the flood is that the levees that were built to protect the city became dams that held the waters within its boundaries and inundated the city.
On Dec. 10, 1861, The Sacramento Union described the disaster, as follows: “Sacramento was yesterday subjected to suffering and damage from the deepest and most destructive flood of those to which she has been exposed. It came, too, with the rapidity of a hurricane. In a few hours after the water crossed the levee, the whole city was underwater. The flood precipitated itself upon us without warning, and found people totally unprepared. The levee is now an injury, instead of a benefit, as it confines the water in the city, and has caused it to rise higher by probably two feet (more) than it would have done had no levee existed on the south side.”
Only a few places of high ground were spared the destruction of the flood of mid-December to mid-January 1861.
These locations where the floodwaters did not intrude included Sutter’s Fort and Poverty Ridge, which was roughly located between 20th, 23rd, P and W streets. Poverty Ridge was given its name due to the impoverished appearance of the people who took refuge there with their belongings and their animals during Sacramento’s periodic inundations.
The third location was a small mound along 10th Street at the site of today’s Cesar Chavez Plaza.
The rest of the city found itself underwater, ranging from a few inches to several feet.
Because the wing dam had been washed away from the great bend of the American River at Rabel’s tannery, the river broke through the A Street levee on the north side of the city, rushed down Burns’ Slough, passed Sutter’s Fort until it washed up against the R Street levee on the south side of the city.
The R Street levee held back the waters, just as it was designed to do, only from the wrong side.
The continual rush of waters, fed by more and more rain, hit the levee and rebounded back into the city proper where it continued to swing back and forth between the north and south levees, causing Sutter Lake to overflow and leaving destruction in the water’s wake.
The aforementioned Dec. 10, 1861 edition of The Union reported: “Several persons were drowned; and, had the water broken in during the night, the loss of life must (sic) have been fearfully great. Horses, cows, hogs, fowls, etc. have drowned, but how many we have no means of ascertaining. The damage to property has been great and may be greater. Thousands tonight are houseless, while hundreds of families are in second stories, without the means of making fires.”
The waters calmed, but the rains did not abate until February 1861 and some of the puddles from the flood did not dry up until the following August.
It was during the flood that Leland Stanford had to be taken by rowboat to his inauguration as governor.
If the three previous major floods had only sparked a desire for protection, the great flood of the winter of 1861-62 opened the citizenry’s eyes to the death that could be brought from life-giving waters.
The “Levee City” had then become a community with indomitable spirit, which led to major changes in how Sacramento approached and prepared for flood control.
Editor’s Note: This is part three in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
When presenting a history of the city’s rivers, it is important to not only provide details about major floods, but also measures that were made to combat potential floods.
The 1880 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” notes that prior to the great flood of January 1850, “nothing had been attempted in the matter of protection from flood or high water.”
Capt. John Sutter and the Indians, who showed him where to build his fort, recognized that the proposed location for the new Sacramento City was in a natural flood plain that was regularly inundated in the winter months.
Flood control became an immediate concern of the citizenry and politicians.
The Saturday, Jan. 19, 1850 edition of the Placer Times included the following words: “A week ago last night, our city experienced one of the most terrific southeast storms known in this region, which had the effect of swelling the Sacramento (River) by Wednesday afternoon, so that the water commenced running over the slough on I Street, at various points between First and Third (streets). On Thursday morning, the entire city, within a mile of the embarcadero, was under water. The damage to merchandise and to buildings and the losses sustained by persons engaged in trade is very great – vast quantities of provisions and goods having been swept away by the rushing waters. The loss in livestock is almost incalculable; many persons have lost from 10 to 50 yoke of cattle each, and horses and mules have been carried down the stream in great numbers.”
It was obvious to all people concerned that flooding in the area needed to be stopped and the waters held at bay.
But there were some people who found a “gold lining” in the inundation.
The Times also reported in its Jan. 19, 1850 edition that “large numbers (of people) have been washing gold within the limits of our city during the week, without any great degree of success.”
It was also noted in the 1880 county history book that “waters had scarcely begun to recede from the city (following the January 1850 flood) when surveyors were employed to survey lines for and make a location of the proposed levee.”
A levee commission was established on Jan. 29, 1850 and one of the commissioners was Hardin Bigelow, who on April 1, 1850 became Sacramento’s first elected mayor, largely because of his support of building levees.
The need for building levees was immediate, but the funds for doing so were nonexistent.
