San Francisco News and Stories
Along the Wharves
Wharves along San Francisco's waterfront provided the richest source of income in California. From 1849 on, San Francisco's water commerce increased year after year, into the early 1900s. The characters and their schemes were well known and well publicized. Land-grabbing was the fashion and many a man laid claim to waterfront land. San Francisco's muddy shoreline, which originally went for $50 a lot shortly reached $1 million.
Each street ended in a wharf, and the owner of said wharf exacted huge tolls from passengers, drays, wagons and all vessels, from the ships to the lighters who help unload the cargo. The cargo was also taxed. A toll was put on anything that could be weighed or measured. Wharfage alone cost medium-sized ships $100 a day and larger ships $200. By the Fall of 1850, about six thousand feet of pier space, extending into the bay like the fingers of two large hands and costing about one million dollars, had been constructed.
The wharves were crowded from morning through night with drays, wagons, horses, sailors, miners, and merchants. Some wharves were developed to such an extent that by 1851-52, they were small cities of stores, shops, and storeships lining the waterfront.
Wharves were those structures that extended out into the water; docks were built alongside the water. Not all of the following existed at the same time and most were built in the late 1850s and 1860s.
Many of these docks were on land that was filled in as San Francisco grew. And many of those areas have ships buried under them, some of which were deserted and left to rot in San Francisco Bay's low tides as the crew rushed to find gold.
January 22, 1877, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
"WHARVES" NO LONGER — HENCE-FORTH "PIERS."
The new wharves now being constructed in accordance with the new system for our water front are to be numbered, and called " Piers."
Old Pacific-street wharf is to be a thing of the past. Its old bones are to be removed, and springing from its base is the magnificent wharf which will probably be hereafter known as Pier No. 40.
Old Jackson-street wharf is slowly melting away, and will soon be replaced by Pier No. 41.
Washington-street wharf has gone the way of all things earthly. The steam dredge has pulled her last old snag, and instead of the rickety, crazy old wharf of the last twenty years, there looms the finest wooden wharf in the world, to be known and designated for all future ages an Pier No. 42.
This system of numbering begins at Black Point, with Pier No. 1, and runs from thence south along the water front, and every new pier built will receive its proper number. North from Black Point to the Presidio Reservation, which is the northerly jurisdiction of the Harbor Commissioners, there will not be9 a wharf built for the next hundred years. Nevertheless, the piers will be laid down on the water front map, beautifully colored, and named after our most prominent citizens. Any one desirous of handing their names down to posterity are cordially invited to send in their petitions to the Harbor Chemosensory forthwith.
The Harbor Commissioners on the 10th instant purchased and cancelled the lease of the North Pacific Transportation Company to the Folsom street Wharf, for the sum or $3000.
The expediency of this purchase, in view of the improvements now under contemplation by the Board, is unquestioned. On the 17th, the Chief Engineer reported a total of 955 piles removed from old Washington-street Wharf, and the contractors were paid $1500 on account.
On Thursday, which is the regular auditing day of the Board, bills to the amount of $72 were ordered paid. The Chief Engineer was instructed to use Coos Bay lumber for repairs, instead of Puget Sound. The attorney of the Board was ordered to bring suit against Pope & Talbot, for tolls accrued to this date, $2792.90, and against the San Francisco Gas Light Company for tolls and dockage, $4462.95.
(The National Maritime Historical Park in San Francisco has brought this era to life on Hyde Street Pier and at their annual Festival of the Sea, held in fall of each year.)
Abernethy, Clark & Co's, 1853
From Steuart Street, northeast between Market and Mission.
Foot of Beale.
Black Diamond/Bellingham Bay
Foot of Steuart, formerly Rincon Dock.
250 feet long, East from between Battery and Front.
To that wharf, in the month of September, 1848, came the brig Belfast, with a cargo of lumber to Clarke's Point. Some of this cargo went to building homes for pioneers; some of it went to constructing the Broadway Wharf that was started shortly thereafter. The Broadway Wharf was well-built; it was widened and extended a couple of years later and became the landing place for the vessels of the California Steam Navigation Company, "the Combination," as it was called, that practically monopolized the river business of that period.
from Steuart between Market and Mission.
