Historical Sketch, 1851
By J. Horace Culver


Sacramento City is situated on the east bank of the Sacramento River at the junction of the American River and on the southern side of the latter. It stands in about 83 deg., 35 min., north latitude, and 121 deg., 21 min., west longitude. It is about seventy miles above the mouth of the river Sacramento and one hundred and twenty-five miles from San Francisco.

The territory on which the city is located was settled by John A. Sutter in March, 1839. The fort erected by him was commenced the same year. The main walls and buildings of the fort are still standing within the city limits, but the walls of the adjoining enclosures have all been removed and most of the ditches filled up.

The gold was discovered by Marshall on the South Fork of the American River at what is now Coloma in the month of February, 1848. In January, 1849, Capt. Warner surveyed and laid off the city plot. The streets run at right angles and are all eighty feet wide except M Street, the center street of the plot, whichis one hundred feet. The alleys which divide the blocks are all 20 feet wide. The streets which run east and west, or at right angles with the Sacramento River, are designated by the letters of the alphabet, street A beginning at the point on the American River and the others coming in order through the alphabet. The streets that run north and south, or parallel with the Sacramento River, are designated by numbers, beginning with First or Front street, along the bank of the river Sacramento, and extending back to Thirty-first Street beyond the fort. The blocks are 320 by 400 feet, divided by 20 foot alleys running east and west.


The first building in the city was erected by Samuel Brannan and completed on the first of January, 1849. This building still stands on the corner of Front and J streets and is now two years old. In the spring of 1849 the warehouse of Hensley, Reading & Co. was built on the corner of Front and I streets, where it still remains. The store of Priest, Lee & Co. was erected about the same time and is still left in the block on the corner of Second and J streets, opposite the Eldorado. These are the only wood buildings of any size built before August, 1849, and still standing. The City Hotel was quite a notability in its day. The frame of it is that which was to have been erected for a flouring mill on the American River near what is now Brighton -- which was brought here after that project was abandoned, and put up on what was once a cornfield. It was finished in September, 1849, and is still to be found flourishing on Front Street between I and J. Till the completion of the City Hotel, the St. Louis Exchange, situated on Second Street between I and J, a rought board building, had been the principal hotel of the city. Later, McKnight's American Hotel, on K Street between Second and Third, where now appears the sign of "Rest for the Weary and Storage for Trunks," did a very thriving business. During the months of September, October, and November, 1849, the number of buildings erected was quite large. Among the largest were the Zinc Warehouse, near the outlet of Lake Sutter; the Zinc House and the Empire, in J Street between Front and Second; Merritt's brick building on the corner of J and Second streets; the Sutter House on Front Street between K and L; the brick block on Front Street between N and O; the Irving House, now the Missouri Hotel, in J Street between Third and Fourth; and Haycock's building on the corner of J and Fifth streets, then quite out of town.

The principal streets now occupied with buildings are Front Street from D to P; Second Street from I to P; Third Street from I to M; Fourth Street from I to L; Fifth Street from I to L; Sixth Street from H to L; Seventh Street from H to M; Eighth Street, from H to M; Ninth Street from I to M; Tenth Street from I to M; Eleventh Street from I to M; Twelth Street from I to M; and Thirteenth to Eighteenth Streets from J to K and L; I Street from Front to Ninth; J Street from Front to Nineteenth; K Street from Front to Thirteenth; L Street from Front to Twelfth; M, N, O, and P streets from Front to Fourt.


During the first few months of its existence there was no organized government in the town.

On the first of August, 1849, the people of the city, in common with all in the region, voted for delegates to the Covention, which had been called to met in Monterey and which framed the state constitution. On the same day they chose a Town Council and other officers, as follows:

Councilmen - J. P. Rogers, H. E. Robinson, P. B. Cornwall, Wm. Stout, R. Gillespie, T. C. Chapman, A. M. Winn, M. T. McClellan, B. Jennings.

J. H. Harper, Clerk J. A. Thomas, First Magistrate
B. Hannah, Sheriff J. C. Zabriskie, Second do.

The city was chartered by the people on the 13th of October, 1849. A charter previously presented had been voted down. On the 18th of March, 1850, the city was duly incorporated by an act of the State Legislature. The first election under the new charter was held on the 1st of April, 1850, and resulted in the choice of the following persons:

Mayor - HARDIN BIGELOW formerly of Michigan
Recorder - B. F. Washington formerly of Virginia
Marshal - N. C. Cunningham formerly of Missouri
Assessor - J. W. Woodland formerly of Louisiana
Councilmen: Jesse Moore, of Wisconsin,
D. Strong, of New York,
C. A. Tweed, of Florida
Thomas McDowell, of N.J.,
V. Spalding, of Louisiana,
J. M. Mackenzie, of Ohio,
Charles Miller, of Conn.,
A. P. Petit, of Kentucky,
J. R. Hardenbergh, of N.J.