Bigelow arranged for the city to borrow funds beyond the city’s $10,000 limit, and he also provided $6,000 from his personal assets.
With this money, the city was able to construct temporary embankments, which held off the anticipated second flood of 1850 and demonstrated the need and efficacy of levees.
On April 29, 1850, voters approved a special $250,000 tax assessment for a permanent levee that was built between September and December 1850.
The contract for the levee was given to Irwin, Gay & Co. on Sept. 6, 1850 and the labor began several days afterward.
Although the levee was not yet completed by Oct. 25, 1850, on that date, the San Francisco newspaper, the Daily Alta California referred to Sacramento City as “our sister, the Levee City.”
The levee, which commenced to the south at the high ground near Sutterville, ran for about nine miles along the northern and western boundaries of the city. And with this levee, the people of Sacramento City felt safe.
But less than a year and a half later – on March 7, 1852 – new raging waters broke through the sluice gate at Lake Sutter, breached the levee and once again inundated the city.
As a result, Sutter’s Fort, the knoll at the current site of Cesar Chavez Plaza and Poverty Ridge on the southeast side of the city stood as islands in a lake that in low spots reached 12 feet deep.
While once again the economic devastation was extensive, according to an article, titled “Sacramento defies the River: 1850-1878” by Marvin Brienes, “No lives were lost, and warnings before the levees gave way enabled many Sacramentans to remove their most valuable goods to high ground.”
Three days after the city was flooded, Mayor James Richmond Hardenbergh called for a new levee to be constructed on I Street, from the Front Street levee to 5th Street, from 5th Street along the edge of Lake Sutter and then to the levee of 1850, along the American River.
The proposal was adopted by the common council and this $50,000 project was completed after about two months of labor in November 1852.
Although local citizens were once again feeling safe in the Levee City, this feeling lasted only three weeks, as the American River levee was broken on Dec. 19, leaving a 40-foot-wide crevice.
Eventually, 150 feet of the levee was destroyed and Sacramento City was under water.
In its Dec. 25, 1852 edition, the Daily Alta California reported the following: “The water was running through Eighth Street, some six feet deep. Several lives were supposed to have been lost. One man was seen floating down the river on the top of his house. At the foot of L Street, a whole block is afloat; the Eagle Saloon is washed away and is floating round.”
As mentioned in the previous article of this series, on New Years Day 1853, the water level of the Sacramento River was 22 feet above the low water mark and two feet higher than the great flood of 1850.
By Jan. 2, 1853, floodwaters once again entered the heart of the city.
Frustrations mounted for the city’s “burned out and flooded citizens,” as one local man described the area’s residents.
In an early January 1853 letter to the editors of The Sacramento Union, the man wrote: “Our city government has been in operation nearly three years, has expended more than two hundred thousand dollars upon the levee, and very large sums for other purposes. Our taxes have been greater perhaps than those of any other city in the world; our city debt is now very large; and after all this taxation and expenditure, the city has not received a benefit commensurate with the costs. We have received nothing like a fair equivalent for our money.”
On July 29, 1853, a city ordinance “for widening, altering and improving the levee, and providing for the payment of the expense” was approved by the mayor and common council.
The cost was set at no more than $50,000 and the work, which was completed by the latter part of 1853, was paid for in scrip known as the “Levee Scrip.” The levee along Burns Slough at the eastern end of the city and down R Street was separate from this approximate sum and was paid for through a loan.
The levee system, which later underwent various improvements, proved to be a successful barrier against major floods in the city for several years. But that level of prosperity quickly changed on Dec. 9, 1861.
Editor’s note: This is the ninth part of a series regarding the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
The northwest corner of Watt and El Camino avenues has been home to a wide variety of businesses throughout its history.
As presented in the last part of this series, Jack’s House of Music was among this corner’s most notable businesses.
This longtime popular shop, which operated at 2528 Yorktown Ave. from about 1956 to 2002, was originally part of a series of businesses of the Garden Rustic Shops.
This set of shops was named after one of the shops’ businesses – the Garden Rustics & Nursery at 2520 Yorktown Ave.
A 1955 advertisement for Garden Rustics & Nursery, which was owned by Tom Russell, notes that the business offered seeds, shrubs and trees, fertilizers, insecticides, garden hardware, copper and brass items and pottery.
Garden Rustics & Nursery began operating in the north area in about the mid-1940s with its 2900 Fulton Ave. location.
Russell, who owned the aforementioned Yorktown and El Camino avenues property, became associated with a man named Ray Boroski (1924-1999) in 1954.
It was in that year that Russell rented a business space at 3405 El Camino Ave. to Ray for an appliance store.
Ray, an automobile mechanic by trade, came to California from Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, Stella (Plezia) Boroski, in 1946.
In about 1948, Ray, who then resided at 2305 I St., opened Master Motor Parts, a gas station and garage at 3417 Broadway in Oak Park. His original partner in the business was his brother, Fred W. Borowski, of 4224 T St., and Joseph W. Capra of 700 54th St. was later added to this partnership.
The spelling of the Borowski surname was only altered in Ray’s family, as he dropped the “w” of this name while he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
Master Motor Parts, which relocated to the former location of a Safeway grocery store at 3409 Broadway in 1952, continued its operations at this latter location until 1956.
Under the sole proprietorship of Capra, Master Motor Parts later grew into a small chain of stores that experienced many years of success.
Stella, 87, said that she was not entirely fond of her husband’s previous occupation, since he returned home each evening with greasy clothes and hands.
And she added that it was not Ray’s ultimate dream to own an appliance store.
“There were no bars around the neighborhood (within the area of Watt and El Camino avenues) at all and (Ray) said a bar would be a good (business) to put in (that area), and when he set his mind to something, he made sure he got his way,” Stella said. “My husband rented the (El Camino Avenue) building from Tom Russell, who owned it. In order to get a bar in there, you had to pass all kinds of city ordinances. There was a Bible reading class across the street (near Rytina Laundromat at 2525 Yorktown Ave.) and they objected to a bar going in, so my husband opened an appliance store. In the meantime, he jumped hoops to get the bar going, and he finally got it in.”
The bar, which was opened by Ray and his brother, Harry A. Borowski (1917-2000), on Monday, Aug. 6, 1956, was known as the Palomino Room.
Ray had recruited Harry to become a partner in the business, partially because Harry was the owner of a tavern in Cleveland and thus had experience as a bar owner. Harry’s son, Fred Borowski, said that the Cleveland bar was known as the Tremend Club.
Although the Palomino Room opened primarily as a bar, many people remember the business as a place that served high quality lunches and dinners.
In commenting about this fact, Stella said, “The bar was first, but you had to serve food (in a bar) at that time. We served sandwiches and chili and things like that and then we went further. Prime rib was (later) our biggest seller, so we were noted for our prime rib.”
A Palomino Room advertisement, which appeared in the Feb. 21, 1960 edition of The Sacramento Union, noted that its customers could also order steaks that were “tender, not tenderized.”
Stella said that the Palomino Room began serving prime rib and other more elaborate entrées about a year after its opening. And hired to prepare this more elaborate food were Frank Russo, who worked at the restaurant for about 20 years, and Nick Jukich, who remained with the business until the late 1990s.
Another notable part of the Palomino Room’s history was its live music performances.
The business, which seated about 45 people in its original dining room, included a piano bar, and one of the earliest pianists to entertain this establishment’s guests on a regular basis was Dodd Baker.
Other pianists who later played at the Palomino Room were Ronnie Kemper, who was once a member of Dick Jurgens’ band, Abe Battat of San Francisco, and Randy Carmichael, one of the sons of the legendary jazz pianist, composer and singer, Hoagy Carmichael.
As for the name of the business itself, Ray’s son, David Boroski, said, “The name came about, because at the time, in the north area, the sheriffs’ posse had a squadron of palomino horses and they were all bordered in the north area. My father thought that it would be a great idea to tie in the sheriffs’ palominos, which appeared in parades downtown and maybe even in some Tournament of Roses parades, with the restaurant.”
Ferdinand Morant, 89, said that he enjoyed going to the Palomino Room during the 1960s.
“I first went (to the Palomino Room) in around 1965,” Morant said. “We used to go in there with a group (for dinner) weekly, because of bowling. The Swiss (Helvetia Verein) lodge had a bowling league (at Country Club Lanes) at that time. They started in (about 1960) or something like that. The whole group liked to go in there to the Palomino Room. It was good food all the time there. They were known for good food.”
Ray was also recognized as a good bowler with a very high average.
In addition to members of bowling leagues, members of various businesses, organizations and groups, including the Kiwanis Club of Sacramento Suburban, The Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co., Masonic lodges, attorneys and accountants also used the Palomino Room as a meeting place.
During its history, this business expanded to accommodate a greater number of guests.
Eventually the Palomino Room featured seating for about 60 patrons in its front room, seating for about 50 people in its Gold Room (aka “Gibson Girl Room” due to its various Gibson Girls prints that hung on its walls), about 125 to 150 people in its California Room (which had its own bar, dance floor and restrooms and was the site of weddings and receptions) and about 30 people in its Garden Room.
In 1973, Ray and Harry purchased Leonard’s Liquor Shop at 3401 El Camino Ave. The business, which was then renamed the Palomino Bottle Shop, was previously owned by Clyde Leonard.
It was also in the early 1970s that Ray and Harry purchased the entire corner of El Camino and Yorktown avenues. This property also included Jack’s House of Music.
Fred and David took over the operation of the Palomino Room in 1982.
Six years later, the Palomino Room underwent a $400,000 remodel, which gave the place a less western and more upscale appearance.
This remodel also included the elimination of the bottle shop, the Gold Room and the Garden Room, which all became part of the Palomino Room’s front room.
From 1999 to 2000, the building was leased to David Hinkle, who continued the operation of the Palomino Room.
And after a fire destroyed Jose’s Mexican Restaurant at 5451 Fair Oaks Blvd., the restaurant, said former Jose’s server Alan Boehle, operated at the old Palomino Room location for six months prior to its closure in late December 2002.
Other businesses to occupy the site were V.I.P. seafood and sushi buffet restaurant, East Meets West steak and sushi buffet restaurant and Farmer’s Daughter, a café and specialty food store.
In 2004, Fred and David sold the old Palomino Room building and its property, and its accompanying property and buildings to Ethan Conrad Properties.
Editor’s Note: This is part five in a series about dairies that were located in and near the Land Park area.
Among the various 19th century dairies, which operated within today’s 95818 zip code, were the Excelsior, Boston and Capwell dairies.
By at least 1884, George H. Hooker and Dugald McMillan were operating a dairy at the southwest corner of 13th and W streets.
An article published in The Sacramento Union about five years prior to that time summarizes an incident involving Hooker and a milk can.
According to this May 13, 1879 article, a man named Barney Cummings had been arrested for battery and then released on bail earlier in the day, only to use a whip in an attempted assault on another victim, Hooker.
The article noted that Hooker avoided the whip and “knocked him into the gutter with a milk can, which he had in his hand, pounded him a little and then had him rearrested.”
This milk can reference appears to be merely coincidental when trying to make any connection to Hooker and his dairy, as no pre-1884 mention of this dairy was discovered during research for this article.
The 1888-89 city directory recognizes Hooker and McMillan’s dairy as the Excelsior Dairy.
The last city directory to list Hooker and McMillan’s Excelsior Dairy was the 1889-90 directory. This directory also notes that these men were then residing at this dairy site.
Although neither Hooker or McMillan nor the dairy are listed in the 1893 city directory, references to Hooker do appear in articles in The Union in 1893 and 1894.
The 1893 article notes that Hooker bought nine sacks of potatoes for two needy young men and lent them a horse and wagon to sell the potatoes around town.
The story has an unhappy ending, as the boys sold the potatoes and tied the horse in an alley and never returned to Hooker’s house. The horse was left unattended in an alley throughout the night.
The 1894 article refers to “Mr. and Mrs. George Hooker” as hosting a Christmas evening party at their residence at 9th and I streets.
George H. Hooker lived at the same site, which had the address of 830 I St., until about 1899, at which time he moved to 601 P St. While residing on I Street, he operated a wood and coal business from the same property.
Another 13th and W streets dairy is mentioned in an advertisement that was published 22 times in The Union from Nov. 1 through Dec. 1, 1897.
The advertisement reads: “MRS. A. FINNEGAN’S Boston (private) Dairy – Located Thirteenth and W. P. O. address: 1228 W Street.”
Based on information in city directories, the Finnegan family moved from 2430 N St. to 1228 W St. in about 1894.
According to an article in the June 7, 1899 edition of The Union, it was announced in a Board of Health meeting that police were notified to remove “a dairy at Thirteenth and W streets.”
This dairy, which could possibly have been the Boston Dairy, appears to have been ordered for removal based on a then-new ordinance that prevented a resident from owning more than two cows within city limits.