On Broadway from Front and Davis. This wharf was completed in August 1851.
Green Street, east from Battery.
Pier 2 at Steuart Street.
North, just west of Bay and Montgomery Streets.
California Street Wharf
400 feet long, 32 feet wide. East from between Montgomery and Sansome, then northeast along Market Street (also see Market Street).
California/Oregon and Mexican Steamship Co.
Refer to Meigg's Wharf.
Also known as Commercial Street Wharf and Long Wharf).
Started in May 1849: Commercial Street, east from Montgomery Street.
Soon it became apparent that there was more money to be made along the Waterfront than in the mines. Daniel B. Woods surveyed the Mariposa Diggings and found that 56 miners working a total of 121 days had taken an aggregate of $182.55 daily -- an average to each of the men of only $3.26 per day.
In response to the land-grabbing along the City front, and the use of storeships and the hulls of old iron steamers for storage and housing, in May 1849, the Legislative Assembly of the District of San Francisco passed an act to authorize the incorporation of "The Central Wharf and Joint Stock Company of San Francisco." The company was to be given the right for 99 years to build and keep in repair "a wharf, to run from some point in Montgomery Street between Clay and Sacramento Street, to the ships' channel, in front of said town." William Heath Davis became the treasurer of this company, and a strip of land 35 feet wide was obtained from the firm of Mellus and Howard to build a wharf beginning at Commercial Street and running about 400 feet into the Bay. It was later extended until it ran down to Drumm Street, a distance of a little more than five blocks. Throughout the early days of San Francisco, this wharf was known as Central Wharf, named for Central Wharf in Boston, then as Long Wharf, and finally as Commercial Street Wharf. Soon the Central Wharf turned away ten times more business than it could accommodate.
Ships arrived with many thousands of tons of assorted cargoes, some consigned to men who could not be found, eve more which would not bring enough money to pay the lighterage So "cheap John" auctioneers set up shop and auctioned cargo for whatever it would bring. Whatever cargo found no takers was dumped into the shallow water and sea of mud. Tides carried away masses of disintegrated boxes and crates and portions of their contents.
January 23, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
Central Wharf and the Golden Gate.
Gentlemen My attention having been called to your remarks on the sailing of the steamship Golden Gate, I would simply say in refutation, the ship drew but 15-1/2 feet water, and that at 11h. 30m. being high water, there was according to the marks 26 feet at the end of the wharf; the least water was 17 ft. at low tide, and in the berth of the ship there could not have been less than 22 feet, as I looked at the time, and there was over 23 feet at the end of the wharf.
The Harbor Master being on the spot could give a better reason, perhaps, for the accident.
David Gillespie, Wharfinger Central Wharf.
The statement alluded to by Mr. Gillespie was made to us substantially as it was printed, by Mr. Bills, the Chief Engineer of the ship, who, while the vessels were in contact, improved the opportunity by blowing out his boilers and admitting fresh water. The ship left the wharf at lh. 40m., two hours and nineteen minutes on the ebb tide.
Refer to Broadway Wharf: First Wharf in San Francisco built by W. S. Clarke on his property. To that wharf, in the month of September, 1848, came the brig Belfast, with a cargo of lumber from New York. Some of this cargo went to building homes for pioneers; some of it went to constructing the Broadway Wharf that was started shortly thereafter. This was a good and well built wharf. It was widened and extended a couple of years later and became the landing place for the vessels of the California Steam Navigation Company, "the Combination," as it was called, that practically monopolized the river business of that period.
Clay Street Wharf
900 feet in length by 40 feet wide in 1850; by late 1850, it was extended to 1800 feet. East from between Montgomery and Sansome Streets.
Cousin's Dry Dock
See Merchant's Dry Dock Co.
