San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



THE year 1853 was not remarkable for any great increase in the permanent population of California. A vast immigration certainly took place, but the emigration was also very great. Before noticing the estimated increase in the number of inhabitants in San Francisco, we take this opportunity of making a few remarks on the progress of population in the country at large.

The Government census, taken at the close of 1852, returned the population of California at 264,435; but this number was considered by those best able to judge to be considerably understated. In his message communicating the census returns to the Legislature, the governor of the State, commenting upon them, expressed his belief that the population of the country, at the close of 1852, might properly be estimated at 308,000 persons of both sexes, and of all races and ages. In 1853, it was supposed that the immigration by land from the United States and Mexico amounted to about 15,000 persons, while the number of those leaving California by land was too inconsiderable to affect materially any calculations on the subject. The number of immigrants by sea, who landed at San Francisco, was about 34,000, while the departures were about 31,000. There were, therefore, probably about 18,000 persons, on the whole, added to the population of the country. If this number be added to the estimated number at the close of 1852, it will appear that at the close of the following year the total population of California was 326,000 persons. As while we write, in the spring of 1854, the ordinary immigration of the year has not fairly commenced, which, however, promises to be very large, the last-mentioned number may be taken as a fair approximation to the present number of inhabitants. Estimates have been made, at different times, of the various races forming the total number, but none of these can be confidently relied upon. The French and German peoples generally claim a greater number of their countrymen in California than the Americans are willing to allow. The following may be taken as a rough calculation on this subject. Under the term “Americans” are included the natives of Great Britain and Ireland, who are less easily distinguishable from native Americans than are other foreigners. Many, however, of the British-born, are American by adoption and naturalization. Since the common language of the Americans and British is English, and their customs and habits of thought are generally the same, there seems no impropriety in calling them all in California simply Americans. At the same time, it may be observed that the vast majority of those so called are really natives of the United States:—

Americans, 204,000; Germans, 30,000; French, 28,000; Hispano-Americans, 20,000; all other foreigners of white extraction, 5,000; Chinese, 17,000; Indians (estimated by the census agents at 33,000, which number is considered much too high), 20,000; Negroes, 2,000; total, 326,000.

Of this number, about 100,000 are believed to be working miners, the remainder forming the population of the different towns and the pastoral and agricultural districts of the country. It is estimated that there are about 65,000 women in the country and perhaps 30,000 children. In the mining regions the females are much fewer relatively to the local population than in the towns. As among the Indians and the native Californians the sexes may be supposed to be nearly equal, it will be seen that among the other races, the number of females must be very small in proportion to the number of male inhabitants. The class of small farmers and generally the agricultural population increased considerably during 1853. They produced a large portion of the provisions which supplied the wants of the people ; and it is probable that in a few years the State will be altogether independent of foreign supplies in the great staples which support life.

The quantity of gold produced from the Californian mines cannot be correctly ascertained, though reasonable approximations on the subject may be made. The custom-house returns at San Francisco do not show the great amount of gold carried off by private parties, and not manifested, nor the quantity retained in the country, where the circulation of local gold pieces is very large. Perhaps the quantity of gold dust deposited and coined at the different mints of the United States, with a fair allowance for what may be shipped directly or transhipped to foreign countries, and used in manufactures throughout the Union, and as coin in California itself, and what may be still in the hands of miners and others, may make a sufficiently exact statement on the subject. This allowance, after a careful consideration of many circumstances, we would put, for the last five or six years, at $44,000,000, which we think moderate. The total production of the different years may therefore be estimated, and given as follows:
Deposits at the various
mints of Californian gold.
Total estimated produce.
1848 $45,301 $3,000,000
1849 6,151,360 25,000,000
1850 36,273,097 40,000,000
1851 55,938,232 60,000,000
1852 53,452,567 63,000,000
1853 55,113,487 65,000,000
Add, the manifested shipments
of gold dust from San Francisco
in the month of December, 1853,
but which would not be deposited
at the  mints until January following
$211,820,787 $256,000,000

As manifested in the custom-house, the export of gold from San Francisco, during 1853, was $54,906,956 74. Of this amount, the sum of $47,914,448 was for New York; $4,795,662 for London; $926,134 for China; $445,778 for Valparaiso; $390,781 for New Orleans; $191,000 for the Sandwich Islands,—and the remainder for New South Wales and various ports on the Pacific. It will be observed that between six and seven millions were shipped, during the last year, directly to foreign countries, and would not therefore appear in the returns of the United States mints.

