Go underground to discover the hidden world of the Sacramento Gold Rush

Many visitors to Old Sacramento may not know that remnants of an 1850s gold rush town still exist beneath buildings and cobblestone roads.

Since 2010, the Sacramento History Museum has taken visitors on several different underground tours showing slices of a hidden Sacramento. The tours featured costumed actors as a variety of characters who lived in the flood-prone town before a massive project raised buildings and sidewalks about 10 feet in the 1860s and 1870s. The streets and Buildings in Old Sacramento have been raised to prevent further flooding from the American River, obscuring sidewalks and steep alleys in a neighborhood that was once home to around 500 businesses and residents, says Shawn Turner, the museum’s tour director.

Popular tours have been postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, but will resume on the 4th of July weekend. Tours begin at the museum and explore the spaces beneath two of Old Sacramento’s oldest buildings: the BF Hastings Bank Building and the Hall, Luhrs & Company store. Visitors hear facts about Sacramento and the Gold Rush and see artifacts excavated over the years by the Cosumnes River Archeological Working Lab, a research lab associated with Cosumnes River College, and other efforts. “We meet a lot of people, who have lived here (in Sacramento) all their lives, say they’ve never heard some of the stories we tell,” Turner says.

Here is a sample of what is hidden underground.

Underground tours of Old Sacramento explore beneath two buildings, the BF Hastings Bank building and the Hall, Luhrs & Company store.

The wholesale grocer Hall, Luhrs & Company was in business from 1885 to 1906.

These artifacts are from an 1852 Cochran & Reid pewter shop.

An exhibit shows the process used to raise buildings in Old Sacramento in the 1860s and 1870s.

These artifacts were discovered in a pharmacy in Old Sacramento.

Old Sacramento was once home to many brothels, or “houses of disrepute,” as tour manager Shawn Turner calls them, where these artifacts were discovered.

An exhibit features some of the crude surgical tools used by the many physicians who inhabited Sacramento in the 1850s.

Tools like these have been used to extract artifacts from the streets of Sacramento.

Ice boxes like this were used for refrigeration in Sacramento in the 1800s.

Benches adorned Sacramento sidewalks along original streets before the area was raised about 10 feet to escape the frequent flooding that plagued the city.

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Bonny J. Streater