San Francisco History


Historical Sketch (1853)


Brief Historical Sketch
San Francisco Directory
Charles P. Kimball, Editor
1853
The year which gave birth to the Great Western Republic on the Atlantic shore of North America, also witnessed the first permanent settlement on the coast of Upper California. In 1776, two Missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church, landed in the Bay of S.F., and proceeded to establish a central point for their operations, in civilizing and christianizing the native tribes. Their names were Francisco Palou and Benito Cambon. They were natives of Spain, but came to this place from Mexico. Finding a fertile tract of land, capable of irrigation, near two miles south of the present city, they chose it for their home, and founded a mission which they named Mission Dolores, in commemoration of the sufferings of the Virgin. The Mission of San Jose, Santa Clara, San Raphael, and others, in Upper California, were established subsequently, and were dependent on that of S.F.

On the present site of the city of San Francisco, a few houses were erected about the same time. This settlement was named Yerba Buena揚ood herb傭ecause of an herb of that name, considered highly medicinal, and sometimes used as a substitute for Chinese Tea, was found in great abundance on the surrounding hills. The town retained the name of Yerba Buena, until occupied by the Americans. The first houses were erected by settlers from Mexico容xcept one building, which was put up by a Russian, who had been left on shore from a Russian ship, touching at the harbor.

All the buildings were of sun-dried bricks or adobes. The first house built at the Mission, stood about two hundred yards in front of the present church, where its crumbling walls are still visible. Next was built the chapel with its appurtenances. The Presidio, three miles west of the town, and near the entrance to the Bay, was constructed near the same time for government purposes.

Soon after its organization, the Mission flourished rapidly, realizing the hopes of its founders. The Indians learned to repose entire confidence in the Padres, and embraced, with avidity, the new religion, and many of the arts of the civilization. They lived in small communities and were occupied in tilling the earth and other employments under the direction of the Missionaries. They worked eight hours in the twenty-four, and received in return all the necessities of life, such as food and apparel, together with trinkets and rum葉he latter being considered in those days as almost essential to a life of civilization and godliness.

At various times parties of Indians were provided with the proper means and dismissed by the Missionaries, that they might pursue an independent life. But we are told that the attempt invariably failed, and that the natives sooner or later returned to seek the protection and guardianship of the Padres, after wasting their cattle and other stock.

Some idea may be formed of the extent of those operations from the fact that there belonged to this Mission, at one period, twenty thousand head of cattle, three thousand horses, and thirty thousand sheep. In 1810, the number of Christian baptisms had reached three thousand eight hundred and ninety-six, and in 1831, the period of greatest prosperity, the whole number had amounted to six thousand eight hundred and eighty-three. From this date a declension took place, which was greatly accelerated by the Mexican Revolution, in 1836, when the cattle and property were destroyed, and the Indians driven off by political disturbances. From 1831 to 1849, the number of baptisms was only four hundred and sixty-eight. Of the entire list, it is computed that nine-tenths were Indians, and the rest Californians, or immigrants, and their descendants, principally from Mexico.

In the mean time the town was slowly increasing, some importance being attached to it in consequence of the hides and tallow which it exported. In 1839, it was laid out as a town by Captain John Vioget, the few houses being previously scattered without regularity. In 1845, there were one hundred and fifty inhabitants. About this time it began to attract the attention of some adventurous Americans, and the population increased in two years to nearly five hundred. It was, in fact, an American settlement, long before Upper California became a territory of the United States.

For the benefit of distant readers, it may be well to briefly describe its situation. The city of San Francisco stands on a narrow neck of land between the Bay and the Ocean, fronting eastward on the Bay and having the Ocean five miles on the west. The Bay extends southward some fifty miles, parallel with the sea, from which it is separated by a narrow strip of land, varying from five to twenty miles in width. The city is on the extreme point of this promontory. Its site is handsome and commanding, being on an inclined plane half a mile in extent, from the water's edge, to the hills in the rear. Two points of land, Clark's Point on the north, and Rincon Point, on the south, one mile apart, project into the Bay, forming a crescent between them, which is the water front of the city, and which already been filled in and covered with buildings to the extent of half a mile. Those points, and the lofty hills north and west; upon which the city is rapidly climbing, afford a most extensive and picturesque view of the surrounding country. There are scarcely to be found more charming and diversified prospects, than are presented from these heights. Taking your stand on Telegraph Hill, to the north of the city, and looking eastward, you see the spacious Bay, eight miles in width, crowded with ships from all quarters of the globe, and the fertile coast of Contra Costa, beyond, with its new city of Oakland, behind which rise hill on hill, to the Redwood forests on the summits. Towering over these, is the conical peak of Mount Diabolo, at a distance of thirty-five miles. To the north is the entrance from the Ocean, almost beneath your feet, and Saucelito, six miles distant, at the foot of the opposite hills. The northern arm of the Bay also stretches away till lost in the distance, studded with smoking steamers on their way to the numerous points on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Turning to the south you look down on the busy city, whose tumultuous din rings steadily in your ear葉he Mission Dolores in a charming little valley beyond, backed by graceful hills葉he southern arm of the bay lost in the horizon, and the dim and distant coast range of mountains running parallel on the east. Facing the west, you look upon the narrow strait through which the restless ocean ebbs and flows, and into which the sea breeze sweeps daily with its chilling but purifying mists葉he Golden Gate葉he Presidio葉he fort葉he great ocean beyond.

Prior to the construction of wharves the principal landing was near the foot of Broadway and towards Clark's Point, where there was a bold shore with deep water. Boats also landed at North Beach, which obtained the name of Washerwoman's Bay; its clean, sandy shore affording facilities for washing. The only wharf in 1846 was at the foot of Clay street.

