It’s present day. You’ve just left your first meeting with the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. It was a good time. Your first face to face in the age of Covid. As you turn onto I-80, you accelerate and move over until you are in the middle lane of the five lanes of open freeway. By the time you reach sixty-five, a shimmer appears in front of you.
The shimmer grows wider as you approach the I-80/Capital City Freeway split. As you slow down the shimmer moves towards you. It engulfs you. Engulfs your vehicle as you drive as fast as you can through what you believe is just a heat shimmer.
Suddenly you find yourself on a horse surrounded by open plains and groves of trees. The highway is gone. So is the car’s a/c. You look around. You are the only person for miles. There are no roads; only cattle and what looks like wheat in the distance. There is no way this is happening to you. It must be a hallucination. Until a voice speaks in your head. Tells you its 1844.
1844 – A memory surfaces. During the history part of your introduction to the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce you learned it was in 1844 that Captain John Sutter (yes, that Sutter. The one of Sutter’s Mill gold rush fame) gave to his good friend, Captain Eliab Grimes, a ship’s captain doing business with Hawaii, forty-four thousand acres of land.
It hits you as a strong breeze blows the heated air of the valley across your face. You are not in the United States anymore. You’re in Mexico. It would be years before this area will be ceded to the United States. Right now, as your horse ambles along at a whopping 4 miles an hour, you once again realize you are in Rancho Del Paso. 44,000 plus acres of land given the name Rancho Del Paso because it was on the road to the pass of the American River through the Sierras.
Over sixty square miles given to one person.
The shimmer reappears. You hold onto the reins and hold your breath as it passes over you once more.
1859 – The land hasn’t changed much as you look around. In the distance you recognize what might be a horse ranch. The voice whispers it’s 1859. Once again you remember your history lessons from the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. It was in this year that the land grant originally given to Captain Grimes was now in the hands of the lawyer, James Ben Ali Haggin. A man who started his law firm in Sacramento then moved it to San Francisco.
In a convoluted series of ownership changes, Haggin ended up with Rancho Del Paso as payment for legal representation. Haggin, a man who made his millions off the Gold Rush miners and an avid lover of horse racing, would develop the horse ranch on the property into one of the most prominent breeders of horses meant for racing in the entire country.
Haggin turned ten thousand acres of property into what he called “the Bottom.” The Bottom was near the American River in the area of Watt Ave. and Arden Way.
The world rushes by in an instant. You have been moved once more. This time you witness a horse being loaded into a specialized railcar located in Haggin’s “Arcade Section” of the ranch near present day intersection of Arcade Blvd. and Marconi Ave. It was in this area Haggin arranged for the Southern Pacific Railroad to cross his property so he could ship his horses out twenty four hours a day.
The shimmer reappears. You hold your breath as it passes over you once more.
1886 – You’re suddenly surrounded by people in strange clothing. The women are wearing large hats and flowing dresses with bustles. All the men are dressed in tuxedos. Tuxedos from another time and place.
The air smells different. As the people’s accents fill your ears, you understand you are no longer in California. You’re at the Kentucky Derby. A winner is announced as you fight your disorientation. Ben Ali has won the Derby. The first horse from California to win the Kentucky Derby. A horse bred and trained at James Ben Ali Haggin’s horse ranch.
As the crowd cheers and you hear the pop of champagne bottles, the shimmer reappears. You hold your breath as it transports you through time and space.
1905 – You find yourself in an old style office filled with the luxuries of the time. In 1895, Haggin formed the “Rancho Del Paso Land Company.” You watch in fascination as the men drink whiskey and smile as Orlando Robertson, the developer and owner of the Sacramento Valley Colonization Company, pays Haggin one point five million dollars for the Rancho. It hits you; Orlando Robertson paid the equivalent of forty six and a half million dollars for the land in modern day money.
You begin to remember. Orlando Robertson would pay a pivotal role in developing the Arden Arcade area. An area you know becomes a part of the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce.
The shimmer reappears. You hold your breath and hope this time it will take you home.
1910 – Once again you’re in an office. This one not so luxurious. You listen in as the Johnston Brothers, D.W. and Carl Edward, form the North Sacramento Land Company. The land purchased through Robertson’s Sacramento Valley Colonization Company.
Forty four hundred acres they name North Sacramento and begin to form subdivisions. Subdivisions which begin to bear familiar names. Rio Linda, Robla, Del Paso Heights, and North Highlands.
The shimmer reappears. You hope this time you will be home.