From Battery, east between Union and Filbert
August 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
CUNNINGHAM WHARF, foot of Battery Street -- This wharf is now in order, and having twenty-six feet of water at its end, and sufficient at the sides for the largest class vessels, offers great inducements to them to land there, as by doing so they will be able to discharge in one-half the time and at much less expense than they would be put to it by lying in the stream. Consignees will also find it greatly to their advantage of have their goods discharged at this wharf, as by this means they avoid all risk of damage consequent upon discharge, and receive their goods in much less time and at about half the expense they would if delivered in the stream. A spacious shed and fire proof building are connected with the wharf, in which goods will be stored at the lowest rates in such a manner that samples can at all times be taken. Goods landed or stored on this wharf, will have the advantage of being shipped by first class steamers to Sacramento city and the mining districts, free of all costs of cartage.
CHARLES MINTURN, Agent
Those Man-traps Again.
Last Wednesday afternoon, while playing with a number of young companions on the Davis Street Wharf, little Mary O'Brien fell through a hole in the planking and dropped into the bay. The frightened cries of the other children attracted the attention of Wm. Norton, who quickly lowered himself through the opening and rescued the nearly drowned child. His reappearance with the little girl safe in his arms was greeted with hearty cheers from the large crowd which had gathered around.
At the foot of Third Street
The Embarcadero extended northwest and south from Market. On October 24, 1873, the Daily Alta California reported that the Secretary was instructed to advertise for proposals for reconstructing East Street Wharf between Washington and Jackson, the same to abe thirty feet wide and three hundred and twenty feet in length.
From Steuart near Mission
North from Chestnut Street
October 24, 1873, Daily Alta California: J. Coppola, wharfinger at Fisherman's wharf, sent in a communication requesting the Board to have planking put on the piles on the entrance to the wharf. Referred to the Engineer.
North, from the end of Battery
Northeast from foot of Folsom
North on Front at Vallejo Street
Greenwich Dock (Greenwich Wharf)
North end of Battery Street
Battery Street from Filbert to Greenwich.
The Clipper Whirlwind anchored at Griffin's Wharf on March 11, 1853.
Ham and Hathaway's
At Spear, southeast at Harrison Street.
East off Long Bridge at 3rd Street near Alameda.
Northeast from Steuart Street
Howison's Pier 1100 feet in length by 40 feet wide. The depth of water, at full tide, being fourteen feet at the extremity. From Sacramento, east from Leidesdorff. William Alexander Leidesdorff built a warehouse on the corner of California and the street later-named for him for his import-export trade (particularly in tallow and hides). Leidesdorff was a pre-Gold Rush pioneer of African and Danish descent. He arrived in Yerba Buena in 1841 and soon established himself as a leading merchant. He story is a tragic one, and although he died at 38, he was San Francisco's first millionaire
Between Battery and Front, Filbert to Greenwich.
By the late 1860s, successive waves of Italian immigration brought hundreds of fishermen from the coastal villages near the city of Genoa into San Francisco. They also built fishing boats in the tradition of their native land, called "silenas" by the fishermen, but later more widely known as "San Francisco feluccas," which, combined with the skill of their owners, did well in San Francisco Bay's rough water. The earliest recorded site of the growing fleet of feluccas was located at the India Dock. Here, in the inside basin of a small rectangular pier, the fleet shared pier space with a variety of larger vessels.
Hunters Point Dry Dock Co.
Before 1849, Hunters Point consisted of largely undeveloped land used for cattle grazing by the Mission San Francisco de Asis. In 1834, Jose Cornelio Bernal took control of the land from Governor Figuera, and joined with other business interests to subdivide the land and form South San Francisco. Bernal enlisted the help of New York real estate agents Robert and Phillip Hunter to sell his development. However, at that time, San Francisco settlers considered Hunters Point too remote and detached from the rest of the city, and consequently, the Hunter Brothers had difficulty selling the land.
October 22, 1859, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
Meeting of the Inhabitants of Hunter's Point
There are curious errors in the alleged "Meeting of the Inhabitants of Hunter's Point."
1st. The whole population of that entire track consists of four families. Not one of the officers or persons mentioned lives there!
2d. The shutting up of avenues was not done by Mr. Silver, but by themselves. Wishing to shut up a cross-fields track through their own lands, they fenced it up for half a mile, and got the Hunters to join in a scheme to cut a new track through Silver's land, by force of arms. The "outrage" chargeable to Mr. Silver is his objecting to this disposition of his property for others' uses, without leave or compensation.
