Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

John Augustus Sutter House

Lititz Boro, Lancaster County, PA

The John Augustus Sutter House (17-19 East Main Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The General Johann (John) Augustus Sutter House is a 2 1/2 story gable roof brick house executed in the common bond style. It measures 30 feet wide (three bays) by 42 feet deep (2 bays) and has brick chimneys at each gable end.

As built, all windows were 2 over 2 double hung sash painted white and two panel green shutters. All of the windows and the main entrance (front right bay) had ornamental hood-type heads supported by brackets. An applied foliage design appeared below the arch of all heads. The entrance was comprised of double doors each having a large round headed glass and small raised panel below. Both the window heads and a block-type sill extended beyond the vertical plane of the window frame.

The cornice which is evident only on the front is large, has a return and has applied molding. The same molding appears on the barge boards on the gable ends. A large fascia board with 8 pairs of brackets is located beneath the cornice.

Modifications to the structure date from the 1930's. At that time, the interior was gutted with only the stair left in place. The entire first floor front was replaced by a store front and a smaller door to the second floor.

A two story brick addition was added to the rear of the Sutter House and a concrete block addition to the rear of that.

A new drive-in bank is attached to the later brick and block additions.


The Sutter House at 17-19 East Main Street, Lititz is one of the few remaining sites associated with this early explorer and settler.

Johann Agustus Sutter was born in Switzerland in 1803. He studied at a military academy and entered the Swiss Army attaining a rank of captain. In 1826 he was married, the result of which was four children. In 1834 he sailed to New York and proceeded to St. Louis where he settled briefly, 1836 found him in Sante Fe and 1838 in Oregon with his quest for California yet unrealized. He finally reached San Francisco in 1839 via Honolulu and Sitka.

In the year of his arrival, he petitioned the Mexican Governor for a permit to establish a colony. Forty-nine thousand acres were provided to him on the provision that he construct a fortified post and settle the land. The land which he settled and called Nueva Helvetia was located on the south bank of the American River near its junction with the Sacramento River. With the assistance of Indians associated with the missions and some Hawaiians he began to clear the land and build his colonial estate. Irrigation ditches were dug to sustain his orchards, vineyards and grainfields. He built a mill, distillery, tannery, blanket factory and blacksmith shop. He traded furs and established a route to Sacramento using his schooner and other boats.

In 1841 he was made a Mexican citizen. He provided military help to Governor Micheltorena for which he was amply repaid with an additional 98,000 acres. About this time, the title General was ascribed to him although no basis was provided for it. After the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, Sutter's land was confiscated by the United States Government and its interest. It was later restored to him.

Sutter was delegated to the convention which drafted the constitution for California and later he ran, without success, for Governor of the State.

In 1848 while excavating the mill race for a new mill which he built, Sutter tried to conceal the discovery of gold on January 24, but was unable. Soon after the news spread, his land was inundated with prospectors, many of whom were the workmen he hired. With his workmen's attention and labor turned to gold he found it difficult to maintain the baronial estate which he had amassed. In 1852 he went bankrupt. To make matters worse, the 98,000 acres of land granted to him by Governor Micheltorena were declared invalid.

Although his earlier land grant from the Mexicans was declared valid, he did not have sufficient funds to recover the property through litigation. Most of the financial resources which were left, were ordered by the court to be paid to those with subtitles to his land. In 1864 he was provided a pension of $250 a month by the California legislature. His house on the Feather River burned in the following year. In 1871 he came to build a house in Lititz. Johann Agustus Sutter died in June of 1880 and is buried in Lititz.


Dictionary of American Biography. New York Chas Scribners Sons, 1961 ed. Vol. IX, pp 224-5.

Encyclopedia Britannica: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1965 Vol. 21 p 623.

  1. Dunlevey, Charles, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Johann Augustus Sutter House, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Main Street East