1916 – A man shouts “All aboard.” You automatically climb aboard a railcar. Somewhere in the back of your mind you remember from your history lessons at the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce that D.W. Johnston partnered up with the future PG&E to lay tracks and power a railcar to take people from Sacramento to his North Sacramento area.
You sit in the wooden seat amazed by what you see. There are men in uniform. You realize World War One has been over for less than a year. As the railcar makes many stops, you notice there are roads. Dirt roads, but roads, nonetheless. They have familiar names. You notice Marysville and Del Paso on the map above the passenger across from you. You pass markets. There is a large farming community that does its business in North Sacramento at this time.
Your mind travels to what you know has happened. In Arden Arcade one hundred and forty-six acres has been sold by Robertson to form the Del Paso Country Club which still stands.
The shimmer reappears. You wait for the inevitable knowing this time it won’t take you home.
1923 – Another office. The founding members of the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce have gathered. They have come to represent the businesses of those areas considered to be North Sacramento and not Sacramento itself
These community leaders recognized the need to create growth and success for the ever expanding area. Knew effective guidance and leadership was required to help lead those in Antelope, North Highlands, Robla, Del Paso Heights, Uptown, Point West, Arden Arcade, and Hagginwood into the future.
You sit as these leaders discuss the future not knowing that in less than a year, they would successfully lead North Sacramento into becoming a city unto itself. A cheer will sound as they shake hands with the leadership of the state as the area became the Town of North Sacramento, a general law city of California.
You wince. The shimmer has reappeared. You wait for it to take you to your next stop.
1930 – You find yourself on the bridge between Sacramento and North Sacramento on Del Paso Blvd. North Sac as the locals call it. You realize in a couple of years, 1934 to be exact, this stretch of road will be expanded to four lanes and the name will become a part of the historic Lincoln Highway. Lincoln Highway will become Interstate 40. A transcontinental road which will carry more continental traffic than any other road in the nineteen fifties.
You look around. The Great Depression has begun. It has hit the North Sacramento area but not in the way it has devastated the rest of the country. Thousands from the Midwest and East Coast have migrated to California. They have come for the work available in the fields of the fertile farmlands and the opportunities in the factories.
In North Sacramento, the area grows exponentially because of this great migration. The roads improve and the trains grow more reliable. The subdivisions begin to subdivide into housing areas. Schools for the children pop up. The area prospers while the rest of the nation suffers.
Your mind once again remembers the history taught you by the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. It was in this time that the leadership of North Sacramento began to consider consolidation with Sacramento itself.
This time of prosperity also brought several down turns. Floods became common in the area as did dealing with the sewage floods bring. There were fires and issues with fresh water.
A ramshackle farm truck blows by you. As it leaves, you see the shimmer waiting. Instead of letting it take you, this time you step into it voluntarily.
1943 – The wind whips through your hair in the old convertible you find yourself driving. You look around. You are driving along the backside of McClellan Air Force Base. Only, in this time, it is called McClellan Field and the road is paved.
You enjoy the ability to drive though working the clutch on a 1940’s car, realizing it takes effort. Real effort. A loud rumble shakes the car. A huge airplane flies over as you pull to the side of the road. Your mind is filled with memories. This area in the forties was not only a base of operations for the United States Army but it was also a major employer for the area. It was one of North Sac’s largest employers during World War Two, Korea; and later, Vietnam. It employed twenty-six thousand people at its peak.
McClellan Park would see its ups and downs. Although it wouldn’t officially close until 2001, the base shutdown began in 1995 and would cost 11,600 jobs. Thanks in part to the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce working with the Air Force and others, McClellan Business Park was developed into a working community. A working community with 230 tenants and over 17,000 people doing business daily.
Dedication and hard work brought the area back from a hard loss to a thriving business community around McClellan Park as well as the North Highlands area and Rio Linda.
The shimmer appears in front of you. You press the accelerator down. Maybe this time you will find yourself back on I-80 going home.
1948 – You find yourself in an old Ford farm truck ambling your way down Del Paso Boulevard. You realize you are in a parade. As you wave to people, you realize your grandmother could be out in the crowd. She often attended the parades along what was called the “Great White Way.” A name attributed to the road because of the streetlights. Lights you remember were able to be lit because of Virgil Chapman. A business activist of the time and a man who wanted North Sacramento to become all it could be.
As you turn a corner, the shimmer reappears. You smile as you drive into it.
1964 – You jump as a gavel bangs. A man announces the resolution has been passed by six votes. North Sacramento is no longer a separate city. It is now officially a part of Sacramento. The gavel bangs again as those gathered still argue about the outcome.
One year earlier, Sacramento tried to absorb North Sac, but lost. Although Sacramento annexed most of the neighborhoods around North Sac, the city managed to hold Sacramento city leaders off.
One of the issues which helped keep North Sac a viable separate entity was something few would believe. Meat. You laugh as those around you still argue in the crowded room. As you blow smoke out of your face. In the 1960’s everyone seemed to smoke and smoking in public was common. Especially in government chambers.
You laugh again. It was meat which was the downfall of North Sac. Prior to the absorption of North Sac into Sacramento, fresh meat couldn’t be bought in Sacramento after six p.m. This supposed “health law” was a product of the butcher’s unions influence upon the leadership of Sacramento at the time.
Unfortunately for the markets in Sacramento, women often worked past six pm limiting where they could get fresh meat to feed their families. With no other options, these women would drive into North Sac and purchase their meat there since North Sac did not recognize a law passed in Sacramento as applying to them.
Sacramento city leadership tried to prevent North Sac from selling fresh meat after six but had to back down. They had no legal standing to force the issue. Eventually, Sacramento, after recognizing the losses its merchants were taking by those who would drive to North Sac to buy meat and perform their other shopping needs; removed it’s time limit on buying meat.
This decision hit the economic basis of North Sac hard and swayed enough votes to consolidate North Sac into Sacramento.
As the noise of the crowd dwindles, you remember what happened afterwards. With the new freeway taking over the landscape, and funding from the city itself lacking, North Sacramento began to go into a decline. A decline the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce fought against long and hard.
The shimmer reappears. You step into it like it was a long lost friend.
1968 – A familiar voice echoes from a loudspeaker. Governor Ronald “Ronnie” Reagan, a future President of the United States, officially opens the State Fair at the new “Cal Expo” site in North Sacramento. A 350 acre site bought by the state of California in 1963 specifically to house the State Fair. After spending 33 million dollars to develop the site, the California State Fair had its new home at 1600 Exposition Blvd. in North Sacramento.
With the exception of 2020, when the fair was canceled due to Covid, you realize the state fair has been operating at this location non-stop since 1968.
You look around at the fair and its people. It is the height of the sixties in California. Not a time of prosperity for the North Sac area. Something the North Sac Chamber of Commerce did its best to fight. It worked hand in hand with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, among others, to help stop the decline of the area. In the 1970’s, they helped bring grants to the area to improve the infrastructure of the area and correct sewer issues. Helped oversee street improvements and Community Development Block Grants.
Other initiatives were begun. New facilities for seniors, childcare centers, and community centers were started or improved. Removal of abandoned structures and development of cooperative self-help ventures were also initiated. Still, the decline continued, and the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce fought.
The shimmer reappeared. You welcome it as you step away from this time era.
1987 – You find yourself standing outside a small business on El Camino Ave. You recognize some of the men and women speaking to business owners from their pictures in the chamber’s history lessons. These men and women organized the business owners along Del Paso Blvd., Arden Way, and El Camino Ave. into the Uptown Business Improvement District.
This district works together under the North Sacramento Chamber’s leadership and funding administration to continue the improvement of the area.
You watch as these organizers take charge of the cleanliness of the area. Watch as they bring hope to an area long forgotten by others. You are reminded by a small voice this area will face hard times again and again, but the Chamber was always there to provide hope, help, and leadership when needed to keep the area alive.
In 1992, North Sacramento will become an official area for redevelopment. In 1993, the Chamber will work with the community and the American Institute of Architects to establish the North Sacramento Special Planning District.
The shimmer appears. You smile as you step into it.
2020 – The shimmer lets you out as I-80 becomes empty of vehicles. Covid has hit. In the North Sacramento area, you watch as business after business is closed. As people panic, then pull together. Watch as the roads slowly begin to fill up as the communities around you learn how to deal with Covid and how to turn the early decimation of the disease into something more. As people pull together to keep the communities of North Sacramento strong. As the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce continues to bring hope, help, leadership, and strength to the North Sacramento area. The shimmer reappears as you happily drive into it.
Present Day – You find yourself once more in your vehicle driving through what was once open range filled with one man’s beef. You realize that inside this same area are thousands of people just living their lives hoping to do better for themselves and their children. You understand as a member of the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce you can help make this a reality.
Wasn’t the trip back through time worth it?