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Sacramento Boomer

The Birth of Elk Grove

Oct 29, 2019 02:11PM

Like most towns in the Sierra Nevada, the history of human habitation in the Elk Grove area goes back well before the discovery of gold. Tribes of native Miwok inhabited the area next to the river they called ko’sum long before white man stepped on the shores of California. Drawn by the abundance of oak trees, which provided abundant acorns, the salmon in the river, and the majestic tule elk that frequented the area, the Miwok had villages throughout the region, including ones at present-day Sloughhouse and Wilton.

Spanish explorers first made their way to the area seeking locations for missions. An 1807 Spanish map notes “elk abundant here” and names the river Rio de Cosumnes, as it is still called today. The land proved to be too marshy for a mission.

By the 1830s, early settlers such as Jared Sheldon had Mexican land grants in the area, and the Monterey Trail traversed through it connecting the capital of Monterey with Sutter’s Fort.

In 1848, the discovery of gold jump-started growth all over the region, and Elk Grove was no exception. In 1850, James and Sarah Hall built a hotel and stage stop along the Monterey Trail and called it Elk Grove. There’s some speculation as to how the name came about, but most agree that James Hall coined the moniker; whether it was named after a town back east, or because of the elk in the region, may never be known.

The two-story brick hotel was located close to where the current replica stands at the west entrance to Elk Grove Park. The hotel had a total of 13 rooms, including a ballroom and dining room. A large wooden porch ran across the front supported by wooden columns.

The hotel had stables, a weekly mail service, and served as a center of entertainment. Revelers from Sacramento journeyed to Elk Grove to dance the night away and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast the next day before heading back to the city. 

Although the stage stop and surrounding businesses served as a base for gold miners in the region, the true town of Elk Grove had its start in 1868, when the Western Division of the Central Pacific Railroad made its way through en route from Sacramento to Stockton. The rail depot missed the location of the original settlement by a mile, but local businessmen soon realized the potential of this new transportation stop. 

The Cox brothers opened a store in the rail depot and were soon followed by other businesses that popped up near the rail station. By 1869, the post office had also moved to this new town center.

Julius Everson recognized the potential of Elk Grove as an agricultural center fueled by the railroad. In 1876, the Elk Grove Building Association was incorporated and soon after had constructed a 30x60-foot building stocked with general merchandise. Everson and his partner Chittenden cleared $52,000 in sales within the first 16 months. By 1880, there were 19 businesses, a Masonic Hall and I.O.O.F. Hall along the new Main Street.  

Agriculture fueled the growth of the town with wheat being one of the main crops. Yields of 25-30 bushels per acre were recorded, and barley was coming in at a rate of 30-40 bushels per acre. The debris washed down the river from hydraulic mining in the foothills in the 1880s affected the fields and necessitated diversifying crops. While it was painful to the farmers at the time, the change proved to be beneficial in the long run.

Over the years, Elk Grove has achieved several firsts, such as the first official public school in Sacramento County in 1853, the first rural high school in 1893, the first rural library in California in 1908, and the first rural park district in the state in 1959. Despite all these firsts, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that Elk Grove became a city.

by Jerrie Beard