It seems unnecessary, in the “Annals of San Francisco,” to enter more largely into the mere statistics of gold. The yearly production has steadily continued to increase, and the manifested semi-monthly shipments of specie regularly range from two to three millions. These shipments, as we have explained, do not show the total production, since large quantities of dust are carried off by private parties, which do not appear in the custom-house records. In the beginning of 1854 the mines are unusually productive; and so far as can be estimated, the total production of the year named may be expected to show a considerable increase on the production of 1853.

It is admitted by all who bestow a moment’s attention upon the subject, that hitherto it has been gold, almost alone, which has given such an impetus to the progress of California at large, and particularly to San Francisco. The latter is the one great port through which the enormous foreign supplies of provisions and all other kinds of goods pass to the interior, and from whence the payments in gold dust are shipped abroad. Most of the miners reach California by way of San Francisco, and all who leave the country depart from the same city. Many years hence the fertile and genial California will be a rich and populous country, irrespective entirely of her mineral wealth; and as farming, and, by and by, manufacturing immigrants pour in, that time will be hastened. San Francisco will then, as now, be the great port of the State, and the emporium of a vast commerce. The Atlantic and Pacific Railway, which has been discussed for so many years, and which must soon be really set agoing, will increase to an incalculable extent the population and prosperity both of California and San Francisco. By whatever route the proposed railroad communication is made, our city must be the chief terminus on the Pacific. Meanwhile, she is closely dependent for prosperity upon the success of the miners and the increasing production of gold. If these grow fewer, or the production be seriously reduced, San Francisco must suffer most severely for a time. From the figures given above, it appears that the annual production of gold has been steadily increasing; while, from what is known of the character of the mining regions, there seems no reason to fear a serious falling off in the amount for many years to come. Scientific apparatus and superior methods of working are every year being applied to the auriferous earth and rocks, which readily yield richer returns than ever. Long before the mining districts can be worked out, for profitable labor, San Francisco will have the millions of California for supporters of her commerce and patrons of her magnificence. Hitherto she has been, and from her unequalled maritime position, her wealth, population and enterprise, must always be, the financial and political, the vital centre of the State.

During 1853, the population of San Francisco was considerably increased. At the close of the year, the city was estimated to contain nearly fifty thousand inhabitants, or more than a seventh part of the whole population of California. It is true that many of these were only temporary residents, but as they gradually left the city, their places were supplied by an equally large number of occasional visitors or fresh immigrants. The population, permanent and fluctuating, was composed of all kindreds and peoples, and may be divided thus:

Americans (including British and Irish born—who probably amounted to one-sixth of the number), 32,000; Germans, 5,500; French, 5,000; Hispano-Americans, 3,000; other races of white extraction, and negroes, 1,500; Chinese, 3,000; total 50,000.

About 8,000 of this population are females, and 3,000 children; while the great majority of the remainder are men between the ages of twenty and forty years. The greatest number of votes given at any one election have, however, been only 11,000. This is partly explained by the fact that a large portion of the adult males are neither native nor naturalized citizens.

San Francisco, during 1853, was particularly improved by the erection of a large number of elegant and substantial fire-proof brick and stone buildings. Some of these would be remarkable in any country for their great size, strength and beauty. The principal portion of them are situated on the east side of the plaza, in Montgomery, Battery, Sansome and Front streets, and in those parts of the cross thoroughfares, from Jackson to California streets, inclusive, that touch or lie between those first named. There are also many fine brick buildings in Stockton street. “Montgomery Block” has upwards of one hundred and fifty rooms, and the “New Rassette House,” nearly two hundred and fifty. Such great structures, the piles called the “Armory Hall,” the “Express building,” the “Custom-House Block,” and many others of nearly as grand a character, have cost enormous sums of money to build. At North Beach, Mission Bay and Pleasant and Happy Valleys, many elegant private dwellings and manufacturing establishments have been reared, and on Rincon Point towers the splendid United States Marine Hospital, surrounded on the land sides by numerous elegant structures. Some of the more finely finished edifices have either the whole front or the lower story formed of polished Chinese granite; while the fronts of nearly all the larger buildings, constructed of brick, are covered with a fine gray-colored mastic which gives them all the appearance of being made of stone. The distant reader can scarcely have any proper conception of the magnificence of some of these edifices, so different from the character of buildings which were constructed in the early years of the great cities on the Atlantic border. It was the repeated recurrence in former days of conflagrations, which occasionally destroyed half the city, and the perpetual liability, from local position, to similar disasters, that induced capitalists to endeavor to make the best and most valuable portion of the city thoroughly fire-proof. To accomplish that, a peculiarly massive and imposing style of architecture has been adopted, the character of which has been more particularly noticed in a previous page. The later fire-proof buildings, like the earlier ones, are all provided with exterior window-shutters and doors of thick wrought-iron. This circumstance gives the best street architecture of San Francisco an appearance which is peculiar to itself. Engraved illustrations can scarcely represent the general effect, arising from the cause, and which the actual spectator feels.