3d. The Bernal estate arranged amicably with the settlers, and long ago gave a fine roadway for the Hunter's Point ranch. This excellent public highway is fenced on both sides and is not encroached upon. It is forty feet wide, and provisions is made to widen it when required. There is no tavern on it.
Besides this public road, the Hunters are asking for another road nearly parallel, and only a few rods off! They are not particular at whose expense, so that it is not at their cost.
Most people in California are content with one rod, and if they want the luxury of another, they are willing to pay for it; and can generally get it by private arrangement better than by newspaper attacks.
The California Drydock Company purchased the shoreline land and built Hunters Point s first drydock in 1868. In 1867, a new Dry Dock was underway, along with the Bay View Railroad which passed directly in front of the property. In 1870, the Hunters Point Dry Dock was referred to as "one of the largest and most complete in the world." The drydock was used both to build and repair ships, including Navy ships that docked in Hunters Point while on tour. In 1908, Bethlehem Steel bought the Hunter's Point Drydock facilities.
Jackson Street Wharf (Pier 41)
552 feet in length with thirteen feet depth of water. East from Montgomery Street.
Northeast from East near Market Street.
at the foot of green street, was in the course of formation in late 1850. It was to be 1700 feet in length and was about to be undertaken by the city on the north beach. It ran east, from Battery between Union and Green.
Lombard, east from Sansome
Alta California, April 8, 1851
ALONG WHARF ROW -- Yesterday afternoon an interesting row occurred on Long Wharf, at the Young Miners' Restaurant, kept by a foreigner, named Antonietto. It appears that Wooley Kearny and Thomas Kelly, two characters pretty well known in that classic vicinity, had called for some food, for which, after eating it, they refused to pay. High words followed, and then blows, between Kearny and Kelly on the one side, and the landlord and servants on the other. Porter bottles, pies, boiled crabs, and tea cups suffered some, windows were broken, tables upset, and everything placed in the most admirable confusion. Kearny and Kelly were arrested and conveyed to the station house, where they gave bail for their appearances before the Recorder this morning.
March 3, 1851: The steamers Hartford and Santa Clara were burned this morning on Long Wharf.
May 28, 1853, Daily Alta California
Valuable Blacksmith Establishments
The house and Lease of the extensive establishment known as Dunn's Ship and Steamboat Blacksmith Shop, situated on Long Wharf, No. 13, with the entire stock, consisting of iron, forges and everything connected with a well established concern. Full inventory can be seen at the auction store. Immediate possession will be given. Terms cash. The establishment is now paying from $800 to $1200 per month, clear of all expenses.
Commencing at the foot of Market and by 1850 ran 600 feet into the San Francisco Bay.
East, from Steuart between Mission and Howard
North, from Francisco between Mason and Powell Streets. Henry Meiggs, born July 7, 1811, in Catskill, New York, was the second son of a family of nine children. He worked as a youth at the lumber trade in Catskill, Boston and New York. He suffered business losses, and when word of the discovery of Gold reached the East, Meiggs loaded the Albany with lumber and sailed around Cape Horn for San Francisco, arriving on January 11, 1849. He sold the cargo at a huge profit and entered the California lumber business, forming the California Lumber Manufacturing Company, later known as the Mendocino Lumber Company, located in Mendocino County.
Meiggs Wharf was built in the vicinity of Powell Street to accommodate his lumber schooners, which began sailing down the coast after July 1852. It was the longest pier on the City front and projected about 2,000 feet from dry land out into the harbor. Part of this site today is occupied by Fisherman's Wharf, PIER 39 and Pier 45. He became a prominent in City politics and business, until, due to his larcenous financial practices, he outfitted the brig American and on October 6, 1854, sailed away with his family, including his brother, who was then City Controller. He left many people high and dry, and left everything he owned, including his wharf, his city lots, and his beautiful home on Telegraph Hill. The story is that he left a "fire burning in the hearth and the birds singing in their cages," and told people they were going for a cruise on the Bay.
