By Mark W. Danielson
In 1849, gold changed California forever. San Francisco and Sacramento became boom towns. People poured into the state to become rich. On the banks of the Sacramento River, people from faraway places arrived by boat. Bars, hotels, and The Eagle Theater popped up to meet their needs. In the canvas-covered Eagle Theater, men sat on benches on the main floor while women sat in the balcony. Men didn’t speak to women unless they had been introduced by another man, ladies of the evening being the exception. Life was hard with harder consequences for improprieties, but people made the most of their time on Earth. With the exception of what went on behind closed doors, The Eagle Theater and bars were pretty much “it” for entertainment.
This way of life faded when the gold rush ended. The Pony Express brought California out of isolation. Soon, stage coaches and railroads were filled with God-fearing folk who brought civilized families, and built churches and schools. Ladies of the evening were shunned. Sacramento and San Francisco were transformed, but still linked by the Delta King and Delta Queen riverboats. That’s right, the King and Queen traversed the Sacramento River long before the Queen ever sailed the Mississippi. In the literal sense of “The King is dead; long live the Queen!” the Delta Queen lives on our nation’s largest river using parts robbed off her sister ship. Since the Delta King is stationary, both are preserved.
As Sacramento grew, so did the roads that connected it to surrounding cities. Interest in its waterfront diminished leaving the historic riverbank town to fall into disrepair. In the 1960s, some brilliant visionaries and investors convinced Sacramento’s city planners that they should redevelop the area. “Old Sacramento” became a reality in the early 1970s when The Old Eagle Theater, Fanny Ann’s Bar, China Camp Restaurant, The Firehouse restaurant, and a few tourist shops opened. Since then, redevelopment continued with more restaurants and shops opening. The Railroad Museum, one of the best in the nation, became an anchor for the area. The long-neglected Delta King followed, having been refloated from Richmond’s shore and resurrected as an Old Sacramento hotel and restaurant. Today, this two by five block area thrives, providing intriguing eateries, specialty shops, and museums that hint of what life was like during the gold rush period. Boo-Hiss performances at The Old Eagle Theater still draw crowds. Old Sac is a perfect place for authors who are interested in writing historical novels to do research.
If you’ve ever wondered why San Francisco’s football team is named the 49ers and wear gold, the gold rush is why. Should you find yourself passing through Sacramento, stop by and check out Old Town.