The war with Mexico, which broke out in 1846, gave an impulse to the commerce of the port, by requiring the shipment of supplies for military purposes. On the 13th of March 1847, there were in the harbor the extraordinary number of six vessels, viz: U. S. Ship Cyane, ship Moscow, ship Vandalia, ship Barnstable, ship Thomas H. Perkins, and brig Euphemia. On the 18th of December of that year there were four vessels in port, and no arrivals had occurred for a week. The imports for the last quarter of 1847 amounted to $49,600.00, and the exports to $53,600.00. In the first quarter of 1848 there were nine arrivals of vessels, four of which were from Monterey and San Pedro.

In April 1847, the number of inhabitants exclusive of Indians, was 375. Eight months afterwards, when a census was taken by the Board of School Trustees, the number exceeded 800. Of these there were adult males, 473; adult females, 177; children of age proper to attend school, 60. This increase of more than an hundred per cent, in eight months, took place some months before the discovery of gold, and when California was sought merely for agricultural and commercial purposes.

As early as January 1847, a complaint was published in the California Star that there was no school for children, the writer stating that he had counted forty children playing in the street. A public meeting was then called, to adopt measures to found a school. But the project failed. Some months later it was revived, with better success. A school house was built, and completed by the 1st of December. On the 21st of February, 1847, an election was held for School Trustees, and the following gentlemen were chosen: Dr. F. Fouregard, C. L. Ross, Esq., Dr. J. Townsend, J. Serrine, Esq., and W. H. Davies, Esq. The Town Council passed a resolution that "not exceeding four hundred dollars be appropriated to the payment of the teacher of the public school of this place; two hundred to be paid at the expiration of the first six months, and two hundred at the expiration of twelve months from the commencement of the school." That was the day of small things. Gold was a scarce article in California, except as a hidden treasure. But the enterprise and energy of the American people were nevertheless directing themselves in a channel which would have made the country great and prosperous, even if there had not been a grain of the precious metal hidden in her soil. The first American school in California was duly opened on Monday, the 3d day of April, 1848. As this was a movement of great moment to the infant settlement, it is believed that the announcement of the school, as made by the Trustees in the columns of the "California Star" will interest the reader sufficiently to warrant its introduction in this sketch. It was in the following form:

"SCHOOL.裕he school to be kept in the public school house of San Francisco will commence on Monday, the third of April next, under the superintendence of Mr. Thomas Douglass, a graduate of Yale College, Connecticut."

"Mr. D. has had more than ten years experience in the instruction of academies and high schools in the States and has in his possession testimonials from the Trustees of those institutions which speak of him as a skillful and successful teacher, and as well qualified for the business of his profession. The undersigned Trustees, therefore, cheerfully recommend his school to the patronage of the citizens of this town and vicinity, confident that he will do all in his power to impart a thorough education to pupils committed to his care."

"The terms of tuition will be as follows: 友or instruction in Reading, Writing, Spelling and Defining, and Geography, $5.00 per quarter. In the above branches, with the addition of Mental and Practical Arithmetic, English, Grammar and English Composition, $6.00 per quarter. In any of all of the above, together with Mental and Moral Science, Ancient and Modern History, Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, $8.00 per quarter. In any or all of the above branches, together with Geometry, Algebra, Trigonometry, Astronomy, Surveying and Navigation, $10.00 per quarter. In any of the above, together with the Latin and Greek languages, $12.00."

The great importance of this undertaking required that the teacher should have an adequate compensation. To meet the case, the Town Council adopted and published the following resolution:

"Resolved, That not exceeding four hundred dollars be appropriated to the payment of the teacher of the public school in this place. Two hundred to be paid at the expiration of six months, and two hundred at the expiration of twelve months from the commencement of the school."

In the appointment of this salary there was a degree of economy, and in the mode of disbursement a degree of caution, which we might look for in vain in the subsequent golden age of California. The conclusion is evident, however incredible to the generation of gold seekers who soon followed, that the early settlers of San Francisco had some other designs in view than the rapid accumulation of wealth.

This first American school on the Pacific coast south of Oregon, though founded apparently on a basis so safe and economical, had a short lived existence. In less than a year the gold excitement was to sweep over the country like a whirlwind, and for a season to crush everything like intellectual and moral culture, substituting the one all-absorbing passion for the accumulation of wealth.

Early in May, 1847, a public meeting was held, and a committee appointed, for the purpose of organizing a religious congregation, and erecting a place of worship.

In the beginning of the same year there were about fifty houses, of all descriptions. The largest number were built of adobes. They were mostly small, low structures, consisting of one or two apartments, and were scattered about from Broadway to Happy Valley.

In one year from that time and prior to the discovery of gold, so rapid was the growth of the town that two hundred new houses had sprung up. Quite a number of these primitive edifices are still standing, though most of them have been destroyed by the various conflagrations that have swept over the city. After every extensive fire the walls of these buildings were to be seen, standing in melancholy loneliness in the midst of the desolation.

In 1847, Broadway wharf was barely visible as a landing place, and some enterprising citizens undertook to extend it a few yards for the better accommodation of vessels. But the disastrous effects of the improvement on certain property in the neighborhood induced a petition to the authorities to prohibit its extension. Those worthy conservatives would have taken no notice of a scheme to extend it to half its present dimensions, regarding such a project as extravagant and ridiculous.

It appears that the early settlers were bent on reducing the town to the order and decorum of some Atlantic cities. Ordinances were passed in 1847, imposing a fine of five dollars on any person allowing hogs to run at large, and a fine of twenty dollars on any person discharging fire-arms within a mile of the public square. Complaints were even made in the newspapers against the practice of smoking cigars in the Magistrate's office and other public places. Since that remote era of primitive simplicity, the inhabitants of San Francisco have become perfectly inured to hogs, fire-arms and tobacco, in all their uses and applications.

