Fun Facts & History

Historic Fun Facts

The Show Must Go On!

During the Great Flood of 1850, the Eagle Theatre’s production continued even as water began to rise inside.  Miners simply moved to seat backs and had their fun by pushing each other into the water!

The Railroad Comes to Town!

Sacramento was the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  The first tracks were laid here in Old Sacramento.

The Delta King

During WWII, the Delta King – and its sister ship, the Delta Queen – were used for troop transport.

The Delta King Sinks!

The Delta King sank in San Francisco Bay in 1983 and spent 18 months at the bottom of the bay before it was rescued and returned to Sacramento.

A Little Extra Dirt to Scrub With

Public bathhouses were all the rage before indoor plumbing was introduced.  It’s said that the water was changed after every 10 bathers.  Would you pay extra to be bather #1 or #10?

The Firehouse

The Firehouse in Old Sacramento is the oldest firehouse in the city and was originally serviced by volunteer fire fighters.

Sutter vs. Brannan

When gold was discovered in Coloma, John Sutter wanted to keep it a secret.  Unfortunately for him, Sam Brannan found out.  The story goes Brannan purchased all the “mining” equipment he could find, then ran up and down the streets of San Francisco shouting at the top of his lungs “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”  Brannan’s strategy worked, making himself California’s very first millionaire, while Sutter went broke.

The Lady Adams

The Lady Adams Building in Old Sacramento is the oldest building in the historic district.  It managed to survive the Great Fire of 1852, the Great Flood of 1861-62, and countless other disasters that befell the city.

The Pony Express Comes to Town!

The Pony Express Statue in Old Sacramento is one of only nine that follow the original Pony Express Trail.  The others reside in Lake Tahoe, NV; Reno, NV; Salt Lake City, UT; Casper, WY; Julesburg, CO; Marysville, KS; North Kansas City, KS; and St. Joseph, MO.

Historic Business Savvy

The platform on the roof of the Booth Building in Old Sacramento allowed a man to signal ships – and purchase all of their cargo! – before they even reached the dock.



This Day in History, August

August 1, 1849

Following an election that was held in July at the St. Louis Exchange on 2nd Street, a city council was organized in Sacramento City. Those elected to the city council were John P. Rodgers, H. E. Robinson, P. B. Cornwall, William Stout, E. F. Gillespie, Thomas F. Chapman, Michael T. McClelland, Albert M. Winn and B. Jennings. William Stout was made president but A.M. Winn was soon made president after Stout left the city. Winn’s first major task was adopting a city charter that was rejected by election on September 20. A charter was eventually adopted in October. Winn served as president of the city council until Hardin Bigelow was elected mayor in February 1850.


August 2, 1846

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was released from prison at Sutter’s Fort by Commodore Robert F. Stockton’s orders. Captain Montgomery sent an order for Vallejo’s release a week prior but Edward Kern, commander of Sutter’s Fort at the time, refused the orders. Vallejo had been imprisoned since June 16, 1846 after men involved in the Bear Flag Revolt brought him to Sutter’s Fort. The other men that were initially brought to the Fort from Sonoma during the revolt were not released until August 8.  Vallejo contracted malaria during his time in prison and spent the next three months in bed.



August 2, 1852

On this day in 1852, State Senator James Denver killed Alta California newspaper editor Edward Gilbert in a duel near the Oak Grove House, which is believed to be located within the present-day Haggin Oaks Golf Course. Gilbert had criticized Governor John Bigler in the newspaper for “grandstanding” while helping a caravan try to rescue immigrants stranded in the Sierra. Denver was the leader of that caravan and took offense to Gilbert’s criticism of Bigler. The two exchanged insults until Gilbert challenged Denver to a duel on August 2nd. Neither had met in person prior and sixty witnesses showed up to see the duel. As the challenged party, Denver chose Wesson Rifles at 40 paces.

Both missed on the first round. Gilbert was not a good shot and Denver shot at the ground as he tried to call off the duel. Gilbert refused to end the duel and was shot in the abdomen in the second round, dying within 5 minutes. James Denver was later appointed Secretary of State of California and in 1854 he was elected to Congress. In 1857, Denver was appointed Governor of the Kansas Territory and the city of Denver, CO is named after him. He was a brigadier general in the Civil War. After all his success in politics, the duel was a stain on his career. James Denver lost three chances at nomination for the Democratic Party to the presidency in 1876, 1880, and 1884 because popular sentiment had shifted over dueling as an archaic custom of the past.


August 3, 1847

On this day in 1847, John Sutter wrote in the New Helvetia Diary, the daily logbook kept at Sutter’s Fort, “McDowell Gunsmith moved this day with his family on the [opposite] side of the Embarcadero, to establish himself there.” James and Margaret McDowell travelled overland to California in 1845, and James worked at Sutter’s Fort as a gunsmith.

The McDowell family lived in a log house built directly across the river from present-day Old Sacramento after James purchased 600 acres, at 12.5 cents per acre, of the Rancho Nueva Flandria land grant from John Schwartz. In May 1849, James McDowell was killed in a saloon fight and was one of the first individuals to be buried in the New Helvetia Cemetery. As a way of supporting herself and her children, Margaret McDowell hired a land surveyor to survey 160 acres of her property into 41 blocks. She named the town Washington, later known as the Broderick in West Sacramento.

Image of the Rancho Nueva Flandria land grant, courtesy of the Bancroft Library. 


August 4, 1852

The Sacramento Valley Railroad was incorporated. Construction did not begin until February 1855. Theodore Judah was hired in May 1854 and Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman became the Vice President in August 1855.  