The Finnegans were certainly not operating a dairy at 13th and W streets by the latter part of 1899.
The Union reported on Oct. 10, 1899 that a fire had occurred at James Finnegan’s home on W Street, between 12th and 13th streets.
According to this article, Mrs. Finnegan had fed the “family cow” in the barn on the property and then returned to the house, which she discovered was filled with smoke.
About half of the house, which was owned by Anna E. Clark of 2331 10th St., was destroyed, and the Finnegans lost their furniture and various other items. The fire was caused by the explosion of a lamp in the house.
The article also noted that Mrs. Finnegan was able to enter the home and safely remove the children.
James Finnegan, who was a plasterer, and his family were residing at 810 L St. as early as 1901.
Capwell and Stillwell dairies
In about 1886, New York native Harris C. “Harry” Capwell acquired property at the southeast corner of 13th and X streets.
Initially, Harry Capwell was residing in a home on this land and working as a carpenter. But by 1889, he was operating a dairy at the site, while continuing to live on his property.
On July 10, 1894, The Union published the following notice to the public: “‘Having bought out the dairy business of Mr. Capwell, I am prepared to supply pure milk and cream at reasonable prices; satisfaction guaranteed.’ Thos. S. Stillwell.”
With this purchase, the history of this 13th and X streets dairy may have abruptly ended.
By at least the early part of the following year, Stillwell, who was a native of England, was operating a dairy at 34th and T streets. He also resided on the same property.
Stillwell moved his residence and dairy to Freeport Road (today’s Freeport Boulevard), a half-mile south of the then-city limits, in late 1895.
He continued the operation of this Freeport Road dairy, which was known as Pacific Dairy, until at least 1900.
By 1903, Thomas S. Stillwell was living at 215 16th St. and working for the Southern Pacific Co. in Sacramento.
Stillwell maintained a residence in Sacramento until his death at the age of 78 on Aug. 4, 1941.
After selling his dairy, Harry Capwell continued to reside on the 13th Street property for the remainder of his life. His home’s address was 2301 13th St.
Although no information pertaining to whether Harry Capwell had any children was found during research for this article, it was discovered that he was married to New York native Huldah (Lytle) Capwell for more than a decade. The couple was married in Sacramento by the Rev. Alanson C. Herrick on Oct. 7, 1897.
In about 1910, Harry Capwell passed away in his late 70s, and his widow continued to live on the property. Her home address was 1320 X St. from about 1914 until her own death at the age of 77 on Dec. 1, 1919.
Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
Despite its many benefits, the Sacramento River – as well as the American River – has undoubtedly been a continuous threat to local residents since the founding of Sacramento City.
But as presented in the first article of this series, local flooding did not suddenly begin with the idea of establishing a city somewhere within the boundaries of today’s Sacramento.
One of the city’s most notable floods, the 1852-53 flood, included a rise in the Sacramento River that resulted in the water level, on New Years Day 1853, being 22 feet above the low water mark and two feet higher than the great flood of 1850.
An article published in The Sacramento Union on Monday, Jan. 10, 1853 noted that due to “very severe” and “unremitting” rains during the previous Thursday and Friday, the levels of the rivers were once again raised.
The same article described the inundation of the city at that time, as follows: “It did not come up to the mark which it attained on New Year’s Day; however, by several feet. On I Street, it reaches along the depressed ground, between 7th (Street) and the base of (today’s Cesar Chavez) Plaza, but no further down. On J (Street), it extends to 4th (Street), and unfortunate (sic), K (Street) is, as usual, pretty well submerged. The movement of small boats are (sic) confined entirely to J (Street), above 5th (Street), and from that around into K (Street) and the low ground back of and below the business part of the city.”
The area referred to in this article included all of what is known today as Old Sacramento and the site of the present day Interstate 5, including the area commonly referred to as the “boat section.”
The citizens of Sacramento City battled many hardships during the early years of the city, as the area was not only afflicted by floods and fires, but also by the tragic Squatter Riots of August 1850 and a cholera epidemic that took the lives of many locals in October and November of the same year.
The riots, which claimed the lives of several people, including Joseph McKinney, Sacramento County’s first sheriff, occurred as a result of disputes regarding land that the Sutters owned, sold or gifted.
According to the 1880 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” cholera was brought to Sacramento from San Francisco on Oct. 20, 1850.
It was reported in the 1890 book, “An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California,” that at some point during the disease’s approximate 20 days of terror in Sacramento, the average daily mortality figure in the city reached about 60.
This number was likely higher, considering that the same book noted that many deaths were concealed and unreported.
Sutter’s Fort, once the center of trade and commerce for the region, became a hospital to house the suffering cholera patients away from the city proper, which was built along the waterfront.
Despite the suffering that many local citizens endured during the city’s first decade, one of Sacramento’s greatest disasters was still yet to come.
On Dec. 9, 1861, a heavy storm resulted in most of the city becoming saturated with floodwaters, as people frantically took refuge to higher ground.
An article in the May 24, 1866 edition of The Union recounted the magnitude of this particular winter’s flooding and noted that on Jan. 10, 1862, “there were few citizens of Sacramento, however tall, who could have stood on J Street – the Broadway or Montgomery Street of the capital – and held their chins much above the overflowing and irresistible flood, which had broken upon the city.”
A further indication of the magnitude of that flood is presented in the 1913 book, “History of Sacramento County, California.”
The reference reads: “Judging from the tales of the pioneers, the flood in the winter of 1862 must have covered not only the river bottoms, but also a large portion of what is familiarly known as ‘the plains,’ for the writer has heard old settlers tell of transporting their provisions and other merchandise from Sacramento during that winter on flatboats or barges almost to the then-town of Elk Grove. An idea of the immense volume of water that found its way to the sea on that occasion may be gained from the fact that it not only covered the great tule basin of Yolo County, but also a large portion of the plains east and south of the city to a width of many miles.”
Some journals written at that time chronicled the flood of January 1862 as turning California’s Great Central Valley into a lake 300 miles long and 40 miles wide.
The immense flood led to the city taking action to re-channel the rivers.
This action, which did not occur until 1868, will be further detailed in this series.
One other large flood occurred in the Sacramento area in the 19th century.
That flood began near the Lovdal ranch, just below the city, on the morning of Feb. 1, 1878 and within the city, it eventually reached as far as 6th and R streets.
Furthermore, as a result of the 1878 flood, the road to the city cemetery at today’s Broadway at 10th Street became impassable.
An article in The Union’s Feb. 7, 1878 edition revealed that a positive note occurred in the town of Courtland as a result of this flood.
It was mentioned in the article that the inundation in the Sacramento area was so great that it caused the river’s level below the city – at Courtland – to be lowered by four inches.
But on a negative side, Courtland’s grain crops were lost as that area’s lowlands were still underwater by April 10, 1878, the day that the floodwaters were determined to be no longer a threat to the city of Sacramento.
Also causing a negative impact in the 19th century was the fact that the continuous flooding in the area resulted in rapid changes that made the waterway hazardous for navigation, leading to many shipwrecks that plagued sailors, merchants and the city’s residents.
As mentioned in part one of this series, the Riverside-Pocket area was also inundated with floodwaters in February 1904.
This flood began at the sharp turn of the Sacramento River, near what is today the intersection of Riverside Boulevard and Sutterville Road.
The San Francisco Call noted two days after the incident that the floodwaters covered about 10,000 acres of “the richest land in the state.”
The profound words of a survivor of tragedies in the early years of Sacramento were presented in the 1913 county history book, as follows: “What with floods and fires, insurrection and the plague, the very stars seemed to fight against Sacramento in her infancy, and the foundation of her latter prosperity was laid upon the ashes of her pioneers.”
In regard to the great flood of 1861-62, which was the last flood to invade the city’s business district, it was noted in the 1913 county history book that since the time of that flood, the settlers had learned the lesson that safety could be found “in high and wide levees, properly constructed to withstand the wind and water.”
But it was also noted in the same book that “after the flood of 1862, it became evident to the businessmen of the city that it was unsafe to depend entirely on the levees.”
Editor’s Note: This is part one in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
In being a city of two rivers, Sacramento has a history that is very much tied to each of these tributaries. And, undoubtedly, the river most directly associated with the Pocket area is the Sacramento River.
The Pocket area itself is partially bordered by this river and its levee, which has received much attention lately due to the controversy surrounding a city proposal to extend public recreation access along the river.
Certainly, no event in the Pocket’s history made the area’s residents more aware of the Sacramento River’s existence than the Edward’s Break – the devastating levee break that flooded about 10,000 acres in the Riverside-Pocket area in February 1904.
The significance of the Sacramento River in the city’s history is so great that it would be impossible to present a thorough account of the city’s beginnings without referring to this river.