Meiggs ended his career as a successful railroad builder in South America. He paid off most of the debts he left behind, but he never returned to San Francisco. He died in Lima, Peru, in 1877, a rich and famous man.
Merchant's Dry Dock Company
Kearny and Bay Streets.
January 4, 1973, Daily Alta California: About two o'clock yesterday afternon persons in the vicinity of the Merchants' Dry Dock, adjoining the Dry Dock at North Point, were startled by a sudden crash, the splashing of water, and then the noise of a heavey swell which rolled on the shore. They were momentarily frightened, but soon recovered their accustomed coolness. They went to the dock and found that about forty feet had been carried away. The British bark Jupiter was discharging ballast, and had deposited about 150 tons of stone on the wharf, when suddenly it gave way, making a loud noise and producing a swell which raised the bark several feet. The wharf had been over-weighted, and the centre to the extent of about forty feet, had been carried away. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
Northeast from Steuart Street.
Montgomery and Francisco Streets
East from foot of Francisco
Moore and Company Dock
East at Portrero Point.
East between Market and Commercial Streets.
North American Steamship Line
Foot of Mission.
North Pacific Transportation Company
Foot of Folsom Street.
North Point Dock
Sansome, north from Lombard to Chestnut.
Oakland Ferry (Two Locations)
Pacific, east of Davis and at the foot of Second Street.
Pacific Street Wharf (Pier 40)
525 feet long and sixty feet wide by late 1850. East from Montgomery and Sansome Streets.
Alta California, April 8, 1851
THE PACIFIC STREET WHARF COMPANY
-In accordance with an act of the Legislature of the State of California, entitled an "Act concerning Corporations," passed April 22d, 1850--
Section 1st.--Resolved, That F. Vassault, Wm. H. White, O.A. Reynolds, Chas. Griswold, Henry A. Harrison, Chas. H. Hill, Edward Jones, F. C. Gray, E. Conner, Martin R. Roberts, W. B. C. Stebbins and M McNulty, and such persons as they may associate with them, shall constitute, in the city of San Francisco, a body politic and corporate, under the style and title of the "Pacific Street Wharf Company," to have succession for five years, to sue and be sued in Court, to make and use a common seal, and the same to break, alter and mend at pleasure. To hold, purchase and convey such real and personal estate as the purposes of the Company shall require, to appoint such officers and agents as the business of the Company shall need, and to allow them suitable compensation for their services. To make bye-laws, not inconsistent with any law of the State of California, or of the United States; for the regulation of its affairs, the management of its business, and for the transfer of its stocks.
Section 2d.--In addition to the powers enumerated in the preceding section, the Corporation hereby created shall have power, by instruments under seal of otherwise--
1st. To construct a wharf at the foot of Pacific street, in this city, in accordance with the terms of the lease granted by the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund of San Francisco, under date of 13th of February, A.D. 1851
2d. To enjoy all the rights and privileges granted by said lease, and to assume all the obligations incurred thereby.
Section 3d.--All the corporate powers of said Company shall be exercised by a Board of Directors, not to consist of more than eleven nor less than seven members, (chosen by ballot from the stockholders,) a majority of whom shall form a quorum, and such officers, clerks and agents as the said Directors may from time to time appoint. The first Board of Directors shall choose a President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Wharfinger, to serve for one year. Said Directors shall also continue in and hold office for one year. At the expiration of the first year, and annually thereafter, during the existence of the Company, there shall be an election of Directors to manage the affairs of said Company, and said Directors shall at their first meeting elect a President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Wharfinger, to serve for the year succeeding their election, and at least ten days notice of such election of Directors shall be published in one of the daily papers of San Francisco.
Section 4th.--All elections shall be by ballot, and the election shall be by such of the stockholders as shall attend in person or by proxy, and the persons qualified by receiving the highest number of votes shall be the Directors for the ensuing year. Each stockholder shall be entitled to one vote for each and every share which he, she or they may hold respectively: Provided, That no person shall vote on any share which may have been transferred to him within thirty days preceding said election.
Section 5th.--No person shall be a director of said Company who is not a resident of San Francisco, and does not hold in his own name, or in the name of the firm of which he may be a partner, ten shares of the capital stock of said Company.