In January, 1847, an ordinance was published by Washington A. Bartlett, Chief Magistrate, directing that the name of "Yerba Buena," as applied to the town, be changed to "San Francisco," in all official communications and public documents or records appertaining to the town. This was done to prevent confusion and mistakes in public documents, and that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the published maps.

On the 13th of September, 1847, the first election was held for six members of Council. The number of votes polled was two hundred, which exceeded all previous calculations. The following gentlemen had the honor of being the successful candidates: Wm. A. Leisdorff, Edward P. Jones, Robert Parker, W. D. M. Howard, William Glover, and William S. Clark. They held their first meeting and entered on the duties of office on the 16th of the same month.

"The Steamboat" made its experimental trip on the 15th of November in that year, performing a successful expedition around "Wood Island." This pioneer in steam navigation was a diminutive vessel whose name is not given. It attracted much attention by its novelty, and two days afterward proceeded to Santa Clara.

In April, 1847, a semi-monthly mail was established to San Diego and other southward points. On the 1st of April in the following year, the "California Star Express" left by the overland route, after several months trumpeting. This formidable enterprise, the first regular conveyance to the States, was announced to go through as far as Independence, Mo. in sixty days. The postage on a letter was fifty cents.

Early in 1848 a feverish excitement appears to have taken hold of the public mind, in regard to the supposed mineral treasures of the country. But it is worthy of remark that gold was the metal least thought of or talked of. The quicksilver mines near San Jose had long been known and worked. Other deposits of quicksilver ore were reported in all directions. Copper was discovered somewhere, saltpeter and sulphur also, a quarry of limestone was opened, and coal had been found near San Francisco, which, however, had the unfortunate quality of being incombustible. Silver also was said to have been discovered in various directions. To this metal indeed, more than any other, was expectation directed, and people seemed to have an idea that the land was underlaid with silver ore.

The first discovery of gold was made near Sutter痴 Fort, thirty miles from Sacramento, or New Helvetia as it was then called, in December, 1847. But the stories told of it were too good to be credited. In March, however, the papers of San Francisco announced that "the quantity of gold taken from the mine recently found at New Helvetia was so great that it had become an article of traffic in that vicinity." In a short time the editors and others began to see the lumps of "pure virgin gold" with their own eyes. The "yellow fever," as it was facetiously called, then broke forth with extreme violence, and carried off the population as rapidly as means of travel could be obtained. The "Star" of May 27th, gave a most lugubrious article, dating the prosperity of the town from the occupation of the country by the United States, but averring that never within the last three years had it presented a less lifelike, more barren appearance than at the present time. Stores were closed and houses were left tenantless, the hum of industry silenced, and everything wore a desolate and sombre look, all being dull, monotonous and dead. Lawyers, merchants, grocers, carpenters, cartmen and cooks all rushed in one motley assemblage to the mines. The few merchants who remained posted up on their stores the since familiar placard "Highest price paid here for California gold." Such was the melancholy tone of the public press. "The unhappy consequences of this state of affairs," adds the editor, "are easily foreseen!"

The "Star" of the 3d of June announced the death of its comrade, the "Californian," by the "prevailing fever" and declared its own existence threatened by the same epidemic, which had entered the printing office and even seized the "devil." Its forebodings proved to be true, as the "California Star" did not appear above the horizon the next week. In six weeks the former paper was revived, and the Star rose again soon afterwards. The editor of the Californian, however, entered on his new life with serious misgivings, threatening in the first issue to retreat to the mines if not sustained by the citizens. The two papers were then united, and the joint concern finally took the name of the "Alta California."

The temporary suspension of trade and business was soon followed by the most extraordinary activity. Adventurers from all nations, and merchandise of all kinds began to pour into the town, on the way to the mining region. Buildings that had been vacated were filled with newly arrived gold seekers, hurrying to the mines. Storehouses were in demand for mercantile purposes, and labor, which ad been but one or two dollars a day prior to the discovery of gold, was not to be had at any price. Carpenters often refused fifteen and twenty dollars a day. Schools and churches were forgotten, and if public meetings were held, the object was to fix the value of gold dust, or to make plans for testing it. In August immigrants began to arrive at the rate of five hundred a month. In the middle of September the harbor was described as crowded with shipping, the wharves lined with goods and merchandise, and the streets filled with a busy throng. Fifty persons, it was computed, spent the night without the cover of a roof.

In the first two months of the golden age, the amount of precious dust brought into San Francisco was estimated at $250,000.00, and in the next two months, at $600,000.00.

In September, 1848, an era took place in the history of the city and of the country. This was nothing less than the arrival of the first square-rigged vessel in the port葉he brig Belfast, from New York, laden with a valuable cargo. She hauled up to Broadway wharf, the only wharf accessible to such a vessel, and there discharged. No sooner was she known to be landing her cargo than goods of all kinds fell twenty-five per cent, and real estate rose fifty per cent. A vacant lot on the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets, at that time bordering on the water, which had been offered for $5,000.00 and refused, sold readily the very next day for $10,000.00.

The first brick building was erected of Montgomery and Clay streets, by Mellus and Howard, in September, 1848. This was the second brick building in upper California, one having been previously erected at Monterey.

About this time a proposition was made to form a temperance society, and another to establish a lyceum. One of the newspapers, however, pronounced these schemes premature, and proposed to begin the work of bettering the condition of society by opening a theatre. There was nevertheless some philanthropic and religious feeling buried in the hearts of people, and seeking an opportunity for exercise. At a public meeting to fix a standard of value for gold dust, a project was started to establish a hospital for sick miners, of whom it was publicly declared that not less than eight had died in San Francisco during the season. A public meeting for religious purposes was held in November, and it was resolved that something decisive ought to be done for the souls of the people. A proposition was made to elect a "Chaplain for the City," which was concurred in with great unanimity, and the Rev. T. D. Hunt was then duly elected to the responsible station of "Chaplain to the city of San Francisco," with a yearly salary of $2500.00.

