The story of the Sacramento Pioneer Association spans the development of Sacramento from frontier to metropolis. The members of today continue to honor the purpose of the founders of the organization in 1854 to preserve information connected with the early settlement. We perpetuate this heritage through historic preservation, publications, and encouraging students to explore history through our scholarship program. The Association owns and maintains Pioneer Grove in the historic Sacramento City Cemetery and Pioneer Hall on Seventh Street, the oldest building in California under continuous ownership of one owner. Travel to historic places of interest has become a popular activity in recent years.
In the new millennium the membership is open to any person with a lively interest in the history of the Sacramento area. Our number stands at approximately two hundred plus today. In the early days of the Association, membership was restricted to those adventurers who had arrived in California before January 1, 1850. They were resolute in observing this date. One unfortunate applicant was denied admission to the Association though he saw the coast before January 1, 1850 but was not able to land because of adverse winds. This strict admission policy continued until 1908 when membership was down to fourteen from a burgeoning two hundred fifty-five in 1880. In 1909 descendants of pioneers gained admission, and fifty-three sons and daughters of pioneers joined. Again membership rose and then dwindled until in 1966 there were but four members. A new corporation was formed that year with membership requirements eased, and the life of the organization has been vigorous since then.
The archives of the organization, incorporating a period of 151 years, remain intact and reflect the life of a new city and a new state. The founders were a remarkable group. Both John Sutter and James Marshall were members. Marshall discovered the gold in the American River that precipitated the Gold Rush of 1849. Governors of California, John Bigler, J. Neely Johnson, and Newton Booth were members. B. F. Hastings, noted banker, was the first treasurer, followed by D. O. Mills, founder of the Bank of California. Editors James Anthony, of the Sacramento Union, and James McClatchy, of the Sacramento Bee, were both members. Nathaniel D. Goodell, architect of Pioneer Hall and of the home of Albert Gallatin that became the California Governor’s Mansion, was a president. These men had arrived in California either by ship or by trail across the continent. Very few, such as Mariano Vallejo, had been born here.
On January 24, 1854, seventy persons met at Jones’ Hotel on J Street, between Front and 2nd Streets, and adopted the constitution that established the Sacramento Pioneer Association. They then elected Joseph W. Winans as the first president and named John A. Sutter the first honorary member.
After meeting in court houses, fire houses, and leased quarters for several years, they built Pioneer Hall in 1868 as a meeting place and to house their extensive library. They were a burial society, as well. They provided dignified funerals for members and marched to gravesides with the departed, later purchasing a large area of the Sacramento City Cemetery.
Existence in Sacramento in the early days was rough, rugged, and unhealthy. Many died by accident; some succumbed to disease, fire or flood. The records reveal, however, a sturdy bunch who celebrated life and became the leaders of the new community. Dr. John F. Morse, the Society’s president from 1857 to 1859, wrote the first history of Sacramento and built the Morse Building. He is also remembered for his heroic work during the cholera epidemic of 1850, during which seventeen physicians and many hundreds of other citizens died of the disease. The Central Pacific Rail Road Company founders Mark Hopkins and C. P. Huntington were members.
Through the years, the Association has been instrumental in saving Sutter’s Fort from ruin. Railroads spanned the continent under the direction of Pioneer members. The agriculture of the Sacramento Valley became the envy of the world with Association members in the vanguard. Sacramento became the seat of government of the State of California with members as Governors and Senators. Local technology, manufacture, and medicine have developed with the help of Pioneer ingenuity. Today members of the Association strive to continue the tradition of leadership in the community.
Current Officers of the Sacramento Pioneer Association:
Bill Schaw, President
Bill Gould, Vice President
Thom Gilbert, Secretary
Jim Krtil, Treasurer