Section 6th.--In case from any cause the election of directors should not take place on the day fixed by this act, it shall be the duty of the Board of Directors for the time being to give ten days notice for an election, to take place within fifteen days from the date on which such an election should have been held; and in such cases all the officers of the Company shall remain in office until such election has been held and successors appointed.
Section 7th.--The capital stock of said company shall be seventy thousand dollars, divided into seven hundred shares, of one hundred dollars each. The amount subscribed for by each stockholder shall be due and payable to the Treasurer at such time and in such proportionate amounts as the Board of Directors shall by resolution require; such call or demand being always limited, at any one time, to twenty percent, of the amount subscribed.
Section 8th.--No dividends shall be declared until all expenses or debts incurred by the Board of Directors shall be paid. After all expenses and liabilities have been discharged, dividends shall be declared quarterly upon the capital stock, and shall be payable to the stockholders or their legal representatives by the Treasurer.
Section 9th.--No dividend shall be declared or paid on any stocks on which all installments called for by the Board of Directors have not been paid.
Section 10th.--Vacancies happening in the Board of Directors or officers of the Company, by death, resignation, or otherwise, may be filed for the remainder of the term, by the Board of Directors, or provided for by the by-laws.
San Francisco, March 28, 1851
April 8, 1851, Alta California, San Francisco
PACIFIC STREET WHARF -- The splendid wharf at the foot of Pacific street, partially constructed at a heavy expense by the city, has fallen into the hands of a number of gentlemen, who have formed themselves into a stock company, with the determination of extending the wharf some eight hundred feet further out. The stock was all taken up previous to the organization or first meeting of the company, and the full amount of capital subscribed. The contract for extending it, has been completed and the first series of piles already driven. In forty days the famed Central Wharf will have a competitor equal, if not superior, in every respect.
Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Foot of Folsom; later southeast on First at Brannan Streets.
Pacific Rolling Mills
Portrero Point. First called Point San Quentin (as late as 1869), then Potrero Point (by 1882), and sometimes Rolling Mill Point, the area just east of Illinois Street bounded by 20th and 24th was the center of heavy industry in San Francisco from 1880 through World War I. Pacific Rolling Mill produced the first iron rolled on the west coast there in 1868 and the first steel in 1884.In 1883 the Union Iron Works purchased 32 acres of land at the foot of 20th St., adjoining the Pacific Rolling Mills. and built a shipyard with deep water frontage on the site. Union Iron Works became the most important industry in the Potrero and perhaps on the entire West Coast. UIW employed from a quarter to half of the residents nearby. Many beautiful historic structures remain; their future is undecided.
Pennell & Brown's Wharf
From Steuart near Howard Street.
From Steuart near Howard Streets.
East between Clay and Commercial Streets.
Rincon Point Dock, south from foot of Steuart Street.
Between Jackson and Pacific, part of East Street Wharf
Northeast on Howard from Steuart
Ryan and Duff's
Northeast on Mission from Steuart, next wharf south of Roussett's Wharf.
800 feet. Refer to Howison's. Started in March 1852.
Southeast on Steuart at Howard Street
Southeast from foot of Third
East, from Battery. This was the first Fisherman's Wharf built in 1884 specifically for the fishing fleets. It was an impressive all-service facility. Jutting out from the shore on a north by northeast angle, the new Union Street Wharf comprised a long narrow rectangle about 450 feet long and 150 feet wide, with an entrance along the leeward eastern side. The easternmost pier featured a long shed for maintenance of fishing equipment, including four large boiling vats for tanning nets and sails. Tucked into the northwest corner of the wharf was a small boat slip, or ramp, which, combined with the davits lining the outboard face of the wharf, allowed the fishermen to haul out their boats for painting and repairs. Along the inshore pier, and facing the Embarcadero (then called East Street) was the Market House, where the daily catch of fish and crabs was deposited and sold in the early morning hours for resale by fish markets, hotels, restaurants and street vendors.
Vallejo Street Wharf
East, from Battery.
Washington Street Wharf
275 feet long.