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Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

In 1869, the actions of three men, two of them newly arrived in San Diego, would start the creation of the neighborhood known today as Mission Hills.

Captain Henry Johnston became the first Mission Hills property owner when he bought about 65 acres of public land centered about Sunset and Witherby Streets. During his first visit to the hill, he named it "Inspiration Point" after seeing the spectacular view it offered.

Johnston had been sailing the wooden side-wheel steamer S.S. Orizaba into San Diego Bay for four years. The ship has been called the "Mayflower of San Diego" since it brought thousands of people into the area from San Francisco. Johnston used the hill he would later name "Inspiration Point" to get the ship's bearings.

Legend has it after one nearly disastrous voyage in 1869, he rented a horse immediately after docking and traveled to the top of the hill where he decided on the spot to buy it. He went to the courthouse and paid $16.25 for the 65-plus acres. That's 25 cents an acre, the going rate for undeveloped San Diego land on February 2, 1869! Just 39 days later Johnston sold half of his land to his first mate Ormsby Hite for $50 - a 700% return on his investment plus he still owned half the land. The deal meant Johnston became the first real estate broker in Mission Hills as well as the community's first land speculator. Johnston planned on building his family home on the peak of the hill but that task would be put on hold for 18 years.

It was also in 1869 which saw the arrival of Cyrus Arnold and Daniel Choate. It's very likely Choate, who came to San Diego via steamship from San Francisco, was a passenger aboard the Orizabacaptained by Henry Johnston.

Choate came to California during the 1849 gold rush but ended up owning and operating two dry goods stores. The first was in the gold fields and when the gold ran out, he relocated to San Francisco. During a vacation Choate sailed in San Diego and, like so many others, never left.

According to a history of the Choate family in America, Daniel "Had but one object in view - the accumulation of a fortune which he had come to California to gain, but had failed to acquire in the mines. His faith in the future of his adopted city never forsook him." Choate believed there was a different kind of gold in San Diego. He made it a point to buy land by the acre. It had to be located at least one mile outside "New Town" San Diego. Choate eventually owned, either individually or in partnerships, thousands of acres of land in Mission Hills, Middletown, City Heights, and North Park. He preferred San Diegans for partners as opposed to absentee landlords. He found such a partner in Cyrus Arnold.

The Sea Chart

The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational Charts
The Sea Chart.John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. John Blake looks at the history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. This handsome work contains 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by thirteenth-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as eighteenth-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers, and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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