“Have you seen the elephant?”
This question is repeatedly seen in original letters written to family members from the 1850s. The writers, however, were not referring to exotic animals in faraway countries; they were asking if their loved ones had yet discovered gold in Sacramento.
More than 150 years later, there is still treasure waiting to be discovered in Sacramento. More than just a museum or library, the Center for Sacramento History is one of the best kept secrets in the County. The Center is an archive of books, newspapers, furniture, shoes and more, dating back to California’s inception as a state in 1850.
“For many people, this is their connection to the past, so it becomes a source of pride,” said Greig Best, Executive Director of the Sacramento History Foundation. “With one of the largest archives in the west, we are truly a community that preserves its history and that is important.”
The roughly 30,000 three-dimensional artifacts at the center are stored in a massive temperature and light controlled room referred to as the “archive.” From 1930s arrest records to a bed slept in by President Ulysses S. Grant, the shelves are filled with unique items, meticulously handled and organized. The archive is so expansive that the shelving would stretch five miles if lined up next to each other.
On March 8, 2014, the center will participate in the 2014 Sacramento County History Day held at Inderkum High School. This event is a competition between students in various elementary, middle school and high school brackets. Students select topics and research them as historians would—by using libraries, archives, museums and oral history interviews. The center also compiles various exhibits, including a recent one on “Old Hats! The History of Headwear” and a current one on “Sacramento and the Civil War.” These exhibits also include a speaker series, where experts on each topic give a lecture at the center for interested participants.
The archives are not just interesting to look at, but also hold valuable information. Marcia Eymann, a City Historian at the Center, described a woman who once had a dispute over property lines. She searched the archive’s records and was able to find proof for where her property began and ended, quickly settling the dispute. Sacramenteans interested in their genealogy conduct research using the archives primary texts and find information, signatures and even photographs of ancestors from decades past.
A gateway into the past, the center’s expanse of primary documents and artifacts make it unique and vital to continuing Sacramento’s history. Currently, the center is working on the Tower Records Project. “From its founding in 1960 until its closure in 2006, Tower was a gathering place, a library, a barometer of cultural trends and one-time icon of the U.S. retail market.” This project, expected to complete its final phase in 2015, is an example of the preservation that touches all of our lives.
On February 1, the Center for Sacramento History will participate in the 16th annual “Sacramento Museum Day.” There will be free admission into 28 different area museums, encouraging members of the community to experience Sacramento-area history, culture, art and wildlife at little to no cost.
The Center is located at 551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd. off Richards Blvd. With the exception of Museum Day, the center is open to the public for appointment only at the following times:
Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
Thursday, 8:15 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Written by: Kaitlin Bane, Communication and Media Intern