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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

October 6, 2003

From farmers’ fields to Capital University

This article is the first in an occasional series about CSUS buildings, starting with the site.

There’s gold on this here campus – at least according to Gold Rush legend.

The campus has come a long way from the early 1950s when much of the land was devoted to growing peaches. Though the peach orchard is gone, the campus now boasts more than 3,000 trees – and more than a few buildings.
The campus has come a long way from the early 1950s when much of the land was devoted to growing peaches. Though the peach orchard is gone, the campus now boasts more than 3,000 trees – and more than a few buildings.

When the site where campus now stands was originally purchased by the state in 1949, it had already experienced a long and colorful history.

It was part of the traditional homeland of the Nisenan Indians, who fished for salmon along the future site of campus long before the arrival of Europeans in the area, according to George Craft, CSUS history professor and author of California State University, Sacramento, The First Forty Years: 1947-1987.

The stretch of the American River that forms the eastern border of campus was also the focus of intense activity during California’s Gold Rush years. According to legend, a miner buried $90,000 worth of gold somewhere in the area before being killed in a barroom brawl. The cache has never been found.

Between 1868 and 1876 a sugar beet refinery was located at the point where J Street and the American River levee now converge. The opposite end of what is now campus was home to a blacksmith shop, a saloon, a hop kiln and a large three-story home, all built in the late 1800s by William H. White, who owned about 500 acres adjacent to what is now Folsom Boulevard.

By the late 1940s however, when the area was one of several potential sites being considered as a future home for CSUS, the area was mostly taken up by hop fields and a peach orchard.

The bill to create a four-year college in Sacramento was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Earl Warren in July 1947 after more than 20 years of active campaigning by supporters.

In accordance with the bill, classes were initially held at the Sacramento Junior College campus on Freeport Boulevard while a search committee went through the process of selecting a permanent site.

Initially, the site where campus now stands - then known as the American River site - was one of the least favored options. The confining borders created by the American River to the east, Folsom Boulevard to the south and the railroad tracks to the west caused concern. There were also worries about noise from passing trains, the softness of the land during the rainy season and the problem of then-limited street access.

But the 244-acre site was ultimately chosen and purchased for about $1,650 to $1,800 per acre. Local architect Charles Dean developed the first master plan for the campus in 1950 and the first groundbreaking ceremony took place in spring 1951.

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu