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River City and Valley Life

An Environmental History of the Sacramento Region

edited by Christopher J. Castaneda and Lee M. A. Simpson

Publication Year: 2013

Often referred to as “the Big Tomato,” Sacramento is a city whose makeup is significantly more complex than its agriculture-based sobriquet implies. In River City and Valley Life, the contributors reveal the major transformations to the natural and built environment that have shaped Sacramento and its suburbs, residents, politics, and economics throughout its history. This environmental history provides a compelling case study of urban and suburban development in California and the American West.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book grew out of a brief discussion between series editor Martin Melosi and Chris Castaneda at the Organization of American Historians conference in San Jose, California, during 2005. Being familiar with the region, Marty was enthusi-astic about the idea of a volume on Sacramento?s urban and environmental history. Lee M. A. Simpson soon thereafter agreed to coedit with Castaneda, and we began ...

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Introduction: The Indomitable City and Its Environmental Context

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pp. 1-10

Sacramentans, like all city dwellers, live each day with the realities of their natural setting. Embraced by two rivers, area residents swim, fish, inner-tube, and sail up and down the sometimes treacherous waters of the American and the Sacramento. They note the rivers? low flow in the hot summer months and (espe-cially since Hurricane Katrina breached critical levees and inundated New Orleans) worry about their rapid rise during the rainy season and when the Sierra Nevada ...

Part 1: Boomtown Sacramento

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1. John A. Sutter and the Indian Business

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pp. 13-30

John Sutter, as he frequently explained to anyone who might listen, was a man of no small ambitions. Though he arrived in the Sacramento Valley all but des-titute, with a tangled record of past financial failure, he expected to accumulate a fortune by building a profitable, flourishing business enterprise in this most re-mote borderland of Mexican California.1 Some people would have seen the valley as a wilderness, a place unsettled and untamed, but it was far from that. While ...

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2. River City: Sacramento’s Gold Rush Birth and Transfiguration

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pp. 31-60

Two hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the Sierra Nevada range extends over four hundred miles north and south, defin-ing an eastern boundary for most of northern and central California. The Sierra is an immense granite mass fractured and uplifted along its eastern edge, raised by ancient tectonic pressures, topped by ridges and peaks that form a virtually unbroken barrier to the passage of plants, animals, and peoples across its heights. ...

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3. “We Must Give the World Confidence in the Stability and Permanence of the Place”: Planning Sacramento’s Townsite, 1853–1870

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pp. 61-76

Capt. William Dane Phelps of Gloucester, Massachusetts, arrived in the Sacra- mento Valley in July 1841. A merchant in the California hide and tallow trade, Phelps had taken leave from his business along the coast to visit John Sutter at New Helvetia, where a team of Indian laborers put the final touches on Sutter?s adobe fort overlooking the American River. While touring the grounds, Phelps also met John Sinclair, a Scottish immigrant who settled lands north of Sutter. ...

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4. Railroads and the Urban Environment: Sacramento’s Story

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pp. 77-100

Sacramento?s railroad era dawned on January 8, 1863, on Front and K Streets at the downtown edge of the Sacramento River. City leaders, railway of_f_icials, and practically all the citizenry had gathered to celebrate the ?groundbreaking? on the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR), the Pacific link of the nation?s first transcon-tinental line. Unknown to the joyous throng, the natural setting and the event?s program foretold railroads? central environmental influence on the struggling city. ...

Part II. Valley Reclamation

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5. The Perils of Agriculture in Sacramento’s Untamed Hinterland

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pp. 103-116

In the decade after the gold rush, few areas in the Sacramento Valley seemed less hospitable to prospective farmers than Putah Sink. This grizzly-infested, swamp-ridden region of several thousand acres in Yolo County, twelve miles west of the city of Sacramento, had discouraged all previous settlement, from Patwin Indians, to Spanish and Mexican rancheros, to Anglo explorers. As late as 1862, a federal surveyor deemed the land ?unfit for cultivation? for its ?impenetrable thick-...

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6. Rivers of Gold, Valley of Conquest

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pp. 117-134

Steamboats slowly made their way up the streets of Sacramento on the night of January 9, 1850, rescuing the wet and stranded from floodwaters that had quickly turned a riverport town into a sea of death and destruction. Days ear-lier, blue skies had greeted the residents of Sacramento, no doubt strumming the same chord of optimism that had driven these gold seekers to the surrounding mines the previous year. Many believed they had seen and survived the worst a ...

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7. Forging Transcontinental Alliances: The Sacramento River Valley in National Drainage and Flood Control Politics, 1900–1917

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pp. 135-157

In August 1903, the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress met in Seattle, Wash- ington. Dedicated to promoting economic growth in the western United States, the congress adopted resolutions pertaining to water, forest, mineral, and rangeland conservation. One of the most strongly worded resolutions implored the federal government to develop the Sacramento River valley. Decades of ineffective local policies and conflicting water laws delayed flood control, irrigation, and wetlands ...