At an election for Councilmen in October, 1848, 158 votes were polled; at an election in December, the number of votes was 347; and at an election held in August, the year following, the city was able to poll 1519 votes.

In October, 1848, the Town Council agreed to pay their clerk five dollars for every meeting at which he officiated. It had not been many months since the salary of the teacher of the public school was fixed at $400.00 per annum, or a little over one dollar a day.

On the 1st of December the same year, flour was sold at twenty-seven dollars a barrel, beef at twenty, pork at sixty, butter at ninety cents a pound, and cheese at seventy cents. To show the fluctuating character of the market at that day, it may be added that on the 15th of the month, only two weeks later, flour sold at twelve to fifteen dollars a barrel, and other articles had fallen in proportion. The all-important and indispensable article of brandy was eight dollars per gallon. Gold dust was $10.50 an ounce.

In December, 1848, an important event transpired in the re-opening of the public school, under the charge of Wm. H. Christian. Though it was announced as a "public" school, yet the terms of tuition were advertised at $8.00 a term.

In November, 1848, when the people returned from the mines for the winter, rich with the precious metal, the effects of the gold discovery on San Francisco were most sensibly felt. Lots that had been purchased in the spring for from one hundred to two thousand dollars, now ranged from one thousand to fifteen thousand. Buildings that had previously rented at from ten to twenty dollars per month were now taken with avidity at from twenty to one hundred dollars per month.

By February, 1849, the population had increased to two thousand. The duties collected at the Custom House for the four quarters of 1848, were as follows:友irst Quarter, $11,931祐econd Quarter, $8835裕hird Quarter, $74,827友ourth Quarter, $100,480.

The imports of merchandise during the year were about $1,000,000, and the importation of coin about the same amount, while the exports of gold dust for the last six months was $2,000,000, or something less than the quantity regularly exported every two weeks, four years afterwards.

The first fire was in January, 1849葉he burning of the "Shades Hotel." In June, the ship Philadelphia was burnt in the harbor, as she was preparing to set sail for the Sandwich Islands. Both these conflagrations were the result of accident.

On the 1st Day of February, 1849, arrived the first steamship in the mail services葉he California. This important event, which was looked for with extreme interest, excited the utmost enthusiasm. She was received with salutes of cannon, and cheer on cheer of the enraptured citizens.

The Public School appears to have passed through a series of vicissitudes in those days. We find that it was again revived in April, 1849, under the charge of Rev. Albert Williams.

On the 18th of May, arrived the ship Grey Eagle, of Philadelphia, having made the passage in the remarkably short time of 117 days, including four days stoppage at Valparaiso. Thus far it was the quickest passage, and it was not surpassed for a long while.

It was computed that the number of immigrants in the country by the beginning of June of that year was fifteen thousand, of whom the larger portion had disembarked at this port. Sixty-four vessels were in the harbor. In the month of July there arrived by sea 3614 souls. Some idea of this rapid march of the country in those times may be formed from the fact that on a single day, the 1st of July, there arrived 17 vessels, with 889 passengers.

In August, 1849, the prices of some articles ranged as follows: Flour twelve to thirteen dollars a barrel, pork eighteen dollars, cheese forty cents per lb., butter seventy five cents, lard ten, oil one dollar per gallon. At this date the number of inhabitants was computed to be five thousand. The number of arrivals in the month was 3895, of whom 87 were females. In September the arrivals were 5802, including 122 females, and in October, 4000. The number of tons of shipping in port on the 30th of August, was 62,000, and in another month the amount was 94,000 tons.

The Baptists built the first Protestant house of worship in California, and dedicated it on the 5th of August, 1849. It is the same building now used by them, standing in Washington street below Stockton.

Central Wharf, which was commenced in July, was sufficiently built to be used in the latter part of the year.

No small degree of commotion was produced by the launching of a little iron steamboat, in October. She left Central Wharf on an experimental trip, which proved entirely satisfactory, and she was placed on the route to Sacramento. On one of her first trips she brought a number of salmon from Sacramento, which sold readily at one dollar per pound. Some of the fishes brought the fine price of forty-five dollars.

The steamboats McKim and Senator were shortly afterwards put on the same route. All these vessels were crowded with passengers, and it was a matter of heartfelt gratulation that the time of transit was reduced by them from seven days to seventeen hours! In modern times seventeen hours would not be regarded as a remarkably short passage. The charge for freight was forty dollars per ton to Sacramento.

An election to adopt the Constitution and to choose State officers was held on the 13th of November. The number of ballots cast was 3169, of which five only were in the negative.

The winter of 1849-50 was one of extraordinary rain. The rains commenced on the 2d of November, and continued almost daily for some time. On the night of the 6th of November, it is said 12 inches fell: but this is almost incredible. The streets, however, became next to impassable. Montgomery street, from Jackson to California, was a perfect quagmire.

The incidents of that winter are vividly recorded in the minds of those who then dwelt in the city. As the streets grew more and more swampy, they were paved with brushwood, and whatever of rubbish and waste merchandise could be had. But layer after layer of these materials disappeared, and still the mud was unfathomable. Mules with teams swamped as a matter of course; and even mules without teams, in several instances, floundered and sunk into the invisible world, in spite of heroic efforts to rescue them. In numerous instances, men perfectly sober, got into the sloughs in attempting to cross the streets, and would have suffered martyrdom had not assistance been at hand. Tradition tells of one person who actually disappeared under these circumstances. The intersection of Montgomery and Clay streets being a principal thoroughfare, was the scene of many interesting and exciting incidents.

