History of the Sacramento State Campus

Sacramento State College came into being in 1947, but not at the current site. Originally, Sacrameto State College was housed on the grounds of Sacramento City College (then named Sacramento Junior College). In May of 1951, construction of the current University began on what was a combination of hop fields and peach orchards (Craft 1987). There was a small creek that ran down the middle of the otherwise flat parcel of land. 

Craft (1987, p. 46) writes "As the college site had been completely cleared by construction crews, no trees or shrubs remained, and since the sprinkler system was not installed unti the fall of that year [1953], no grass could grow."  In fact, "the campus was a sea of mud in the first winter".  Further, "As soon as the rains stopped and the mud dried out, the campus turned into a dust bowl." 

The bottom line is that none of the large trees that characterize the campus today were present. All of that was added by careful planning and planting over the ensuing years. Apparently, in 1953 and 1954, over 3000 trees were planted. Not all survived; many younger plants succumbed to large numbers of "jack rabbits" that inhabited the area.  Once established, the trees did well largely due to the fertile soil which is the result of the site being part of the flood plain of the American River.

Alumni Grove was first established in 1953 and the University Arboretum was established in 1958.

The book "The American River: A Recreational Guide Book" by Mandel et al. (1989) provides some of the local history of the river, including a discussion of the native peoples known as the Nisenan. They lived for thousands of years in this area until the Gold Rush of the 1849 completely changed the area. While early gold miners were able to gather gold by panning, rocker boxes  and other low-tech methods, the bulk of the gold in this region was extracted using much more destructive methods, such as placer mining or hydraulic mining. Basically, the gold had to be separated from the surrounding rock and gravel and this necessitated "processing" large amounts of material. What this means is that much if not all of the riparian (riverside) zone that you now see was "processed" then filled back in either in place or by moving downstream.  Not unimportantly, a lot of mercury was used in the processing of gold, and this mercury (which can have strong environmental and human effects due to bioaccumulation) persists in the soils and waters of this area.

Since the 1950s, one of the major factors influencing the environment in the Sacramento region in general, and the Sac State campus in particular, has been the Folsom Dam, located on the American River, about 25 miles upstream of the campus. Folsom Dam was built in 1955 primarily as a flood control dam. Historically, the Sacramento region was subjected to substantial flooding. The construction of Folsom Dam created Folsom Lake, which serves as a reservoir and also an important recreational area. However, construction of the dam has dramatically altered the natural flow of the American River and this has had numerous consequences. Most notably, salmonds such as the Chinook salmon, can no longer access the upper portions of the American River.


Craft, George S. Jr. (1987) California State University, Sacramento. The First Forty Years 1947-1987.  Hornet Foundation.  Sacramento, California.

Mandel, S. et al. (1989) The American River: A Recreational Guide Book. Protected American River Canyons, Auburn, California.