In 1839, after traveling on the American River, a German-born Swiss immigrant and pioneer named John Augusts Sutter (1803-1880) landed at or very near this spot to establish a new agricultural and trading settlement he called New Helvetia (New Switzerland). This settlement, which was a large fort known as Sutter's Fort, would over time become the city of Sacramento. The site is now called Sutter's Landing Regional Park, which features basketball courts, paved trails, a skate park, and other recreational opportunities.
Sutter is also well-known for his association with the first discovery of gold in California. In early 1848, while he and his team of carpenters were building a sawmill along the American River in Coloma, one of his workers, John Marshall, found gold. Despite his best efforts, Sutter could not keep the news of the discovery from spreading. As a result, the discovery started the California Gold Rush and, unfortunately for Sutter, essentially brought him financial ruin. His workers at the sawmill (it was never finished) and at the fort deserted him to go look for gold. Also, squatters and poachers overran the fort and surrounding agricultural fields. All of these factors forced him into bankruptcy and to eventually deeded the remaining land to his son, who had by then arrived from Switzerland. He was never compensated for his losses during the Gold Rush and passed away on June 18, 1880 in Washington D.C.