To cross on foot became completely impossible, until a submerged footway was constructed with bags of beans, damaged rice, bundles of tobacco, and a general assortment of spare merchandise. Over this invisible bridge, experienced navigators might succeed in making their way. But wo to the unskilled wayfarer, who in attempting the path, deviated from the subterranean line of march. In the dearth of business and amusements, many citizens found agreeable employment in watching the progress of their fellow-men through the difficulties of travel, and rendering assistance in desperate cases. Newcomers often landed from shipboard, rigged in the Sunday best, and with boots highly polished, intending to strike the natives with surprise by such tokens of high civilization. But scarcely had they touched terra firma, when they made the deep discovery that terra firma was not there; and they were glad to get back to the ship, with the loss not only of Day & Martin痴 polish, but of the boots themselves, which they were constrained to leave deep buried in the streets of San Francisco.

It is cause of regret that the history of that winter had been left so much at the mercy of memory and tradition, and that exact observations of the quantity of rain were not recorded. To hear the eloquent narrations of the survivors, one might suppose that the windows of Heaven were kept steadily open, from the commencement to the end of the rainy season. The few exact records in our possession, published at the time in newspapers, tell a different story. It appears that the rains set in regularly with a storm from the S.E. on the 13th of November, and terminated sometime in March, and that the number of days on which rain fell in that period was seventy one. That is to say, just one-half the days during the rainy season were free from rain. Building operations were not entirely suspended. The brick building of Burgoyne & Co., and several other brick edifices were completed during the winter.  On the 21st of February there was a considerable fall of hail, which remained on the ground for some hours, among the spring flowers that covered the hills.

In those days, before the recent improvements in the delivery of letters, the Post Office exhibited the most curious scenes on the arrival of the mails from the Atlantic States. People crowded by hundreds into the long lines to march to the windows in quest of letters from home. Desperate efforts were made to secure a place near the window, in anticipation of the opening of the office. Men rose from their beds in the middle of the night for this purpose. It was a common practice to provide a chair, and hitch up, step by step, as the procession slowly advanced, and to while away the time, with cigars and other appliances. Persons were exposed for hours to the most drenching rains, which they bore with heroic fortitude, rather than relinquish their post. Men of speculative views who expected no letters, secured advanced places, and then sold them, sometimes for as much as eight or ten dollars.

The most motley population in the world was then congregated in San Francisco, and the capricious taste of the citizens in regard to dress served to add to the apparent diversity. Every man had his own standard of fashion, entirely independent of the rest of the world. A ludicrous account of their costumes was printed in the Alta California newspaper, referring to the short waisted frocks, the cut-aways, the high collars, the broad tailed and the swallow tailed dress coats, the double breasted jackets, the surtouts, the bang-ups, the Spanish wrappers, the serapes, the blankets, the bear skins, the boots-high topped and low topped, fair topped, red topped and green topped, fisherman痴 boots and horseman痴 boots and miner痴 boots, brogans, gaiters and shoes of patent leather, calfskin and cowhide. There was also a marvellous variety of hats, though the most popular was the California slouch, which had the virtue of pliancy and was convertible into a pillow, a basin, a handkerchief or a basket, without injury to its substance or form. As the female population increased, the costume of the men began to approach a more uniform standard, and now, even the slouch hat, which for a long while cleaved to the caputs of the old Californians, has given place to trim and formal models from Broadway or Chestnut Street.

In those days the humor of the people inclined them not in the slightest degree toward intellectual pursuits. From the multitudes of gambling and drinking houses, and the crowds that filled them, one might infer without sinning violently against truth, that drinking was a universal habit, and that gambling was the regular occupation of one half of the people, and the nightly diversion of the other half. In the progress of civilization refinement, during the winter aforesaid, two theatres were kept in operation, and a portion of the citizens began to amuse themselves with concerts, balls, dinner parties and military suppers.

In the winter aforesaid, Happy Valley began to figure in the world's history, and discussions were had in the papers as to the rightful claimant of the honor attached to giving it that name. "The Mission" also began to attract notice, and when in the movement for the incorporation of the city, it was proposed to extend the city limits to embrace the Mission, sundry anti-annexation meetings were held by the denizens of that region, and a formidable opposition of a gaseous and ineffectual character was made to the union.

The first rush homeward took place in this winter. Driven from the mines by the weather, many of the most fortunate adventurers, and not a few of the most unfortunate, looked with longing hearts toward the father-land. All the tickets for the Steamers being taken, extraordinary prices were offered for them. For a steerage ticket, the original cost of which was $150.00, as much as $450.00 was frequently given.

The first of the series of calamitous conflagrations that have marked the history of the city, broke out on the 24th of December, 1849, about 6 o'clock, A.M. It commenced in an upper story of Dennison's Exchange, on the East of the Plaza, about where Kearny is intersected by Merchant street. From this point it spread down Washington street nearly to Montgomery, and also towards Clay street, destroying most of the houses in the block, which had been up from street to street, with the exception of a portion of Clay street. Nearly 50 houses and stores were consumed, and the destruction of property was estimated at a million of dollars. The fire of November, 1852, broke out almost on the same spot, and burnt over a portion of the same ground, but with less destruction of property.

Early in 1850, an express wagon made its appearance in the streets. In March the pioneer milk wagon awakened certain agreeable emotions in many minds. There was also some excitement created by a threatened reduction of the price of washing庸rom six to four dollars a dozen.

A curious incident transpired in January, 1850, which was nothing less than the public sale of three females from Sidney, to pay their passage to this port. The transaction occurred near Clark's Point. They were sold for five months, at fifteen dollars each; the captain pocketing the money with entire satisfaction.

In March, 1850, was formed the "Strangers Benevolent Society" for the relief of the indigent sick from all parts of the world.

