In the early 1960s, a Sacramento State graduate student by the name of Jim Henley had two choices. He could either earn midterm credit in his public history course by taking a written examination or he could participate in the difficult cleanup of a burned-out building in Old Sacramento. Surprisingly, the young man opted to do the grueling hands-on work.
The less conventional approach to coursework not only introduced Henley to the profession of historic preservation, it gave him his first taste of the seedier side of Sacramento's then "skid row". Only moments after arriving at the field site for the first time, Henley witnessed a horrific altercation between two men that eventually led to murder. Despite the fact that Old Sacramento was quite rough in those days, Henley recognized its positive potential.
Over a period of forty years, Henley grew from an inspired graduate student to the primary advocate for Sacramento history, eventually becoming official City Historian. He played an active role in the establishment of Old Sacramento as an historic district, helped build the Sacramento History Museum, and oversaw the development of the City's archives, currently known as the Center for Sacramento History.
In the accompanying video, James E. Henley, who retired from the role as City Historian in 2007, discusses one of fifty-five "Small Bites of Sacramento History." In this installation, he provides the background story to Sacramento's central city gridded street pattern.
Over time, Sac History Happenings will feature additional segments from "Small Bites of Sacramento History." Henley's "bites" may also be accessed through the Center for Sacramento History's YouTube channel.