While in the centre of the city these great buildings were rapidly rising, in the districts beyond and in the outskirts, other material improvements, in levelling the unequal ground and erecting additional houses, generally of frame, and in the formation of gardens, were being daily carried on. A second and a third time, new and supposed better street grades were being everywhere established. To carry out these, enormous and costly excavations had to be made at particular localities, while at others immense mounds of earth had to be thrown over deep valleys. Generally the streets in the lower part of the city were raised several feet above the former height, while on the high grounds towards the north and west the lines of streets had to be lowered from ten to fifty feet. Although the city generally may in the end be much improved by the adoption of these grades, the necessity thereby created of excavating, or of filling up the building lots along the artificial street line, and of raising or of lowering substantial buildings already erected, to suit the new level, has caused incalculable injury and loss to individual citizens. Perhaps, under the existing plan of San Francisco, which, as we have, elsewhere explained, is on the principle of strait lines of street crossing each other at right angles, without regard to the natural inequalities of the ground, something like the existing grades of the streets was unavoidable, if a prudent regard was to be had to the future appearance of the city and convenient access to the remotest parts of it. But on viewing the sad destruction of property caused to particular persons by these new grades, we are only the more imbittered against the original designers of the town for their absurd mathematical notions. If the great thoroughfares had been adapted to the natural configuration of the tract of country upon which the city stands, there might have been some apparent irregularity in the plan, and some, perhaps some little ground available for building purposes lost, yet many millions of dollars would have been saved to the community at large, which, as matters stand, have already been unprofitably expended, while millions more must still be spent in overcoming the obstacles wilfully placed in the way by the originally defective plans.

But leaving such unprofitable discussion, we may only remark that owing to the adoption of these new grades, an immense deal of labor was performed during the year, both in forming the streets themselves and in altering the buildings along the sides of them. Many new streets were planked for the first time, and some of the old ones replanked. Planking has served well in the infancy of the city, but it is probable that so perishable a material will soon give place to cobble-stones or Macadamized paving, or even square dressed blocks of granite or whinstone. San Francisco, like Rome, cannot be built in a day. Already, portions of Montgomery and Washington streets are finely laid down with cobble-stones. Meanwhile, the streets in general have gradually been getting into clean and regular order, and have a pleasant appearance. They and the buildings lining them are in many respects equal, and in some respects superior to the streets and buildings of long established and populous cities in the Atlantic States. The San Franciscans are proud of their noble city that sits enthroned beside calm waters, and as Queen of the Pacific receives homage and tribute from all seas and oceans. Richly freighted ships from every land visit her harbor. Her buildings are becoming palaces, and her merchants, princes. Wealth, gayety and luxury characterize her people. She is fast approaching that peculiar and regal character which in days of old was borne by the great maritime cities of the Mediterranean, in more recent times by Venice and Genoa, and perhaps at this date by Amsterdam and St. Petersburgh. Like the great mercantile cities of the past, San Francisco may fall in her pride but centuries shall first pass. She is very young yet, and has a long age of growing grandeur before her. The commerce of the Pacific is only beginning, and with its certain increase will San Francisco certainly wax greater and more marvellous. Her spirit is GO AHEAD! We have seen her, but a few years since, only a barren waste of sand-hills—a paltry village—a thriving little town—a budding city of canvas, then of wood, and next a great metropolis of brick. In a few years more, if she be not changed into marble, like Augustan Rome, she may be turned into as beautiful and enduring substance, into Chinese or rather Californian granite. After the wonders we have already seen, and part of which we have described, nothing seems impossible in the progress of San Francisco. Her future will be far more glorious than even the present. As the lover expatiates rapturously upon his mistress, whose perfections, though nature may have been bountiful, he chiefly himself creates, so do the San Franciscans speak of their beloved city, whose magnificence is principally the work of their own hands. Some glorification is natural and allowable on the subject.

