Following a notable winter in efforts to stay dry, the Sacramento History Museum’s distinguished Underground Tours have returned to tell the long-forgotten tales of a city born from the depths of a 45-day storm.
Now, through the end of the year, guests of the Underground Tour will find themselves among the very sites where Sacramento almost lost itself to the Great Flood of 1862. In the aftermath of a traumatic winter for the region, city officials were pushed to literally lift the city up to remain the state’s capital.
While most people believe Sacramento earned its place in history thanks to the gold rush, Underground Tours manager, Shawn Turner, believes the Great Flood is the real story.
“Gold brought people here, but that flood destroyed the last vestiges of the Spanish Californian industry,” said Turner. “Those cattle were destroyed in the flood, so that kind of washed away the old and brought in the new.”
Turner explains an image difficult for us to imagine today, despite the amount of rain we may have seen this year.
“A lot of people don’t realize that it not only put this city underwater for the entire winter of 1862, but so much rain fell that the San Joaquin [and] Sacramento Valley[s] were transformed into a single lake that was 300 miles long and between 20 and 60 miles wide in some places, and as deep as 35 feet,” said Turner.
At the time, the territory between Front and 10th streets and from about H street to Capitol Mall was considered the central business district, which made it a vital land to preserve, as city officials were set on building a terminal for the transcontinental railroad. By default, the very streets where local businesses once flourished were made solid and filled with dirt as part of a two-step lifting process of renovation – a highlight to be seen.
In digging up the past and reflecting on the current state of Sacramento’s future, the Underground tour ensures a unique and hands-on experience to discover what lies beneath the city’s narrative, including one of the largest buildings in Sacramento at its time, owned by a woman.
“They get to see the hollow sidewalks, the empty spaces and they get to participate in lifting that same building to show the arduous, glacial process of not only lifting the building, but the entire city,” said Turner.
The original Underground Tours are now open until December, while tour dates and times may vary. For those looking for a more adventurous and spirited take on history, the adults-only Underground After Hours Tour are set to begin on May 4.
For more information on the Sacramento History Museum and all its tours, visit SacHistoryMuseum.org.