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8. Both Country Town and Bustling Metropolis: How Boosterism, Suburbs, and Narrative Helped Shape Sacramento’s Identity and Environmental Sensibilities

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pp. 158-181

In 1808, well before Sacramento became a diverse multicultural metropolis (the twenty-seventh largest in the nation) housing about 1.4 million people by the start of the twenty-first century, Spanish army of_f_icer Gabriel Moraga reached the site of Sacramento by trekking upstream along a big river. Moraga?s horseback expedition had already spent two years exploring the California Central Valley for Europeans, despite the fact that the land had already been discovered, explored, ...

Part III. Government Town

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9. Unseen Investment: New Deal Sacramento

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pp. 185-199

In a letter published in the Fresno Bee on May 19, 1940, W. H. McConnell of the small Central Valley town of Parlier urged others not to take their city parks for granted: ?No doubt few of us know how much the young children, tired moth-ers, and older men seen daily in the city parks and playgrounds enjoy what the New Deal under President Roosevelt has made possible. . . . Few realize what the [Works Progress Administration, or WPA] through the recreation department is ...

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10. The Legacy of War: Sacramento's Military Bases

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pp. 200-215

The military has played a dominant role in both the urban and environmental development of the greater Sacramento region. During World War II, Sac-ramento was home to three major military facilities that served and supported the war effort and persisted through the cold war era. A fourth had a much more limited period of activity before becoming an outpost for one of the three main facilities. Of the four, two served the US Army Air Corps and were created before ...

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11. Recalling Rancho Seco: Voicing a Nuclear Past

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pp. 216-238

On June 6, 1989, Sacramento County voters decided that the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station (RSNGS) should be permanently closed. The initiative, known as Measure K, gave local citizens the opportunity to vote on whether or not the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) should con-tinue operating Rancho Seco or permanently decommission it. The ballots were counted, and while 97,945 voters (46.6 percent) wanted the plant to continue gener-...

Part IV. Reclaiming the Past

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12. Dreams, Realizations, and Nightmares: The American River Parkway's Tumultuous Life, 1915-2011

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pp. 241-266

Sacramentans proudly hail the American River Parkway as their region?s crown jewel. The nearly thirty-mile-long swath of riparian habitat straddling its namesake river realizes a thinking man?s good idea dating from 1915. A second person reiterated and expanded that idea in 1927 and again at midcentury. After four decades trying to break out of bureaucratic circles, a state bureaucrat and streamside resident built a dream on the parkway idea and mobilized a cadre of ...

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13. Thunder over the Valley: Environmental Politics and Indian Gaming in California

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pp. 267-289

The Thunder Valley Casino owned by the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) opened its doors on June 9, 2003, to an enthusiastic crowd that backed up traf_f_ic more than seven miles. Located thirty miles east of Sacramento in the Interstate 80 corridor, the casino is positioned to intercept much of the gambling traf_f_ic going from the San Francisco Bay Area to Reno. Thunder Valley is a con-venient distance from I-80 along Highway 65 and neighbors the city of Lincoln, ...

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14. The Invention of Old Sacramento: A Past for the Future

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pp. 290-311

Old Sacramento, a twenty-eight-acre National Historic Site nestled between Interstate 5 and the banks of the Sacramento River, reflects the evolution of urban environmental politics and the historic preservation movement. Home to a thriving business district in the mid- to late nineteenth century, the district slid into a traditional skid row that, by the middle of the twentieth century, seemed an ideal candidate for slum clearance and urban renewal. That the district survived is ...

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Epilogue: Sacramento, Before and After the Gold Rush

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pp. 313-320

To drive or walk in Sacramento?s downtown core is to witness the clash of time. New high-rise buildings blend with old brick fa?ades, and multiple genera-tions of advertising messages peek from behind peeling paint and maintain a faded vigilance over the bustling metropolis. On a building near the corner of Twelfth and J Streets hangs an example of one of Sacramento?s many public art projects. Pasted to the side of the Masonic Temple is a huge version of Charles Christian ...


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pp. 321-384


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pp. 385-387


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pp. 389-406

Back Cover

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pp. 418-418

E-ISBN-13: 9780822979180
E-ISBN-10: 0822979187
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962502
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962500

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 47 b& w Illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment
Series Editor Byline: Martin V. Melosi and Joel A. Tarr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867742167
MUSE Marc Record: Download for River City and Valley Life

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Subject Headings

  • Landscape changes -- California -- Sacramento -- History.
  • Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- California -- Sacramento -- History.
  • Suburbs -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Sacramento -- History.
  • Urbanization -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Sacramento -- History.
  • City planning -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Sacramento -- History.
  • Sacramento (Calif.) -- History.
  • Sacramento Valley (Calif.) -- History.
  • Sacramento Valley (Calif.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Sacramento (Calif.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Landscape changes -- California -- Sacramento Valley -- History.
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