From the 12th of April, 1849, to the 29th of January, 1850, a period of a little over nine months, there arrived by sea at San Francisco 39,888 immigrants, of whom 1421 were females. Of 805 vessels from which they landed, 487 were American, and 318 foreign. In the year ending April 15, 1850, there arrived 62,000 passengers, 2000 of whom were females. The number of vessels conveying them was 695 American, and 418 foreign.

The winter of 1849-50 witnessed the first step towards the formation of the present enormous debt of the city. The expenditures for December were $135,000 and the receipts $175,000, leaving a balance in the treasury of $40,000. In January and February the expenditures were $201,000 and the receipts only $137,000, leaving a deficit of $24,000, which was the nucleus of the present debt. Two thirds of the receipts above mentioned were from the sale of city lots. The debt then begun, increased rapidly, and in little more than a year reached the enormous sum of $1,000,000.

When the treasury became exhausted scrip was issued, bearing interest at three per cent, per month. The credit of the city growing worse and worse, the scrip depreciated until it would not command over one-third of its nominal value. Persons having claims against the city drew up bills for two or three times the amount of the claim, so that they might realize, from the sale of the scrip received in payment, the full amount of the debt in cash. Thus, a tradesman furnishing a thousand dollars worth of supplies to the hospital, would present his bill for three thousand and receive that amount in scrip, bearing interest at the rate of thirty-six per cent per annum. When the debt was funded and converted into ten per cent bonds , her received bonds equal to the amount of the scrip and interest; that is to say, if the scrip had run six months the city paid him $3450 in bonds, with an annual interest of $354, or more than one-third the original debt. A more extraordinary specimen of financiering can scarcely be conceived.

In the course of the year 1850, the principal streets were graded and laid with planks. Commercial street, from Montgomery to Kearny, was first completed. Anticipating another winter like the past, the preparation of the streets was hastened as the autumn advanced, and when the season for rain arrived, the chief thoroughfares were effectually covered with wood.

The winter, however, brought but little rain, and the fires of May and June following, destroyed a large portion of the costly expenditure, which had added largely to the debt of the city.

After introducing the subject, it would not be right to pass without commendatory notice, the arrangements finally adopted to redeem the credit of the city, and to pay off the million-and-a-half of debt. The funding of the debt, and the issuing of bonds bearing interest at 10 per cent per annum, has already been mentioned. The bonds were made payable in twenty years, and provision was made to redeem a portion annually, in the mean time. The citizens co-operated earnestly in the movement, and submitted cheerfully to the imposition of a heavy tax for the purpose.

The credit of the city was at once restored, and the bonds rapidly appreciated to their par value. The transition from utter and almost hopeless bankruptcy, to a basis of secure and permanent credit, and that too, after the disastrous fires of May and June, 1850, and the still more ruinous conflagrations of May and June, 1851, which laid the city in ashes a second time, was rapid and extraordinary, exhibiting a degree of energy and courage rarely met with in the history of municipal governments.

In the spring of 1850, there were three daily newspapers published in the city, the "Alta California," the "Pacific News," and the "Journal of Commerce," all dailies. To these were added, during the year, the "Evening Picayune," the "Herald," and the "Courier."

As the increase and prosperity of San Francisco are closely associated with the progress of improvement in the entire Pacific region, it may be well to add the list of papers published at the same date in other parts. They were as follows:

California"The Placer Times," published weekly, at Sacramento.
Oregon"The Oregon Spectator," semi-monthly.
New Grenada"The Panama Echo," weekly; and "The Panama Star," occasionally.
Valparaiso"The Neighbor," and "The Mercantile Reporter;" both monthly.
Sandwich Islands"The Honolulu Times," weekly; "The Friend," monthly; and "The Polynesian," monthly.
Navigators Islands"The Samoan Reporter" twice a year.

In less than a year afterwards, there were eight daily papers existing in San Francisco, and a number of others, at Sacramento, and other settlements in California.

In the spring and summer of 1850, the citizens found considerable entertainment in holding public meetings on the Plaza, to protest against various proceedings of the city authorities. Speeches were delivered, committees appointed, and every conceivable effort made short of actual violence, and even that was threatened by some. But though the population appeared almost unanimous in these movements, it would seem that those in authority pressed onward to the accomplishment of their purposes, with a degree of energy and determination characteristic of California.

The first election under the City Charter was in April 1850, when upwards of four thousand votes were given. John W. Geary was chosen Mayor, and Frank Tilford, Recorder.

The second great fire was on Saturday, the 4th of May, 1850. It commenced at four o'clock in the morning, in the United States Exchange, a drinking and gambling house, on the east side of the Plaza預lmost the identical spot where the first fire originated. The entire block between Kearny, Clay, Montgomery and Washington streets was destroyed, with the exception of Dubois Banking House and Burgoyne痴 & Co痴. North of Washington street, the fire extended from Montgomery to Dupont, destroying both the adjoining blocks, except a row of buildings on Jackson above Montgomery. Three hundred houses were destroyed, and property valued at from three to four millions of dollars. It was only by blowing up a number of buildings that the destruction was confined to those limits. One life was lost, and several persons were injured by fire-arms which exploded in the burning buildings. This fire was generally believed to have been caused by incendiaries, and large rewards were offered for their apprehension, but as usual without success. On the day after the conflagration, a party of laborers applied to the Mayor for compensation for services, which he declined paying, as they had not been employed by him or the authorities. This so incensed them that a riot well nigh ensued. Such villainous rapacity deserves the severest reprehension. Men who will not assist their fellow citizens without compensation, on an occasion of public calamity, are scarcely one degree superior to the wretches who would cause the calamity.

The work of rebuilding was carried on with great activity, and in a few weeks the burnt district had given place to a new city. On Friday, the 14th of June, came the third great fire. It began in the Sacramento House, on the east side of Kearny street, between Clay and Sacramento streets, about eight o'clock in the forenoon. The wind being high, the flames spread rapidly towards the bay, sweeping the entire space, two full blocks in width, between Clay and California streets, to the water's edge, which was then part of a block below Montgomery street. Three hundred houses, and three millions of property were destroyed. This fire was acknowledged to be the result of accident or carelessness, connected with a stove pipe.