Prior to the founding of the city, schooners and other small craft had visited these parts, mainly for the purpose of procuring hides. At high water they have passed through the outlet and tied up on the bank of Lake Sutter.

The first square-rigged vessel that ever came up to the city was the Eliodora, which arrived in March, 1849. Capt. R. Gelston here moored his bark, the Whiton, about the first of May; this was the first cargo of merchandise direct from the Atlantic coast.

Ere midsummer there were as many as twenty vessels lying constantly at the levee.

From June to September there was a regular line of schooners running to and from San Francisco; and on these the U. S. mail was carried once a week. The times of arrival and departure were about as uncertain as the payment of debts now is in California.

From September till the rains began, the mail was carried on horseback to Benicia where it took to the water again. By December the steamers were employed in the mail transportation -- but the expresses had all the business.

The first craft that came up the river propelled by steam was a small flat-bottomed affair, built at Benicia by the company that came out in the Edward Everett. She had no particular name but was usually called the Washington. As she came up, rippling the bosom of the placid waters as they slept in their beauty, she was hailed with cheers at every place where there was a tent or shanty; and having sent back a response, on she went puffing and wheezing with all her might with her little high-pressure engine. She reached this place on the 11th of August, a day and a half from Benicia, having "tied up" over night. She was immediately sold, and ran during the rest of the season between this city and Vernon, when at last she was used up.

The Sacramento was put on the river in September. She ran as far as New York and there transferred her passengers to sail vessels, the James L. Day and others. The Sacramento is now plying as a ferry-boat between this city and Washington.

The Mint also made several trips on this river in September and October, as did also some other steamers of diminutive proportions, about which we cannot be precise. It was great day when about the 20th of October the McKim first touched at our landing. Speeches were made, cannon boomed, and shouts rent the air. A month later came the Senator, with all her speed, pride, and magnificence, and the hearts of the people were satisfied. Steamcraft of all sorts from that time have continued to multiply till their name is legion.


The months of August and September, 1849, were excessively hot, the thermometer usually rising above 100 degrees in the shade. There was a slight sprinkle of rain one morning about the last of August. It rained nearly the whole of the afternoon of the 10th of October, 1849.

The rainy season began on the 2d of November, and during the three days following there fell five inches of water.

From the 10th of November onward for six days there fell seven inches of water.

From November 20th to December 2d there were several bright days -- nights frosty -- some ice formed.

On the 18th of December there came on a very heavy blow which prostrated many tents and buildings, among the rest the frame of what is now the Tehama Block, corner of J and Front streets.

During the month of December rain fell to the depth of fifteen inches, and the rivers all ran full.

Dec. 20th. Thermometer, at noon, 55 degrees.

By Christmas the water was over the lower portions of the city. And on Sunday, the 30th of December, there were ferries arranged for crossing the sloughs in several of the streets; and the year 1849 closed gloomily.

After the first of January, 1850, the rains ceased a few days, and the water receded a few inches. But in the evening of the 8th of January it commenced storming again. The winds and rains were exceedingly violent. The waters began to rise rapidly. The river and lake overflowed their banks. Ere night of Wednesday, the 9th, four-fifths of the city were under water, and boats were seen all about the streets.

On Thursday there was no dry land in town except at the knoll on the public square near Tenth Street. The water continued rising till Saturday, the 12th of January, 1850, when it came to a stand. That evening there was a clear and beautiful sunset succeeded by a night of stars. The thermometer, at sundown, 54 degrees, and turning colder.

The water commenced receding on the 14th, Monday, and continued to abate slowly until Sunday, the 20th, when portions of the city were getting dry. Thermometer down to 42 degrees.

Feb. 1st. Pleasant weather, clear and mild. Thermometer standing at 66 degrees at noon. Nearly the whole month warm and dry.

Sunday, April 7th, was rainy -- the second flood came on -- the water began to run into town.

Monday, the 8th. The Council voted money for a temporary levee, and the work went on vigorously under the personal superintendence of Mayor Bigelow. By constant watching and repairing, day and night for a week, the water was kept out of the city, except that which backed up from below.

The last rain fell on the 8th of April, when there were both thunder and hail. During the whole rainy season water fell to the depth of 42 inches.

On Wednesday, June 12th, there was a shower of rain, with thunder and lightning.

Most of the summer was pleasant and agreeable, a fresh cool breeze springing up every afternoon.

Friday and Saturday, 29th and 30th of August, 1850, were about the hottest days -- the thermometer at 98 degrees and 100 degrees in the shade, and 130 degrees in the sun.

During the first two weeks of September there were many cool days. A heavy shower of rain occurred on Sunday evening, the 15th of September, 1850.

Tuesday night, November 19th, 1850, the rainy season began. The storm very violent. Several buildings blown down, and considerable damage done.

About 1-1/2 inches of rain fell in November; and about 1-3/4 inches fell during the month of December, now gone by. Weather for the last three weeks most delightful.


The First Church of Christ (Presbyterian, &c.) was organized on the 16th of September, 1849.

Grace Church (Episcopal) was organized about the 25th of September, 1849.

The first Baptist Church was organized in November, 1849.

The M. E. church was formed in the month of October, 1849.

The M. E. Church, South, was begun about the month of July, 1850.

The first M. E. Church for the colored race was started in August, 1850.

The Roman Catholic Church was organizaed in the month of October, 1850.

There was no church building erected till November, 1849. Previous to that time there was but one congregation in the city. Stated preaching was commenced as early as June, 1849. The meetings were sometimes held under cover and in new buildings but more commonly beneath the shades of the lofty oaks and sycamores that then graced our city with their venerable presence but have now disappeared forever. At these meetings Rev. Messrs. Deal, Cook, Benton, Owen, and others officiated in turn until November when the Methodist people went into their church; there were then two meetings kept up until the flood when there was again but one. As spring opened all the churches then in existence began to hold separate meetings, each having its own clergyman; and they have so continued till the present time.


Oct. 1st, 1849 -- the population of the city was about 2,000. Wood buildings, 45; cloth houses and tents, 300; and about 300 campfires, &c., in the open air and under trees.

The mortality rate in the city was very great during November, 1849, reaching some days to the number of 20.

By the first of December, 1849, the population was about 3,500.

The Fourth of July, 1850, was celebrated by the Sons of Temperance, out in their regalia.

On the 14th of August, 1850, there was a conflict between a body of the "Settlers" under arms and the authorities of the city, also armed, during which four persons were killed. Of this number one was Maloney, theleader of the band of "Settlers," and another, J. W. Woodland, the City Assessor, who was a most estimable citizen. Mayor Bigelow was most dangerously wounded.

On Wednesday, September 4th, 1850, occurred the ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the First Church of Christ, in Sixth Street.

On Thursday, September 5th, 1850, took place the funeral ceremonies in grief for the death of Zachary Taylor, President of the United States.

On Sunday, October 14th, 1850, was laid the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic Church.

The ravages of the cholera began in the city about the 15th of October; the epidemic increased in malignity till the first of November, when it was at its height; there were 60 persons buried on that day. After the 5th of November the pestilence rpaidly abated and by the 15th had nearly disappeared. Within our limits about 500 fell victims to its rage, not all of them our citizens.

Hon. Hardin Bigelow, Mayor of this city, having died of cholera while sojourning at San Francisco, was buried in this city with public honors on the 28th of November, 1850.

The present population of the city consists of about 7,000 permanent and 3,000 transient people. No place could be more healthy than ours has been the last six weeks.


There are only two, as undertaken by the city in its corporate capacity: the levee and the Market House.

Two years have passed since Sacramento City was surveyed and laid off. A portion of the city plot had been previously under cultivation, but the greater part was still in its native wildness and beauty. Majestic oaks and sycamores flourished upon it, now throwing their shadows on the green turf of open parks and now towering like giants above dense, dark thickets and rank undergrowths.

A close observer, even in the dry season, could not fail to notice the evidence of former overflows as exhibited by the marks on the bark of trees, the character of the low shrubbery, and the conformation of the ground. There were stories, too, afloat of men having sailed over the city plot, and the whole valley having been like a lake. There were wooden pins shown, also, driven into trees, five, eight, and ten feet from the ground, said to indicate the height of previous floods.

But the great mass were still incredulous. They would not believe such floods possible. Yet the demonstration came. In January, 1850, the water rose to the highest marks anywhere found of other floods, and the city was suddenly inundated. The early and copious rains of November and December, '49, the unprecedented falls of snow in the mountains, combined with the warm weather and violent storms of January, hurried a deluge of water upon the city and over the whole valley. It was no doubt an extraordinary flood, as the season was a most unusual one.

Yet is may have been well for Sacramento that it was such. For it impelled them to a work of vast moment at once, when an ordinary season might not have convinced them of the necessity of protecting the city from overflow; and then when the disaster in its worst form came, it would have been destructive to the last degree.