And by its name alone, the Sacramento River is important to the history of Sacramento, since the city took its name from this important waterway.
As the largest river in California, this 375-mile river has its source near Mount Shasta.
The river then meanders down the center of the Sacramento Valley and runs between the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento.
It continues its way into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where it is fed by other watercourses to become the Carquinez Straits and ultimately flows into the San Francisco Bay.
How the river was formed is a complex series of geological events, which include uplift and erosion of the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Mountains and the eruption and creation of Mount Shasta.
For more than 100,000 years, the Sacramento River has been cutting through deep deposits of sediment from the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada.
As previously mentioned, the city of Sacramento was named after the Sacramento River.
In 1808, the Spanish organized an expedition to go into the interior of California to explore rivers north of the Cosumnes River, which they discovered two years earlier, and to search for suitable locations for missions and pueblos.
This expedition was led by Spanish army officer Jose Gabriel Maraga, who gave names to many of the topographic features that he discovered on his journey.
At that time, the Spanish army in California was inextricably linked to the Catholic Church, thus almost all the names chosen by Maraga were taken from Catholic nomenclature.
Maraga named the largest of these tributaries El Rio de Sacramento, which translates as the River of Sacrament. The Sacramento River was thus named in honor of the “offerings of Christ.”
On Oct. 9, 1808, Maraga wrote in his diary: “Today, we broke camp and moved to the river discovered yesterday, which we named the Sacramento. They have measured this river at 169 varas (about 5,577 inches or about 465 feet) across.”
For some unknown reason, the only entry missing from Maraga’s diary, which was kept from Sept. 25 through Oct. 23, 1808, was the entry for Oct. 8 – the day that he discovered the Sacramento River.
During the following 40 years, the Sacramento River remained the quiet home of salmon, wildlife and native people of the area.
In 1848, bright, metallic flakes were found in a tributary of the Sacramento and for the river and its valley, its future changes were dramatic.
It appears as if the word, “rush” from the famous Gold Rush of 1849 has much significance in the naming and location of the city.
Furthermore, little effort was given to the naming of the city’s streets, which received basic alphabetical and numerical names.
Sacramento City was built in a “rush” with little regard for expansion or flooding.
In fact, the very sands contributed to by flooding were responsible for the location of the new city, because the sand provided a low spot for large ships to beached, loaded and unloaded.
Neither Captain John Sutter nor the Indians who lived in the area before him regarded the eventual location of the city as habitable.
Sutter, guided by the local Indians, had his fort built in one of the few high ground sites in today’s city of Sacramento.
Even the city that Sutter had planned – Sutterville – was being built on the high ground in the area of today’s William Land Park.
The problem with this location was that its high banks that prevented flooding, also kept ships from landing.
As a result, Sacramento City was born almost overnight, because it was the one spot where large vessels could land and unload supplies, feeding the frenzy of the Gold Rush.
When it comes to presenting the city’s river history, it is certainly essential to include details pertaining to the topic of flooding.
While visiting Sacramento on Feb. 25, 1878, James W. Marshall, whose discovery of gold on the South Fork of the American River led to the Gold Rush of 1849, was interviewed by a Sacramento Record-Union reporter.
In speaking to the reporter regarding the topic of high water, Marshall referred to the 1845-46 flood, which covered all the Indian mounds in the Sacramento Valley.
Marshall described this flood as being so great that it came within two feet of entering Sutter’s Fort.
And in relating the 1845-46 flood to the then present times, Marshall estimated that the water of that flood would have reached at least four or five feet above the high grade of the city.
Continuing, Marshall noted that an old Hudson Bay trapper had told him about a flood, which occurred in the Sacramento Valley in the winter of 1830.
That flood, Marshall said, reached a level of five or six feet higher than the level of the 1845-46 flood.
Within a detailed account of the flood of 1849-50 in the Feb. 8, 1873 edition of The Sacramento Union, it was noted that by Jan. 12, 1850 “there was no dry land in town except at the knoll on the public square (today’s Cesar E. Chavez Plaza), between Ninth and Tenth streets.”
Another one of the great floods in the city’s history was the flood of 1852-53.
Having already recently suffered another tragedy – the great fire of Nov. 2, 1852 – Sacramento was flooded as the result of a rise in the Sacramento River from Dec. 20, 1852 to Jan. 24, 1853.