Sacramento once stood 10 feet lower than it does today, and as such was very prone to flooding. No wonder then that in the mid-19th century, residents fought back and raised the old city to higher grounds. All but one small section, which is still holding out at the original elevation.
Just as you cross into the Old Sacramento tourist shopping and eating area, just opposite the entrance to the California State Railroad Museum, there is a sunken courtyard. A sign on the balustrade around this 10-foot-deep depression indicates that the courtyard’s floor level is the original level of pre-1860s Sacramento.
After many incidents of serious flooding throughout the 19th century, the owners of the two-, three-, and four-story buildings in Sacramento simply abandoned the ground floors and constructed raised sidewalks level with the first floor. Over the years the roadways were also raised to just below the new sidewalk level, effectively elevating the entire town.
The Old Sacramento area, located adjacent to the Old Sacramento Historic State Park (the boundary is quite indistinct), consists of lots of 19th-century-style wooden buildings with traditional wooden sidewalks. Many of the buildings are very convincing reproductions, but some of the original buildings remain. These preserved structures still have very flood prone basements, that were once the rooms on the ground floor.
Know Before You Go
Frequently during the spring and summer months, tours of the abandoned underground levels are available for small and large groups. Buy tickets in advance, as they sell out quickly. Wear clothing for 10-15 degree temperature difference. No photos allowed inside underground spaces.