History of River Park

River Park History

by Richard Vincent


In the 1850’s, northeastern River Park was a botanical oasis known as “Smith’s Pomological Garden.

Anthony Preston Smith and 29 co-investors purchased a bark in New York, loaded it with supplies for the gold fields, and sailed around the Horn to California, arriving in San Francisco in July, 1849. In December, A.P. came to Sacramento, purchased 50 acres of land from John Sutter, and formed the partnership of Smith, Baker & Barber, nurserymen and gardeners. The fifty acres were comprised of what is now River Park down to about Bevil Street (as far as I can make out) plus the ground now covered by the rail road levee and a bit of East Sac. Eventually, he increased the property to 90 acres. (I have not learned the boundaries of the larger plot.)

Smith immediately set to creating a nursery, orchard, and lush garden that served Sacramento as a resort. He built his home upon a hill overlooking the river at the north end of the plot, amid four acres of lawns and flower gardens. His house and the show gardens were connected to the production gardens by roads lined with a variety of shade trees. Smith built two miles of walkways for visitors to stroll and enjoy the gardens. The paths were paved with crushed shells brought from San Francisco by schooner.

Within a year of arriving, Smith was producing vegetable seeds. Within two years he was propagating and selling flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, and decorative trees for transplanting. By 1856, his “Descriptive Catalogue Offering an Unusually Fine Stock of Choice Roses” listed 80 varieties of hybrid perpetuals, among an overall stock of 15,000 plants. The original stock came by wagons across the country and by ship around the Horn.

The California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences reported in December 1859 that Smith’s Pomological Gardens “may now justly be called the most extensive Fruit Gardens on the Pacific Coast….The crops of Peaches and Pears from these Gardens, for several years, have been enormous; the sales in the gross have been, for several years, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, and even seventy thousand dollars a year!” (The latter amount equals about $1.9 million today.) The article also hails Smith for “diffusing very large sums annually among the working classes; thus doing a vast amount of public good.”

Preston experimented to find wine grapes suitable for the region. Zinfandel, A History of a Grape and Its Wine (Charles L. Sullivan, 2003) credits Smith with bringing the first Zinfandel nursery stock to the west in 1853. The descendants of this vine stock, then called Black St. Peter, are the ancestors of what is now planted throughout the Sierra foothills.

Names from River Park’s Past

A 1913 map at the Center for Sacramento History (Sacramento’s historical archives) shows these land owners in what became River Park: Henry S(mith) Moddison, H(erman) Steinman, George A. Meister, W.S. Kendall, , W(illiam) W(ilbur) White, and George Terry.

I understand that in 1864, White’s father, William W. White (1816 – 1902, buried in the City Cemetery) acquired 660 acres that included all of River Park, the land now occupied by CSUS, and Campus Commons. [I have not been able to document this.] His son, William Wilbur White (1853-1925, buried in East Lawn) grew hops in what is now Campus Commons and what became the Horst hop ranch, which produced into the 1940s. A daughter of William, Jr., (Ida) married Emil G. Mueller, who in the 1940’s sold the land now occupied by CSUS. Later, another White family member sold 25 acres to Louis D. Carlson and John Sandburg, the original developers of River Park. The remaining land in what eventually became River Park was bought by Henry S. Moddison. [All the info in this paragraph comes from a great-grandson of Henry Moddison.]

River Park was developed by two groups: (1) Carlson & Sandburg and (2) H.C. Moddison (H.S.’s son) in partnership with Jones, Brand & Hullin (Wilbur F. Brand, H.C.’s son-in-law). I will write up some information on the real-estate development in the next issue of the Review.

Henry Smith Moddison was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1859. According to the 1900 and 1920 censuses, he immigrated to the US in 1881. (Family lore has him owning a peach orchard in River Park in the 1870’s. However, he was only 20 in 1879.)

The earliest mention of Henry Moddison that I have found is in the Sacramento Daily Union, 16 Dec 1889:

“A committee … collected subscriptions yesterday from the visitors to the break in the Yolo levee for the relief of the H.S. Moddison family, who lost their home and all of their worldly possessions by the flood. The amount collected was $135.25.”

By 1900, H.S. Moddison lived in Washington (now Broderick) in Yolo County. By 1920, they lived at 650-56th Street, where he farmed, raised horses, and lived until his death in 1941.

Both Moddison and William White, Jr, bred draft horses, many of which won ribbons at the State Fairs from 1899 to 1911.

Louis D. Carlson was born in 1894 in Nebraska. He came to Butte County in 1913, where he grew rice and founded the Butte County Rice Growers Association. In 1938, he became a partner of John Sandburg in mining, gold dredging, and oil drilling. He was honorary mayor of North Sacramento and a founder of the Sacramento County Day School.

The partnership of Carlson and Sandburg developed Glenwood Park (north Sac), Strawberry Manor (north Sac) , and Del Dayo Riviera (Carmichael) as well as River Park.

John Sandburg

John Sandburg was born in Pennsylvania in 1882. After living in Denver, he moved to Signal Hill (near Los Angeles) where he came wealthy in oil production. In 1938, he came to Sacramento and formed the partnership with Louis Carlson. He reportedly owned the first home in River Park.

Besides Moddison Avenue, Sandburg Drive, and Carlson Drive, several streets in River Park and East Sac are named after family members and associates of the developers.

Moddison: MacAdoo (married name of H.S.’s daughter, Emily)

Ruth ( daughter of H.S.)

Brand (son-in-law of H.C.)

Dittmar (office manager for Jones, Brand, and Hullin)

Messina (escrow officer for Jones, Brand, and Hullin)

Gunther (husband of Ruth)

Sandburg:   Minerva (maybe after wife Minnie)

Wanda (daughter)

Lovella (daughter)

Shepard (Lovella’s married name)

Carlson:       Ada (wife)

Betty (sister)

Roger (grand nephew)

Jerome (grandson? grand nephew?)

But, what’s in a name?



Other links to Sacramento area history

History of East Sacramento

Sacramento history timeline