My wife Holly is on a search for information about her ancestors, California farmers who came west starting in the 1840s looking for gold. They settled in Sacramento and nearby Central Valley counties. This seemed like a perfect time to travel around Northern California with a family history focus and check out some of the places her family members roamed.
We started in Sacramento, state capital and Gold Rush Central. City mothers and fathers intelligently saved the old town of the 1850s from the wrecking ball and developed it into a destination state historic park. As Joan Didion reminds us in “Where I Was From,” Sacramento flooded regularly in it’s early years. The Sacramento River flood plain was never a good location for a town. Still, the city thrived, and had to be raised up a century ago as an antidote to the constant inundation. You can take a tour of the underground city and someday we will. http://www.HistoricOldSac.org.
We walked over the river on the Tower Bridge, an engineering marvel circa 1935, from which can be viewed the I Street Bridge, circa 1911. Holly lived in Sacramento for nearly two decades and one of her favorite things was dancing and partying at the Delta King riverboat, which is docked at Old Town. She loved sitting up on the highest deck in warmer months watching activities on the river—boats motoring around, the bridges opening and closing, even people water skiing.
Sacramento is tearing out its downtown mall and building a stadium for its basketball team, the Kings. We made some effort to peek at the construction project, which must be awesome, but they didn’t even provide peepholes in the plywood fence surrounding it. Too bad. They should realize projects like this could be tourist destinations for us construction geeks.
This town has more than its share of museums. We chose to visit one, the Sacramento History Museum. http://www.sachistorymuseum.org. The $7 entry fee is worth it, if only because there are clean bathrooms and by this time we needed one. But the exhibits are well done and we did learn some history, mostly about the mining industry, responsible for ravaging the Sierra and its foothills. I was so happy that they didn’t flub Industrial Workers of the World (so often “historians” refer to International Workers of the World. Even Ken Burns got it wrong in The Italian Americans.) The short blurb on the IWW (Wobblies) said they couldn’t sustain union membership as members would join during a strike and then quit the union. They didn’t mention the horrifying police and state repression the Wobblies endured as a factor in the union’s demise. But I suppose we are making progress, because the agricultural display did mention that Communists were central to organizing farm workers in the 1930s. I thank them for not writing the Agricultural Workers Industrial League (AWIL) out of our state history. Nor are native Americans forgotten here, as they often have been in museum exhibits. We get to learn a bit about the Maidu and their culture before they were subject to disease and colonization.