Sacramento was one of the most important shipping ports on the west coast starting in 1839. The first ship, Sitka, a Russian three masted schooner with supplies for John A Sutter made port. In those days two or three ships made port every day and John A Sutter developed the "Mosquito Fleet" which was comprised of five ships, five barges, and the Sitka which he bought from the Russians (but not paid for).
During 1826 to 1847 there were 20 ships per day making port, and, after that, there were 103 ships with Sacramento registry with 50 to 70 per day making port. The ships were so abundant that one could walk from one side of the river to the other by walking across the sitting ships.
A river tragedy in which 102 people died occurred when the Belle exploded, it was rumored to have a quarter of a million dollars of gold in chests on board, however, there was record of only a safe with gold; this tragedy was poorly reported because it happened on the same night as the "Chicago Fire." The site of this tragedy is memorialized by a monument on the river road.
"ERECTED to the memory of LEONIDAS TAYLOR born in the city of Philadelphia on the 3d of July 1832 he grew to manhood in the city of St. Louis and was killed by the explosion of the barge Belle opposite this spot of the 5th of Feb, 1856; this his body was never found 4lislngl from those who ared him, the waters of the Sacramento will hold over him till the day when the sea shall give up its dead."
The port system was inadequate until the 1920's when the Red Bluff, a premier stern wheeler caught fire, it was later rebuilt. The Steam Navigation Company sign still exists in Old Sacramento; in 1868 the Central Pacific Rail Road company bought the Steam Navigation Company, but, never changed the name.
Ships making port in Sacramento were subject to docking fees and so the port of Freeport developed down river where ships could dock for less than in Sacramento. Other premier stern wheelers on the Sacramento River which came in after 1900 include the Delta Queen, the Delta King, and, the Delta. Reconstructed: the Globe, a jail house ship and the Sacramento jail which was anchored in the center of the river.
Sacramento's port was the hub for Yuba City, Red Bluff, Redding and Stockton. The Brigade, motorized barges carried nearly all the lumber for building San Francisco through Sacramento. Sacramento became known as the "New Orleans of the West."
In the 1930's the WPA began building bridges across the river which lead to an increase in overland transport and a decrease in river transport, for example, the Jib Boom Street Bridge. Sacramento is referred to as "the second city." San Francisco being "the first city," although there may be some folks in the Los Angeles area which want to think of themselves as the second city.
Rails still exist on the Yolo side of the river where ships were built and slid into the river; these ships, known as the "Redwood Fleet," carried lumber to San Francisco, and, when most of these ships were no longer needed they were taken to a point in San Francisco and set on fire and sank with only their masts sticking up, so many in fact that the point became known as "Candle Stick Point."
So, in the early days in California, before the rail road and interstate highways when transportation was by horse or horse drawn conveyance, the Sacramento River played a large part in the California's development.
Brother Don "Peanut Butter" Breeland, well known Historian Extraordinaire