Monday, February 10, 2014

Traveling with History: Sacramento

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Do you like to travel?  Do you like History?  Do you like combining both?  One of the places to visit with an eye towards history is Sacramento—the California Capital that was founded by Swiss immigrant John Sutter, but quickly outgrew its Fort Sutter beginnings thanks to the California Gold Rush. Historically, Sacramento was a major distribution point—a commercial and agricultural center, a terminus for wagon trains, stagecoaches, riverboats, the telegraph, the Pony Express, and the First Transcontinental Railroad. It is a great destination for anyone who loves to travel with a mind to history. 

Some great sites to see:

Delta King—a 285-foot-long paddlewheel steamboat christened in May of 1927.  In its heyday, the Delta King traveled between Sacramento, California and San Francisco, California on 10-hour trips.  However, today the Delta King is permanently moored in Sacramento as a hotel.  Enjoy dinner or spend the night on the steamboat. Its sister ship, the Delta Queen can be found in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Sacramento History Museum—located in a reproduction of the 1854 City Hall and Waterworks, the museum’s mission is to explore, interpret and display the region’s history from the days before the Gold Rush to the present. The museum does a good of capturing the past in its several galleries. The museum is also the place where you can sign up for a walking tour of the city.  The museum is the starting point for exploring the entire Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

Old Sacramento Town Tour—set out from the Museum to see all of Old Sac.  Within old Sacramento City you will see original and reconstructed Gold Rush era buildings.  Rather than walk the city on your own, purchase a guided tour.  Your guide will describe Sacramento City as it was in the 19th Century.  The city has a varied past—from miners to merchants, politicians, pony express riders, and employees of the transcontinental railroad, all elements will be covered.  The city has survived floods, fires, the Gold Rush, and becoming the California state capital.

California State Railroad Museum—this museum is a HUGE complex that consists of six original, reconstructed, and new buildings in the heart of Old Sac.  This is no ordinary museum where you have one or two locomotives and the rest of the galleries full of pictures of trains.  Rather, this museum is full of real trains, lots and lots of them.  I was expecting a typical museum of one or two engines but was amazed at the sheer volume of trains.  As someone who has not spent a lot of time on a train it was nice to see the history of trains—life sized.   Rather than wander through the museum on your own, grab a docent and learn all about these beautifully restored railroad cars and locomotives that are used to illustrate the ultimate railroad history of California and the West.

Throughout the main Railroad History Museum building, 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars and numerous exhibits illustrate how railroads have shaped people's lives, the economy, and the unique culture of California and the West. Included are a Pullman-style sleeping car, a dining car filled with railroad china, and a Railway Post Office that visitors can actually step aboard.

Sutter’s Fort—is a compound built near the junction of the American and Sacramento Rivers in 1839.  It was originally called "New Helvetia" (New Switzerland) by its founder and builder John Sutter. The fort was originally a 19th century agricultural and trade colony in the Mexican Alta California Province and was the first non-Native American community in the California Central Valley.  While touring the Fort you can learn all about its association with the Donner Party, the California Gold Rush, the formation of Sacramento, and the end of the California Trail.

Museum at Marshall Gold State Park in Coloma—travel outside Sacramento to Coloma, to see the origins of the California Gold Rush.  Here you can see gold discoverer James Marshall’s monument, the original gold discovery site (Sutter’s Mill) and several historic buildings. At the park you can visit the museum showcasing the area’s history.  The park contains many original and restored buildings from the Gold Rush era, including some dedicated to the Chinese immigrants.  Also, take time at the park to pan for gold.  Yes, they “salt” the mine and it is hard work, but you can take home some Sutter’s Mill gold! Within the park you can also see a working replica of the original Sutter’s Mill.

These are just some of the highlights to see if you head to Sacramento to experience the California Gold Rush.  What would you include in your historical tour of Sacramento?

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