San Francisco and Thereabout
by Charles Keeler
The California Promotion Committee of San Francisco, Publisher, 1902
After the decline of gold production in 1853, San Francisco passed through a period of comparative quiet and readjustment. In spite of the fact that for a number of years the annual gold output continued above fifty million dollars, public confidence in the boundless nature of the supply declined. Dull times fell upon San Francisco until the exciting days of the Civil War, when union or secession became a burning issue. The State decided with the North and showed its loyalty by subscribing for some time to the Sanitary Commission twenty-five thousand dollars a month, half the sum contributed by the entire country. This from a city of a hundred and ten thousand people astonished the whole nation.
During the stirring times before the war, the eagerness to receive news and to communicate with far-away friends became so great that the pony express was started. Hardy riders carried the mailbags on fast broncos all the long and dangerous way from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Missouri, the western terminus of the railroad. The distance was covered in the surprisingly short interval of ten and a half days, making the time from San Francisco to New York only thirteen days.
Still the people of California realized the necessity for closer relations with their kinsmen across the Rocky Mountains, and a railroad was the issue of the day. Congress, appreciating the strategic importance of a transcontinental system, listened to the demans of California and passed a bill for the construction of the road. In 1863 work on what seemed an almost hopeless undertaking was commenced at Sacramento. A small company of men who had been successful in business enterprises in Sacramento, notably Leland Stanford, C.P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and E.B. Crocker, secured enormous concessions from the Government both in land and money, for building the Central Pacific Road, while another company received similar grants for constructing the Union Pacific Road, starting at the eastern end of the line. The dramatic race across the continent in the construction of these roads, each of which was to have all the line it had laid up to the point of meeting, ended on the desert near Great Salt Lake, where, with due ceremony, in May, 1869, Leland Stanford drove the last spike in the line which united California with the east.
It was indeed an auspicious time for California, but San Francisco was disappointed with the result. The directors of the road lived, during the first few years, at Sacramento. An effort, the second in the history of the city, was made by people interested in Benicia, to make that place a rival of San Francisco, and to have the overland terminus there. Furthermore, the intention of the Central Pacific directors to make Goat Island their approach to San Francisco, connecting it by ferry with the city, was so hotly contested that the permission of Congress was withheld. Instead of the expected boom upon the completion of the road, San Francisco suffered a most disastrous panic.
After the decline of gold in California, speculative interest in the precious metals was revived by the discovery in Nevada of vast deposits of silver. As these mines were largely owned and controlled in San Francisco, the market in silver stocks became a gambling enterprise on a vast scale. Fortunes were made and lost in a day and the prosperity of San Francisco was dependent upon the reports of the outlook in Virginia City. In 1862 the Comstock Lode produced six million dollars in silver. Speculation in the mines of this region was so great that, in the following year, stocks of one company sold at six thousand three hundred dollars a share. Of course a panic ensued, although the yield of the Nevada mines in 1864 reached sixteen million dollars.
Ten years later all this fever of speculation was eclipsed by the vast yield of the Comstock Lode. Fabulous sums were taken from the Consolidated Virginia and the Gold Hill Bonanzas. In less than four years the Belcher and Crown Point mines had produced forty million dollars. So wild was the excitement that the combined value of the Comstock shares is said to have increased during two months at the rate of a million dollars a day.
This was the time when the bonanza kings reaped their harvest. The most spectacular of the fortunes made thus were amassed by two San Franciscans, J.C. Flood and W.S. O'Brien. They began investing in a small way as early as 1862 in the Kentuck mine, but it was not until some years later, when associated with two practical miners of Virginia City, J.W. Mackey and J.G. Fair, that their operations became so large as to attract public attention. At the time they secured possession of the Consolidated Virginia, its shares had a mere nominal value, since it had yielded no returns and showed little prospect of so doing. Luck was with them in the venture, and when a fabulously rich vein was unearthed the stock rose so that the four men found themselves possessed of princely fortunes.
Happily for California the day is over when her prosperity is dependent upon lucky mining strikes. The mineral output of the State for 1900 was over thirty-two million dollars, no inconsiderable sum even in comparison with the great yields of the past, but today the State relies upon such a diversity of products that the vicissitudes of mining cannot shake her. In 1900 the value of the cured fruit crop was eleven million dollars, only four million less than the gold output for the same year, and this is but an index of the productiveness in other horticultural and pastoral lines. Wheat, wool, oil, borax, beet-sugar, lumber and building-stone, are among the many products which contribute to the wealth of California.
With this brief glance at the stirring incidents of the San Francisco of the past, it will be in order now to inspect the city and its environs as they appear today. A community of four hundred thousand people, with boundless commercial opportunities, with a country of rare productiveness all about it, San Francisco looks to the future for her history as well as to the past.