National Register of Historic Places in Sacramento County, California

Walnut Grove Mural Mural of Historic Walnut Grove Hotel
22 May 2006
(Click Photo to Zoom)
National Register #90000551
Walnut Grove Commercial And Residential Historic District
River Road and Browns Alley
Walnut Grove
Established c1851

When John Wesley Sharpe founded Walnut Grove as a boat landing on the Sacramento River around 1851, Sharpe's Landing was the first established settlement in the Sacramento River Delta. Although few steamers docked here during the 1850s, Sharpe built a hotel and a general store.

By the time of Sharpe's death in 1880, Walnut Grove had seven residences, a post office, a commodious wharf, a brickyard, a lumber mill, an armory hall, a schoolhouse, a ferry, a general merchandise store, a Wells Fargo office, a butcher, a blacksmith and a wheelwright. Four steamers traveling between San Francisco and Sacramento docked. By 1880, other towns had been established in the Delta - Rio Vista, Isleton, Courtland, Hood, Freeport - but Walnut Grove was the largest and most visited owing to its location midway between Sacramento and San Francisco.

By the mid-1880s, Walnut Grove was associated with Alexander Brown who was a businessman, rancher, farmer, postmaster, and agent for Southern Pacific Railroad steamer ships, Wells Fargo and Company Express, and Western Union. Every building in Walnut Grove had either been built by Alexander Brown or was being used by him or his family.

Brown established Walnut Grove as a center for shipping agricultural goods throughout the nation. He was the first American to successfully grow asparagus as a marketable product. Every year the first pickings of the asparagus crop were rushed to the Plaza Hotel and Waldorf-Astoria in New York City for use in their dining rooms. These two world renown establishments had standing orders for Brown's spring crop.

Throughout the early history of Walnut Grove, Asians outnumbered Caucasians who consisted primarily of the few families who settled in Walnut Grove before 1880 including the Browns. These families resided in homes interspersed throughout the commercial district and facing the River. The Asians lived in a different part of town.

Brown supported the Chinese American and Japanese American communities in town. He operated a bank out of the back of his store, issuing loans to farmers, and lending money to members of the local Asian communities. This modest start led to the establishment of the Bank of Alex Brown, chartered in 1913 by Alex's oldest son, John Stanford Brown, and named for his father.

When a fire broke out in the Chinese American section of town in 1915, Brown provided two fire tug boats that hosed water on the ruins for days. Following the 1915 fire, he rented land to the Japanese people and encouraged them to build their own community north of the previously established Chinatown. Brown organized a water company and supplied water and sewer facilities to the two Asian districts, as well as to the Anglo community, and helped in the rebuilding effort.

To encourage new people to move into his town, Brown subdivided his old racetrack and stables area behind the town hall into small lots around 1918 and began building bungalows. The subdivision along Brown's Alley represents the first community planning and development in Walnut Grove with the express purpose of attracting non-Asian residents to supplement the few old time families in town.

At Brown's instigation, and with his financial backing, the Imperial Theatre in Walnut Grove was constructed in 1920 by Mr. Takeda to serve the Delta region. Brown envisioned this theatre as a place for all the people in the region and it was used by Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Anglos, and Portuguese well into the 1970s. This theatre, with its large stage, was used for community dances and gatherings, rotary meetings, moving picture shows, plays, and other gatherings attended by people from all over the Delta.
By the time of his death in 1923, Alex Brown owned, operated, or backed most of the commercial enterprises in the non-Asian portion of town, was a silent partner in several of the Chinese businesses, and rented land and building space to the Japanese community. In addition to his store, hotel, wharf, and warehouses, he had a financial interest in the town bank, the local butcher shop, and post office, all owned by his sons. Brown also organized and owned the local water district, electric company, telephone company, and other public utilities.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination submitted in 1990.

Name Year Address Remarks Sort Address Sort Name
Alexander Brown III Home1913Market StreetCraftsman styleMarketAlexander Brown III Home
Town Hall188414179 River RoadRiver 14179Town Hall
Hutchinson House19211231 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1231Hutchinson House
Alex Brown Cottage19211235 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1235Alex Brown Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211239 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1239Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211243 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1243Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211247 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1247Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211251 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1251Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211250 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1250Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211246 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1246Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211242 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1242Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211238 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1238Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Alex Brown Rental Cottage19211234 Brown's AlleyOne of twelve cottages built by Alex BrownBrown's 1234Alex Brown Rental Cottage
Fred Wicker House18701230 Brown's AlleyBrown's 1230Fred Wicker House
Bank of Alex Brown191614189 River RoadRiver 14189Bank of Alex Brown
Alex Brown General Merchandise Store191514201 River RodRiver 14201Alex Brown General Merchandise Store
Fred Wicker House188014215 River RoadRiver 14215Fred Wicker House
Wicker Butcher Shop188014219 River RoadRuver 14219Wicker Butcher Shop
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