Rise & Decline of Sutterville
It was supposed to be the realization of a dream: a dynamic new town laid out on a low bluff overlooking the Sacramento River, where a community of hardy settlers from across the plains would embark on new lives of realized opportunity.
No longer in existence today, the town of Sutterville was proudly established in the mid-1840s by Sacramento Valley pioneer John Augustus Sutter, grantee of the near-50,000-acre New Helvetia Mexican land grant, and the founder of the frontier outpost known to all as Sutter’s Fort. Hoping for, and anticipating increased American immigration to Mexican-owned California, he knew his trading post near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers wouldn’t be adequate to supply increasing demand from incoming merchants, who would want commercial facilities of their own.
Because the lowlands two miles west of his outpost (where Sutter had a rudimentary, private boat-landing place on the Sacramento River) were subject to periodic flooding, he chose a townsite on higher ground three miles south. Sutter’s ambitious plan included parks, market centers, about 200 home lots, and eventually, a school.
But growth was slow, despite Sutter’s enthusiastic promotion and gifts of lots to friends. In 1847, German immigrant George Zins established a brickyard there and built a brick house, the first brick house in the Sacramento Valley. Soon afterward Sutterville boasted several one-and-two story houses, some barns, and fenced farmland. Unfortunately, the fledgling town was located behind a slough that required bridging, and when the Gold Rush began it had no docking facilities to offload goods and people coming upriver from San Francisco. Greed was an important factor: it was faster, easier and more profitable for merchants to use Sutter’s existing crude landing place than to pay for improvements at Sutterville. Spontaneously, they created another commercial center around Sutter’s embarcadero, a mix of tents and shanties that became Sacramento City by the end of 1848.
Suttervilleans fought their new rival with economic inducements, but as Sacramento grew, Sutterville eventually declined. The Sutterville post office operated from 1855 to 1860.
In 1861, when the Civil War erupted, Sutterville was the site of Camp Union, a training camp that prepared volunteers for duty in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The former Sutterville town site is adjacent to today’s William Land Park.