To give a general notion of the condition in some respects of the city at the close of 1853, we here present a variety of miscellaneous statistical facts. These have been drawn from the columns of various newspapers of the day, from the city directory, custom house and other records, and from personal observation.

San Francisco, at the close of 1853, is divided into 8 wards for municipal purposes, and has nearly 250 public streets and alleys open, many of which are graded and substantially planked. It has 2 public squares formed and already surrounded by buildings. Besides an immense number of handsome and commodious edifices of frame, there are 626 brick or stone buildings, already erected or in course of erection, within the limits of Broadway and Bush street, Stockton street and the water front. Of these 350 are two stories in height; 154, three stories; 83, one story; 34, four stories; 3, five stories; and 1, six stories. Many of the houses are very large, and a few rival in size and grandeur the finest buildings in the United States. Nearly one half of the whole number were built during 1853, and about two thirds have been constructed in the most substantial manner, and made secure against the hottest fires. The real estate of the city was valued, on the 1st of July, at $28,880,200. As, since that period, this kind of property has risen twenty-five per cent. in marketable value, while extensive improvements were making in the interval, the valuation will justify an increase of $10,000,000 on the estimate made in the summer. There are 160 hotels and public houses with a descriptive name, 66 restaurants and coffee saloons, 63 bakeries, 5 public markets and 43 private ones, 20 bathing establishments, 15 flour and saw mills, 13 foundries and iron works, and 18 public stables.

There are 19 banking firms, of which more than one-half are extensive establishments of the highest credit; and the operations of a single one, including its agencies, have been $80,000,000 in one year. There are 9 fire, life and marine insurance companies. There are 10 public schools, with 21 teachers, and 1250 scholars, besides several private educational establishments. There are 18 churches, and about 8000 church members. There are 6 military companies (one of them, however, being chiefly for target practice), with 350 members in all, of which number about 260 are on active duty. The companies have a common armory and drill room. There are 14 fire companies, numbering about 840 members, with 12 engines, and 3 hook and ladder trucks. There are 38 large public cisterns for the use of the fire companies. There are 2 government hospitals, 1 hospital in the course of erection by a benevolent society, and an alms-house, all having together about 600 patients, besides private establishments of the same nature. There are 8 lodges of secret benevolent associations, and 4 public benevolent societies, connected with different races. There is a fine law library, and, be it said, about 200 attorneys. There are all the usual public buildings which are required in a city of the size, a handsome city hall, a jail, post-office, custom-house, and city, county and state court rooms of various denominations. There is also a mint erecting. There are a great number of societies for mercantile, professional, literary, social and religious purposes, among which are the Chamber of Commerce, a gas and water company, a plank road and various wharf companies, the Mercantile Library Association, the Christian Library Association, Bible and tract societies, several asylums for orphans, the California Pioneers, the Philharmonic Society, the Medical Society, the New England Society, the Turnverein (Gymnastic Society), the Saengerbund (Singer’s band), the San Francisco Verein, and the German Club. There are resident consuls for 27 foreign governments. There are 12 daily newspapers, of which 8 are morning papers, 3 evening papers, and 1 a German morning paper. There are 2 tri-weeklies, both of them French; and 6 weeklies, of which 3 are religious, 1 commercial, 1 French, and 1 a Sunday paper. There are 2 monthly publications, of which 1 is an agricultural journal, and the other literary. Among places of public amusement, there are 5 American theatres (generally three or four of which are at all times open), a French theatre, a musical hall for concerts, balls, lectures, exhibitions, &c., a gymnasium and two race courses. During the year, there were open, besides the American and French theatres, a German theatre, a Spanish theatre, and a Chinese theatre. The billiard rooms, and the public and private places at which gambling is carried on, can scarcely be counted; and the same may be said of the places where vast quantities of intoxicating liquors are daily consumed.

There are 18 ocean steamers, of which 8 run to Panama, 4 to San Juan del Sud, 2 to Oregon, and 4 to points on the coast of California; and there are 23 river steamers, which ply to different parts on the bay and its tributaries. There is one line of daily stages to San José, another to the Red Woods, and one thrice a week to Monterey. There are regular lines of omnibuses on the plank roads, which run to the mission every half hour. There is a magnetic telegraph eight miles in length, from Point Lobos, for reporting vessels; and another, extending altogether upwards of three hundred miles, to Marysville, through San José, Stockton and Sacramento. There are 2 great, and some smaller express companies, which convey letters and packages to all parts of the Union, and to many foreign countries. The great Atlantic mails leave twice a month, via Panama; and there are daily mails to all places of importance around the bay or on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. For nearly two months, in the summer of 1853, a weekly mail left for the Eastern States, but this, not being sufficiently supported by government, came abruptly to an end. About 1,000,000 of letters were sent during the year to foreign and Atlantic ports.