Hitherto nothing effectual had been accomplished to secure the city against the ravages of fire. But now the most vigorous efforts were set on foot, consisting of the organization of fire companies, and the construction of wells and reservoirs. Many brick buildings were erected, and Montgomery street, from Washington to Sacramento, on the west side, was built up almost entirely with substantial brick structures, intended to be fire-proof.

During this summer the city began to stretch out into the bay. The houses were built on piles, and no attention was paid to filling in. As late as September, goods from ship board were landed at high water, by lighters, in the storehouses on the east side of Montgomery, near Jackson. When the tide favored their operations, the sounds of labor and the voices of workmen were heard all night along the margin of the bay.

Vessels from all parts of the world continued to crowd into the harbor, freighted with passengers and merchandise. The bay was filled with noble ships, of all nations, and the storehouses were crammed to their utmost capacity. Once arriving in port, it was next to impossible to get away; for the crews almost invariably deserted the first chance, and rushed to the mines. Many of the vessels were dragged at high water into favorable situations and grounded, to be converted into warehouses. One of these, the Niantic, was converted into a large hotel, which took the name of the ship. It was burnt, together with many others, in the fire of May following.

In July, 1850, there were seven churches in the city, viz:

The First Baptist Church, Washington street, near Stockton; the First Congregational Church, corner of Jackson and Virginia streets; Trinity Episcopal Church, corner Jackson and Powell streets; Grace Church, corner Powell and Jackson streets; the Methodist Episcopal Church, Powell street near Washington; and the Catholic Church, Vallejo street, near Dupont.

On the 29th of August, the death of President Taylor was commemorated by a funeral procession; one remarkable feature of which was the appearance in the procession of a large body of Chinese, in national costume. It was probably the first procession ever witnessed in the limits of Christendom, of which that curious people formed a prominent portion.

From that time to the present, they have taken the same interest in all such public proceedings耀everal hundred of them at one time, sharing in our national demonstrations, with the banners, music, and other arrangements peculiar to themselves. And they have invariably proved to be, as a people, docile, sober and orderly, thus exhibiting the proper traits of good citizenship. Since that time, however, they are becoming more civilized and refined, by constant intercourse with the white population, and many have added drinking and gambling to their accomplishments.

On the morning of Sept. 17th, 1850, occurred the fourth great fire. It originated before day, in the Philadelphia House, a drinking establishment on the north side of Jackson street, between Kearny and Dupont. Though the air was calm, it spread with amazing rapidity among a mass of wooden buildings, crowded together, and ended by sweeping over almost the entire space bounded by Pacific, Montgomery, Washington and Dupont streets. There were no brick buildings to arrest its progress. About 150 houses were destroyed, and nearly half a million of property. This fire was by some persons attributed to design, but it was most probably caused by the carelessness of a drunken lodger. So rapid was its outbreak, that several persons lodging in the adjoining house, were glad to escape with only a single garment.

On the 18th of October, 1850, the steamship Oregon arrived from Panama, bringing the glad tidings of the admission of California into the Union, which threw the citizens into a delirium of joy. The most extravagant exhibitions of delight were manifested through the evening and night, and public buildings, hotels, and many private houses were brilliantly illuminated. The admission was formally celebrated on the 30th of the month, by a grand procession, in which as usual, Chinamen formed one of the most striking features預n oration on the the Plaza, and a universal ball in the evening.

On the 29th of October, the steamboat Sagamore exploded, while leaving the wharf for Stockton, killing some thirty or forty persons.

Early on the morning of the 31st, a building adjoining the City Hospital, at the head of Clay street, was fired by an incendiary, and both these buildings were destroyed. The hospital, then owned by Dr. Peter Smith, was filled with patients, many of whom were saved from the flames only by the most strenuous efforts of the fireman and citizens. Several of the patients were badly burnt before they could be rescued.

In October of this year, Malignant Cholera made its appearance, and reached its height in the latter part of November, the greatest number of deaths in one day not at any time, exceeding ten or twelve. A Cholera hospital was opened in Broadway above Dupont street, and the most vigorous measures were adopted by the Board of Health to cleanse and purify the city. After a very lenient visitation, the scourge disappeared from our midst about the end of the year.

On the evening of the 14th of December, a fire broke out in an iron building in Sacramento street, below Montgomery street, and destroyed several large store-houses, and property valued at $1,000,000 dollars. By the arduous efforts of the firemen and citizens, it was prevented from spreading in that rich and crowded district.

The winter of 1850-51 was remarkably dry, scarcely any rain falling. It was the very reverse of the winter proceeding. Extensive preparations had been made against wet; the principal streets being nicely covered with plank, and the roofs of storehouses secured from leakage. The "Old Californians" got their long boots in readiness, but, though they mounted them every foggy morning, and strode through the streets in defiance of weather, the rain did not come. The sky was mostly cloudless, and the air mild and balmy.

The constant and long continued inpouring of merchandise from all quarters of the world, had by this time filled the market to repletion. In all parts of the State the storehouses were crammed with goods. There followed in the spring of 1851, a great depression of trade, with prices extremely low. Goods sold at auction were mostly sacrificed, in many cases not bringing the first cost. This state of things continued till the importations had greatly diminished in the latter part of the year, and the stock had been reduced by consumption and by fire. Coal sold as low as eight dollars a ton, flour ten dollars a barrel, and clothing was cheaper than in the Atlantic cities.

At the second election under the City Charter, in April 1851, the votes were something over 5,920. C. J. Brenham was chosen Mayor, and R.H. Waller, Recorder.

