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The History of Sacramento
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The History of Sacramento

Sacramento is California’s capital city and it’s full of culture and uniqueness. Come along and dive into the rich Sacramento history.

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4 min read

March 30, 2022

Gil and Saara Torres are experienced realtors in the Sacramento area, and members of the California.com Recommended Business Program which highlights only the best businesses in the Golden State.  To be featured, each business must be highly regarded, have a unique California story, and make a positive impact in their community.

The Golden State is rich with desirable places to live. Among its array of cities rising in popularity, Sacramento stands out as an ideal choice. On top of great amenities, economically sound prices, and safe and clean neighborhoods, the capital city of California boasts a rich and vibrant history shaped by diverse experiences, cultures, and inspiring chronicles. Want to know more about Sacramento's history? Here are some key points in the city’s past that have contributed to its greatness today.  

Did you know that Sutter’s Fort was originally called New Helvetica by its builder John Sutter in 1839?

John Sutter and the Establishment of Sutter’s Fort

The Maidu people were the earliest indigenous inhabitants in old Sacramento history. Up until the 1770s, they made up almost the entirety of the population of Sacramento. 

In the early 1800s, German-born Swiss pioneer John Sutter arrived in the Sacramento Valley region. He established the colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland) on the site in 1839 and the course of history in Sacramento changed drastically. Sutter built a palisaded trading post known as Sutter‘s Fort in 1840 and populated the area with fellow Swiss immigrants. The fort housed a kitchen, factories, carpenter and blacksmith shops, a general store, a jail, and rooms that provided free accommodation to the region's new immigrants.

After Sutter established his fort, Sacramento thrived as an agricultural center and as a refuge for American pioneers until the Gold Rush of 1849. The ensuing gold rush resulted in the destruction of the fort and its resources by miners and fortune hunters. Sutter left Sacramento in 1850 and his fort soon fell into despair. Today, the fort has been partially reconstructed and restored and is now maintained as a California State Park.

What we now know as Sacramento was hugely shaped by the Gold Rush Era. You can still feel the influence of the era when you visit the city.

The Gold Rush Era in Sacramento 

The California Gold Rush was one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. Sparked by the discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848, the Gold Rush era significantly changed Sacramento County’s history thereon.

As news spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners traveled to San Francisco and its surrounding areas to find fortune. By the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory had grown from about 1,000 people to a whopping 100,000. It is said that a total of $2 billion worth of precious metals were extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852. Want to get a taste of Sacramento's history during these turbulent times? Plan a road trip to the local Gold Rush towns and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time.

The Sacramento fire department became the first to pay its firefighters in the Golden State.

The Establishment of the First Paid Fire Department in Sacramento 

Did you know that Sacramento was the first city to have a paid fire department in the Western United States? Yes, you read that right—the Sacramento Fire Department has a very rich history!

Established in 1850, Sacramento’s fire department was first an all-volunteer force, similar to the rest of the nation’s Fire Departments. Much later, in 1872, it finally became the first paid fire department west of the Mississippi River when the State Legislature passed a bill. Many other cities followed suit and established paid fire departments, encouraging better working conditions and safety regulations for firefighters statewide.

Visit the State Capitol in Sacramento for a thorough history lesson about the beginnings of our beloved state.

Sacramento Becoming the Capital 

Most non-natives of California assume San Francisco or Los Angeles to be the capital of California. However, Sacramento was named the permanent state capital all the way back in 1879. This comes as no surprise considering the history of Sacramento is as old as California itself. 

Sacramento was an ideal choice to be capital for an array of reasons at the time it was declared. Because of the Gold Rush frenzy, it had already become the destination point of choice for the new settlers who came to California hoping to make it big. With the gold hunters also came blacksmiths, shopkeepers, and other entrepreneurs who gave the city a good economic base. What’s more? Unlike previous temporary capitals in California, Sacramento was not near the ocean. This meant that there was little chance of invasion by sea. At the same time, it had a strategic enough location to engage economically.

Most prominently, many of the most powerful people in the newly formed state of California lived in Sacramento at the time. This meant that no new city had to be formed; rather, the state capital could move to an area that had already been established and that was as persuasive as can be. With its new status and strategic location, the population of Sacramento grew, the city quickly prospered, and Sacramento steadily got its reputation as one of the best places to live out West.

The Tower Bridge in Sacramento might be the shortest state highway in California, but it surely is postcard perfect.

The building of the Tower Bridge

Commonly found on idyllic postcards from Sacramento, the Tower Bridge is a bright, golden structure that’s even more beautiful in person. The Streamline Moderne style of this historical landmark is not only super sleek but also very unique. While this Art Deco style was commonly used in buildings and vehicles at the time of the bridge’s construction, it has seldom been referenced in bridges—the Tower Bridge is one of the very few worldwide! 

Another fun fact about The Tower Bridge is that it is the shortest state highway in California at a mere 738 feet. Add driving or biking across the bridge to your list of things to do in Sacramento and check it out yourself.


There is much more to be learned about California’s intriguing capital city. Plan a getaway soon, explore the historic waterfront, and get ready to fall in love with Sacramento. From the Sacramento history museum to California State Railroad Museum, there’s more to be uncovered about Sacramento and its unique past.

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