The settled portion of the city covers about three square miles. The principal part of the business is carried on in houses erected on piles, or built on earth filled in where the waves of the bay rolled three years ago. There are 2 plank roads to the mission, and one across the hills on Pacific street, on the way to the presidio. There are 12 large wharves projecting directly into the stream, besides nearly as many small cross ones. About 2½ miles of streets and wharves are made on piles over the water.

During 1853, there were, in round numbers, imported into San Francisco, 100,000,000 pounds of flour and meal, worth $5,000,000; 20,000,000 pounds of butter, worth $4,000,000; 25,000,000 pounds of barley, worth $500,000; nearly 80,000,000 feet of lumber, worth $4,000,000; 29,500 casks, and 12,000 packages, of hams; 8,400 tierces, hogsheads and casks, 700 barrels and 9,400 boxes, of bacon; 51,000 barrels of pork; 16,000 barrels of beef; about 40,000 barrels of refined, and 160,000 bags, 3,000 barrels and 4,000 boxes, of raw sugars; 100,000 boxes of soap; 170,000 cases of candles; 1,100,000 pounds of tea ; 115,000 bags of coffee, (not including some 13,000 boxes of the article ground) ; 2,300 tierces, and 14,000 barrels of Carolina rice, and over 400,000 bags of foreign rice; and, of unspecified provisions, 50 tons and 55,000 packages. There were also imported, among a variety of other articles, 67,600 cases of boots and shoes; 31,000 bales, 20,000 cases and boxes, and 6,000 packages, of dry goods; 80,000 tons of coal, and 550,000 packages of unspecified merchandise. Likewise, whiskey equal to 20,000 barrels, and 400 barrels of rum; 9,000 casks, hogsheads and pipes, 13,000 barrels, 2,600 kegs and 6,000 cases, of brandy; 34,000 baskets of champagne; and, of other wines, 9,150 hogsheads and casks, 2,500 barrels, 1,800 kegs and 156,000 cases. To complete the long list of “drinks,” there were also imported, of beer, 24,000 casks and hogsheads, 13,000 barrels, and 23,000 cases and boxes; and of ”unspecified liquors,” 5,000 pipes and casks, 6,000 barrels, 5,000 kegs, 8,000 cases and 1,600 packages. These importations were to supply the wants of fewer than four hundred thousand persons, resident in California and Oregon, and some of them in the Sandwich Islands. The total imports of the year were about 745,000 tons of goods, and were valued at upwards of $35,000,000; or, on an average, two tons, and about $100 for every person in the State of California and Territory of Oregon. The freights to vessels coming into San Francisco during the year were $11,752,084; and the duties collected at the custom house were $2,581,975. The only exports worthy of notice were about $65,000,000 of gold dust (part only of which was manifested), and 18,800 flasks of quicksilver, valued at $683,189.

The arrivals of the year were 1028 vessels, of 558,755 tons (though carrying about one-third more), and the departures were 1653 vessels, of 640,072 tons. Of the entrances, 634 vessels, of 428,914 tons, were American, and 394 vessels, of 126,880 tons were foreign. The difference between the statements of the entrances and departures arises chiefly from the circumstance that the many vessels engaged in the Californian coasting trade were cleared, but not entered in the custom house. The quickest passages of the year were made by the Flying Fish and the John Gilpin, both “clipper ships.” These were from New York, and arrived on the 31st January, and 2d February, in 92 and 97 days respectively. At the close of the year, there were 72 square rigged sailing vessels in the port, consisting of 21 ships, 36 barques, and 15 brigs. A few weeks, and sometimes a few days only, were now sufficient to discharge the largest vessels, and fit them ready to depart again for sea. Besides the vessels mentioned as being in port, there was also there a proportion of the large ocean steamers and those that plied along the coast, and in the bay and tributaries. Many old “forty-niners” and other vessels that had arrived in various late years, served as storeships, or lay dismantled and neglected in various parts of the harbor.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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