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October 20, 2014

The History of West Sacramento
click on pictures to enlarge

photograph by Russell Holder
The "Gold Bridge" - gateway from Sacramento to West Sacramento... photograph by Russell Holder

Over 4,000 years ago a tribe known as the Patwin indians were the first people to dwell in the area known as the City of West Sacramento. They were a tranquil people and built many villages on the west bank of the Sacramento River. Besides hunting and fishing, the Patwins created baskets, fishing nets, boats, and rafts from willow trees, tough grasses, and vines. All of their needs were provided by the local environment.

In the 1800's the arrival of European explorers changed the Patwin indians lifestyle dramictically. The abundance of fur bearing animals brought many hunters and trappers to the area. Unfortunately, it also brought many diseases too. Malaria and smallpox swept through the indian villages. From 1833-1837 the Native Americans dropped from 60,000 to 20,000. Over time more people arrived to the valley. The few remaining Patwin indians either became employed or enslaved by the Euro American settlers, thus bringing an end to the Patwin cultural lifestyle.

In 1844 Jan Lows De Swart, a flemish (Finland) traveler, was the first Euro American to permanently settle in West Sacramento. Jan, who became known as John Schwartz built a cabin along the west bank of the Sacramento River--6 miles south of the intersection of the American River. In 1845, Schwartz acquired a land grant from the Mexican Governor Manuel for an area of land 1 mile wide and 20 miles long. He named it " Rancho Nueva Flandria" after his homeland of Finland. Shortly after settling there, he and his brother "George" established a salmon fishery along the river. In addition to drying and pickling the salmon, they also raised livestock and farmed potatoes and melons.

In 1846, James Mcdowell bought 600 acres of Rancho Nueva Flandria from John Schwartz. With his wife Margaret and their 3 daughters, Mcdowell settled in the area which is now known as "Broderick." Soon the Gold Rush was up and running....In May of 1849, James Mcdowell was shot and killed in a bar-room brawl. Although his wife took in boarders, money was very thin. In October 1849, Margaret hired a land surveyor to map out 160 acres, which was divided into 41 blocks. she sold individual lots within this area and named it the "Town of Washington." The first lot was sold to August W. Kaye for $500. Within 10 years the rural "Town of Washington" experienced a significant increase in business development and shipping activity. In 1859, one of the first companies was the "California Steam Navigation Company" because the of the close proximity of the Sacramento River. Other enterprises that marked early "Washington" included hotels, saloons, and restaurants catering to the needs of weary travelers. Many travelers making the harsh journey throught the marshlands on their way to Sacramento welcomed the rest stop at the "Town of Washington."

Other enterprises that found success in the early days of West Sacramento were the fishing and farming industries. Fisherman saw the profitable potential in salmon, sturgeon, catfish, eel, crayfish, and clams. They supplied fish markets in Sacramento and also San Francisco. The rich soil produced huge crops of corn, melons, cucumber, and other items. The dairy industry also established roots in West Sacramento. One of the area's most well known dairy farmers was "Mike Bryte." Bryte came to California in 1849 to mine gold. In 1853 he mde enough money to start a dairy farm which was very successful. When the "California Steam Navigation Company" came to "Washington," Bryte used steamships to carry his dairy products to regional markets. Profit from this allowed Bryte to expand his holdings. By 1879, he owned 1,500 acres of land, raised 150 cows and 100 assorted stock, and farmed 2,500 acres in Sacramento County. Mike Bryte was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and later Sheriff. During the 20th century, Mike Bryte's property was subdivided and became known as the "Community of Bryte."

With time, the area continued to grow, prosper, and develop. The "Town of Washington" was renamed "Broderick" in honor of U.S. Senator David D. Broderick. After 1900, the 3 communities known as "Bryte, Broderick, and West Sacramento" were cumulatively known as "East Yolo." From 1900-1920, the population of East Yolo doubled from 1,398 to 2,638. These commuites now make up the current "City of West Sacramento." In June 1963, the "Port of Sacramento" opened to deep sea traffic with the completion of the "Deep Water Ship Channel." The project had been authorized by Congress in 1946 and construction started in 1949. Although West Sacramento continues to change and grow, its roots are deeply embedded in the community spirit of the past.

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian