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Sacramento's Golden Promise

In November 1848, John Sutter stood in the place where two California rivers, the Sacramento and the American, meet. There were no houses in sight—only a few stakes where future buildings might go. Sutter owned a nearby settlement called Sutter's Fort, a stopping point for wagon trains. Nearby was Sutter's Mill, where gold had been discovered earlier that year.

When Sutter went back to the same spot two months later, dozens of wooden shacks dotted the land. These were the hastily built homes of people who had rushed to the area to find gold. By the end of 1849, thousands of people had arrived. More came every day. The spot by the two rivers was named Sacramento, a small town that boomed quickly during the California Gold Rush.

After the Gold Rush

Sacramento is located in the Central Valley, California's largest farming region. Early in its history, the town became an important place for selling crops and canning food. After Sacramento became the state capital in 1854, the work of state government brought more people and new building projects. It became a transportation center for the growing railroad lines that helped move goods and people in California. By the 1900s, Sacramento had attracted many major businesses, such as airplane and rocket producers.

Today, Sacramento is still the state capital. The city's biggest employer is the state government. Sacramento is also the state's seventh-largest population center. More than 407,000 people live on roughly 96 square miles.

A Rush to Change

Like many California cities, Sacramento must solve problems caused by rapid growth. About 130,000 people have moved to Sacramento County in the past several years. Many newcomers have moved from San Francisco, which is just 85 miles away. The increase in population has led to higher housing prices, less open space, more air pollution, and more traffic problems.

Sacramento planners are trying to keep valuable farmland from being plowed under to create new houses. Michael McKeever, who heads the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, explains that Sacramento cannot keep spreading out. “We need to grow differently,” he says.

One way to grow is upward. Sacramento has plans for new high-rise apartment buildings. Another way to stop spreading out is to bring more people back into the downtown area. To do this, Sacramento plans to build parks and schools and to improve public transportation. These are all promising signs of change for this former boom town.