August 12, 1839

John Sutter arrived at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers aboard the ship Isabella captained by William Heath Davis. Men on board noticed debris in the branches of the trees and noted the area flooded often. The group traveled up the American River until much of the crew found the mosquitoes unbearable and a fear from Natives from the nearby village were forming on the bank. Fearing mutiny, Davis left Sutter and his small landing party at what is today B and 28th Street in Sacramento. Sutter’s landing party consisted of three sailors, ten Hawaiians that journeyed with him since Hawaii, and a large bulldog. Sutter fired a salute from three small cannons as Davis left back towards the Sacramento River. After giving gifts to the local village, Sutter expressed his plans to build a settlement in the area.

The natives brought Sutter to a high knoll about a mile south of Sutter’s landing, the location where Sutter’s Fort is today. This was the beginning of a permanent European American presence in the Sacramento Valley. Sutter named his new home Nueva Helvetia, which means New Switzerland. Sutter lived in a canvas tent and the Hawaiians built grass huts while a couple adobe structures were being built followed by the Central Building that was built a year later.

Artist conception of Nueva Helvetia in 1839 before the Fort was built as shown Sacramento Historical Society’s Golden Notes Fall 1987.


August 14, 1850

Newcomers to the city were displeased by John Sutter’s land claims and the speculators who bought land from Sutter. Many squatted on land near the city as there was no affordable lodging and they believed the ownership of the land was not legitimate. On this day, Charles Robinson and Joseph Maloney organized a militia of about forty squatters and marched through Sacramento City in response to the court’s writ of restitution to seize the property that squatter John T. Madden was unlawfully occupying. The squatters were confronted at the corner of 4th and J Street by Mayor Hardin Bigelow and his fellow settlers. Bigelow ordered the squatters to relinquish their firearms but shots were fired instead. Hardin Bigelow was wounded along with Charles Robinson. The city’s first assessor, J.W. Woodward, was among those killed along with Joseph Maloney, Jesse Morgan, and two civilians. Sacramento’s first sheriff, Joseph McKinney, was killed the next day while attempting to break up a squatter camp near Brighton. The Squatters’ Riot wound down soon after.


August 15, 1846

Robert Semple and Walter Colton resurrected an old printing press and published the first edition of the Californian newspaper. This was the first newspaper published in California. The newspaper was published weekly until November 1848.



August 17, 1849

The first steamboat brought around Cape Horn to California arrived at Sacramento City. The steamer George Washington operated regular service between Sacramento City and San Francisco until November 1849 when it sank.


August 23, 1841

Captain Ringgold of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, the first U.S. Navy expedition to explore the Pacific coast, visited New Helvetia. Ringgold took note of the development of John Sutter’s establishment and the ongoing construction of what would become Sutter’s Fort.

Because Sutter discussed with Ringgold that he was, at the time, about to purchase Fort Ross from the Russian American Company, Ringgold’s artist that accompanied him, Titian Ramsay Peale, drew what he thought the future Sutter’s Fort would look like using elements of the Russian fort. Drawing courtesy of the American Philosophical Society.


August 27, 1847

John Sutter writes in the New Helvetia Diary, the daily logbook at Sutter’s Fort, “Made a contract and entered in partnership with Marshall for a sawmill to be built on the [American] fork.” John Bidwell, Sutter’s head clerk, stated in his memoirs, “I wrote the contract between [Marshall] and Sutter to build the mill. Sutter was to furnish the means; Marshall was to build and run the mill, and have a share of the lumber for his compensation.” Construction of the sawmill began shortly after the contract. Using local California Indian labor and former soldiers of the Mormon Battalion, Marshall and Sutter’s sawmill was built in the Cullumah Valley on the south fork of the American River. James Marshall discovered gold at the mill on January 24, 1848.

James W. Marshall’s drawing of the lower portion of the mill structure and the forebay. (Courtesy of the California State Library)


This Day in History, July


July 31, 1846

On this day in 1846, Sam Brannan arrived in Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) aboard the ship the Brooklyn. Brannan, a 26-year-old elder in the Mormon Church, brought over 200 Mormon voyagers to California looking for a place for freedom of worship. The Brooklyn left New York on February 4, 1846, traveled around Cape Horn, and stopped at Hawaii before arriving in California. In June 1846, while in Hawaii, Brannan met with Commodore Robert Stockton and learned of the U.S. Navy’s plans to seize Monterey, the capital of Mexican California. Brannan hoped that when his pioneers arrived in Yerba Buena, they would be the ones to capture the small port town. When they arrived on July 31, much to Brannan’s dismay, the U.S. flag was already flying over the presidio.

Sam Brannan brought with him aboard the ship an old printing press that he used to publish the California Star newspaper starting in January 1847. In the fall 1847, Brannan opened a trade store outside Sutter’s Fort. It was at his trade store in February 1848, that a teamster from Sutter’s sawmill tried to buy alcohol using gold found at the mill. Brannan announced the gold discovery in May 1848 and sold mining equipment at inflated prices. He is one of Sacramento’s founders and California’s first millionaire.


July 31, 1854

On this day in 1854, Captain Ulysses S. Grant resigned from his post at Fort Humboldt without explanation. Grant never recorded the reason for his resignation, but growing friction between himself and Colonel Robert Buchanan, largely due to his intemperance, brought about a fear of being court martialed. Moreover, his missed his family and reunited with them in St. Louis. Grant did not serve in the army again until the Civil War. Grant served at Fort Humboldt, in what is today Eureka, for just over 6 months.















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