The streets being now in good order, an enterprise was set on foot to light them at night. Lamps were placed in Montgomery street, by which that street was handsomely illuminated in the evening, and the work was going forward in other streets, until it was arrested by another fire.

Of all the conflagrations that have visited the city with ruin and devastation, that of May 1851, was by far the most important, both in regard to the loss of property and the loss of life. It broke out on the evening of Saturday, the 3rd of the month, about 11 o'clock, in the upholstery establishment of Baker & Messerve situated on the south of the Plaza, adjoining the site of the present Post Office building. A high wind was blowing from the west, and the flames soon began to spread towards the bay, with astonishing rapidity, extending at the same time northward and southward. The most desperate efforts to stay the fiery torrent were utterly powerless. The scene was awfully grand, beyond the force of language to express. All night the fire continued to rage and to spread, until the morning rose on a city in ruins. The very heart of the city, the centre of trade and business, was eaten out, leaving little else than the sparsely built outskirts.

Immense stores of valuable merchandise, filled nearly all the buildings in the track of the element. From Kearny to Battery street, and from California to Pacific, scarcely a house was left. The substantial brick and iron structures, intended to be fire-proof, melted away before the avalanche of the flame. Fifteen entire blocks were consumed, besides parts of several others. The extreme limits on the north and south were Broadway and Pine streets. But five of the brick buildings on Montgomery were left, and ten or twelve in other localities. Six persons were in the iron building of Taaffe & McCahill, on the corner of Sacramento and Montgomery streets, attempting to save it, when it took fire. They were unable to force open the doors, and all perished in the flames. Quite a number of lives were lost in other parts, and many persons were badly burnt in rushing through the flames to make their escape. Three men were subsequently crushed to death by the falling of a wall in Montgomery street. Upwards of one thousand houses were consumed, mostly large store houses, filled with valuable merchandise. The amount of property destroyed was variously estimated at from seven to twelve millions of dollars. This fire, though by some ascribed, as usual, to design, is now generally charged to accident or carelessness.

On the morning of the 22nd of June was the sixth great fire, which commenced about 11 o'clock in Pacific street below Powell, during a high gale of wind from the west. It extended from Broadway on one side to Washington on the other, crossing the latter street below Kearny, and reaching to Clay. Its eastern limit was Montgomery street. A portion of this district had just been rebuilt. Four or five hundred houses were burnt, the larger proportion of which were small wooden tenements. Among the larger buildings destroyed were the City Hall, on the corner of Pacific and Kearny streets, the City Hospital, the Presbyterian church in Stockton street, the Alta California printing office, and the Jenny Lind Theatre. The old adobe building on the plaza, lately occupied as offices also succumbed to this fire. It was formerly used as the Government House, and continued to be employed for public uses, after the occupancy of the country by the Americans. It was once a favorite resort of large flocks of black birds, which retired to the Presidio on the increase of the population. The last important event witnessed by the old adobe was the hanging of Jenkins by the Vigilance Committee, from the beam at the end of its portico, on the night of the 10th of June.

The fire of June destroyed about four hundred and fifty houses, and property valued at over two million dollars. Seven persons lost their lives葉hree of whom were burnt to death, two were shot by an officer while in the act of robbing, and two were beaten to death by a mob, on the charge of incendiarism and stealing. One of the latter was an honest man who was assisting a friend to save his property.

The extraordinary energies of the people were fully developed by these ruinous visitations. In a surprisingly brief period the burnt district was covered with new edifices, many of which were really fire-proof. The efficacy of such buildings was fully tested in the last fire, which occurred on the ninth of November, 1852, originating on the fatal spot which had already given rise to two conflagrations揖earny street fronting the plaza. But for the intervention of the brick walls which hemmed it in towards Montgomery and Washington streets, this would have proved as destructive as the former fires. About thirty wooden buildings were destroyed on Merchant and Clay streets, with a loss of property not much exceeding $100,000.

In the summer of 1851, the work of filling in the docks was carried on with great activity. The wharves had stretched out a great distance into the Bay, and hundreds of wooden buildings had been erected on piles in places lately occupied by shipping. A steam excavator, better known as the "Steam Paddy," was set to work on the sand hills in Happy Valley, back of the Oriental Hotel, and the cars, laden with sand, ran on a railroad of descending grade along Battery street, depositing their freight from California to Clay street. The stagnant water which accumulated in the docks above the newly formed streets, became very offensive, giving rise to immense quantities of sulphuretted hydrogen gas, which blackened the painted signs along Sansome and Battery streets so as to render many of them nearly illegible.

The first brick edifice constructed on the newly made soil was the American Theatre, in Sansome, south of Sacramento street. The sub-stratum on which the sand had been deposited, consisting of soft, yielding mud, many doubts were expressed as to the safety of the building. On the night of its opening, it was crowded with people, whose weight occasioned the walls to sink one or two inches. But as the building stood firm, encouragement was given to proceed, and in a short time the foundations of many substantial brick storehouses were laid in the artificial soil. By the summer of 1852, the bay section of the city was studded over with storehouses of solid masonry, which would have done credit to any city in the world. At the same time, similar buildings were erected in other quarters, presenting effectual barriers against the recurrence of such conflagrations as those of May and June, 1851.

Meantime, Front and Davis streets had been laid out and partly built. California and Market streets were run out far beyond their intersections, the sand hills of Happy Valley were literally almost leveled and cast into the sea, and the rocky hills at Clark's point rent to pieces and subjected to the same fate. Foundries and workshops lined the bay shore to Rincon point, the heights at the point began to exhibit spacious brick edifices, and the city was rapidly taking possession of other heights on the north and west. In fact, the year 1852 witnessed a greater progress in the substantial and permanent improvement of the city, than any other year


Source: Kimball, Charles P. San Francisco Directory. 1853.
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