The history of Sacramento dates back to 1839 when John Sutter arrived near the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers. Sutter’s Fort was established to develop an agricultural community, and it soon attracted businessmen seeking opportunities. As gold was discovered in the nearby foothills at a sawmill in 1848, Sutter’s Fort became the epicenter of the gold rush due to its proximity to the river. Sacramento was primarily made up of hastily built wooden structures covered with canvas during the gold rush. After devastating fires in the West, a group of citizens founded the first volunteer fire department. Mutual Hook and Ladder No. 1 was formed on February 5, 1850, marking the beginning of the Sacramento Fire Department.
Flooding was a significant threat to Sacramento because of its waterfront location. A major flood devastated the City in January 1850. Due to heavy rains, the American and Sacramento rivers crested simultaneously, flooding the grounds on which Sacramento was built. As a result of the flood, merchandise stationed at the Embarcadero washed away and had a significant economic impact. Hardin Bigelow led efforts to implement emergency measures to protect Sacramento from another disaster of that nature. The construction of protective levees and dams won him support, and he was elected the City’s first mayor. Bigelow prevented a second major flood in March 1850. The city suffered its first major fire in April of the same year. In November, several commercial establishments in the city were destroyed by a second fire. Citizen volunteers founded California’s first fire protection organization in response to growing fears of a catastrophe. To combat wind drafts and the spread of fires, the city installed iron window shutters. Three devastating floods made this proposal a reality, and thousands of cubic yards of dirt were brought in by wagon to raise the entire city one story. Some basements and boardwalks in Old Sacramento still show the original street level.