To the flood of 1850, in part, we oew it that we have now a levee. Vigorour measures were adopted last spring for carrying forward the work; but it was not finally commenced until about the tenth of September, 1850. Labor at that time was comparatively cheap, otherwise the circumstances were unfavorable. Many of the people had grown indifferent. Some refused to tive the right of way. There was no money in the treasury. Loans were hard to obtain. Yet the work went ahead, as few such works have ever gone.

To the untiring industry and energy of Irwin, Gay & Co., the contractors, to the scientific skill of Mr. Binney, the engineer, and to the very able and skilful management of J. R. Hardenbergh, Esq., chairman of the Levee Committee, wh superintended the work, are the people indebted for the rearing of this wall of defense around their homes and marts of trade. To all human appearance another inundation is impossible.

The levee thus completed is nine miles in length. Beginning at the highlands near Brighton, and thence along the American River to its mouth, the levee is about three feet in height, six feet broad on the top, and twelve at the base. From the mought of the American River along the Sacramento, and in front of the city, the embankment is raised from three to six feet, being fourteen feet broad on the top and thirty at the base. From the river bank to the heights back of Sutter, the most expensive section, the embankment is seventy feet wide at the base and twenty at the top, and is raised from fifteen to twenty feet above the natural surface of the country. In the construction of the work there have been 37 acres of land cleared off and 4,000 square rods grubbed. There have been 750 cubic yards of earth puddled, 4,800 cubic yards excavated, and 121,000 cubic yards made into embankment. The whole cost of the work can not fall mich short of one hundred and seventy thousand dollars.

Long may it remain as the monument of our enterprise! No other city of its population has ever completed so grand a work within the first two years of its existence as Sacramento.

The Market House is situated in the center of M Street, between Second and Third. It is built of brick, of the following dimensions: 30 x 110 feet.

The building commenced in the month of October and is now completed. The upper story will be used for municipal purposes.


The Methodist Espisopal Church, North, and parsonage were built in autumn of 1849 at an expense of about $8,000. The church is 24 by 36 feet, with 14-foot posts.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and parsonage, were built in September, 1850, costing bout $5,000. The church is 24 by 40 feet, with 16-foot posts.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, for the colored race, and parsonage, were built in September, 1850, costing about $3,000. The church is 20 by 30, 12-foot posts.

The First Church of Christ, and parsonage, in Sixth Street, were completed in October, 1850, at an expense of about $9,000. The church is 36 by 60 feet, with 20-foot posts, and tower of 20 feet.

The Roman Catholic Church, now nearly completed, will cost about $8,000. The church is 30 by 50 feet, with 16-foot posts. The style is gothic.


The first taxes assessed for city, county, and state purposes amounted to four and a half per cent. Below is a list of the largest amounts paid:

  City Co. & State Aggregate
Barton Lee $16,253.12 $6,000 $22,253
J.A. Sutter, Jr., sold to
S. Brannan & Co.
14,605.85 5,200 19,805
S. Brannan 5,354.12 2,000 7,354
P. H. Burnett
Burnett, Ferguson & Co.
5,000 15,467
Bezar Simmons 3,573.50 2,000 5,573
Mellus, Howard & Co. 3,657.50 1,600 5,257
W. M. Carpenter 3,104.50 800 3,904
Maynard, Peach & Co. 4,048.25 1,300 5,348
H. E. Robinson 3,144.75 1,000 4,144
E. F. Gillespie 2,014.24 1,000 3,014
R. J. Watson 1,820.00 800 2,620
J. R. Snyder 1,808.97 700 2,508
Manuel Prieto 1,680.00 475 2,655
Hanner, Jennings & Co. 1,575.00 700 2,275
P. B. Reading 1,660.75 370 2,030
Roland Gelston 1,232.00 600 1,833
S. J. Hensley 1,172.50 450 1,622
Jesse Haycock 1,190.00 325 1,515
Jesse S. Hambleton 1,085.00 300 1,385
E. Scott 1,067.50 300 1,367
L. Maynard 1,020.25 400 1,420
Isaac T. Mott 971.25 300 1,271
C. H. Soule 927.50 275 1,202
Starr, Bensley & Co. 910.00 475 1,385
R. A. Pearis 808.50 500 1,308
Paul, White & Co. 1,050.00 350 1,400
Samuel Norris (country) 892.50 1,800 2,692
Demas Strong 717.50 300 1,017
C. W. Coote 624.75 350 974
James Queen 682.50 300 982

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