John Augustus Sutter was born in Europe to Swiss-German parents in 1803. Sutter immigrated to America. In 1839 he received a 48,000-acre land grant in the Sacramento Valley from the Mexican government. It was here he built an empire known as New Helvetia (New Switzerland.) The walls were 2 1/2 feet thick and 15 to 18 feet high, and he developed flourishing crops, such as grapes and wheat.
Sutter aligned himself with the Mexican authorities, at one point, with his various land grants; Sutter owned more than 150,000 acres of the Central Valley. He was known as a generous host that word traveled quickly and his fort became a destination to people immigrating to California. He hosted such colorful and historically important characters as John C. Fremont and Kit Carson as well.
In 1848, a carpenter working for Sutter, discovered gold at the sawmill Sutter was having built in Coloma, on the American River. Before the mill could be finished, word of the discovery was out. Less than a decade after they were established, Sutter’s properties were overrun by gold seekers and the fort is all that remains of New Helvetia.
The Native Sons of the Golden West were influential in the restoration of the Fort which began in 1891 and was completed in 1893. With the Fort being donated to the State of California, it became a part of the California State Park System in 1947. Sutter's Fort stands as the oldest restored Fort in the United States.
Today, the Fort is furnished and reconstructed to reflect its 1846 appearance, and is open for self guided tours.