San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



MAY 1st.—May-day was celebrated by a large number of our German citizens in the cheerful and imposing style observed in Fatherland. The Turner Gesang Verein (Gymnastic Musical Union) took the most active part in the festivities. Dressed in loose brown linen coats and pantaloons, proper for their exercises, they marched, with banners flying, and musical instruments sounding, to the gardens of Mr. Russ, near the Mission road. There somewhere about eighteen hundred persons of German blood participated in the different enjoyments of the day. They leaped, balanced and twirled, danced, sang, drank, smoked and made merry, as only such an enthusiastic race of mortals could. The weather happened to be very fine, and the grounds seemed beautiful beyond all expression of praise from the full heart that could only enjoy, while it knew not and cared not why. Das Deutsche Vaterland was chanted in the most rapturous manner, and for the moment the different performers seemed to forget all their native local distinctions and the very land that now gave them shelter, to become in heart and spirit only members of the one common brotherhood of Germans. Prizes to the best performers in the various athletic and other games were distributed, and several appropriate addresses were afterwards delivered.

The German population in San Francisco has always been very large, and may now (1854) be estimated at between five and six thousand. They are an orderly and intelligent people, and show fewer criminals than a proportionate number of any other class of citizens. They learn the English language very readily, and many of them are naturalized citizens. Very different from the French population in this respect, they appear to have little wish to return to their native country. When Germans do leave California, it is generally for the Atlantic States, from whence most of them directly came. In San Francisco, they take considerable interest in local affairs, and easily enter into the spirit of the place. The different fire companies show many Germans on their rolls. This people have a daily newspaper in their own language, and at one time had two. They also possess a school, and at different times have supported a national theatre, while they often have both vocal and instrumental concerts. The professional musicians in San Francisco are chiefly Germans. Various other occupations are extensively and almost exclusively followed by them. The cigar and beershops are chiefly kept by them. A large number of the Jews in San Francisco are of German blood, many of whom are from Prussian Poland.

Lager Bier Politicians.Though comparatively few Germans intend to return to Fatherland, they all bear a strong feeling towards it, and when opportunity serves are always ready to celebrate their nationality and praise the old country customs. Some of these are of an interesting and most pleasing character, in which music generally bears a leading part. Though usually somewhat phlegmatic both in person and mind, and not so brilliantly gay as the French, or so carelessly wanton in their mirth as the Hispano-Americans, the Germans are perhaps the most thoroughly cheerful of all the national races in San Francisco. Though many of them possess considerable property, they are not as a class distinguished for wealth; and they are generally of a saving, and sometimes a penurious character. Touch their nationality, or their pecuniary interests, and they may spend money lavishly; but in most other matters they are totally opposed, in feeling and behavior, to the princely extravagance of native Americans. The Germans pursue all professions, while they monopolize a certain few, and number some rich and many highly educated individuals among their people. Some of these have formed themselves into the Deutsches Club. The Germans have a society for the protection of immigrants, and various other benevolent and social institutions. Many of their naturalized citizens manifest a lively interest in the politics of our country, which they discuss with much warmth in their favorite beer-house.

MAY 2d.—May-day happening upon Sunday, a procession of school-children, to celebrate the occasion, took place the next day. This was a new and pleasant sight in San Francisco, and the event is worthy of being recorded. There were about a thousand children of both sexes in the train. They appeared all in holiday costume, the girls being dressed in white. Each one carried a bouquet of fresh and beautiful flowers. There was the usual “Queen of May,” with her “Maids of Honor,” and various other characters, all represented by the juvenile players. The children of seven schools bore distinctive banners. A fine band of music accompanied the happy procession. After proceeding through the principal thoroughfares, the children moved to the school-house in Broadway. Here some pleasant ceremonies, songs, and occasional addresses took place, in which the children themselves were the chief actors. A repast of such delicate eatables as suited youthful palates was next enjoyed, after which the glad multitude dispersed.

New Rassette House.About eleven o’clock on the evening of this day, the Rassette House, at the corner of Bush and Sansome streets, and some of the adjoining buildings, were destroyed by fire. The Rassette House was a first-class hotel, well known in the city. It was a frame building, of five stories in height, including the basement. The fire began in a room above the kitchen, and in a few minutes spread over the enormous structure of dry timber. The hotel happened to be well filled with lodgers at the time, nearly all of whom were in bed when the flames broke out. There were four hundred and sixteen boarders at the house, the most of whom also lodged there. The horror and danger of their situation, in the midst of such a combustible mass, may be imagined, but can scarcely be described. A north-east wind was blowing fresh at the time, and strong fears were entertained lest the conflagration should spread over that district of the city which had escaped all the great fires of 1850 and ‘51. The firemen were early in attendance, and did all that men could do in the circumstances. Though they could not save the blazing pile of lumber, nor some of the neighboring houses, they prevented the conflagration spreading beyond a limited, short distance. The loss of property was estimated at nearly $100,000, without including the valuable property belonging to the many lodgers in the Rassette House. Several of the inmates of the latter building were severely burned, and it was supposed for a considerable time that some had perished. A new hotel has since been built on the same site. It is one of the most magnificent, as it is the largest private edifice, devoted to a single business, in the city.

In the week previous to that in which the fire just noticed occurred, several very extensive conflagrations had taken place in various districts of the city. However, the numerous fire-proof brick tenements, and the rapid movements and unwearied exertions of the firemen, prevented these fires from spreading far. The daring and persevering labors of the Fire Department were constant themes of praise and public gratitude.

MAY 14th.—The origin and privileges of the Mountain Lake Water Company have been already noticed. The commencement of their works was this day celebrated by some imposing ceremonies at the foot of the hill near the presidio. The completion of this important undertaking has been considerably delayed, and while we write the works are at a stand. Want of funds is presumed to be the reason. The cost has far exceeded the first calculations of the projectors. Doubtless the necessary moneys will be raised before long, and the original project carried fully out. No single measure is of so much vital importance to the city as this, and all good citizens must wish well to the success of the enterprise. Hitherto San Francisco has been chiefly provided with fresh water from a considerable number of artesian wells sunk in various parts of the city, and from supplies brought in tanks by small steamers from Saucelito, on the opposite side of the entrance to the bay. The water from all these sources is deficient at the best, and its cost forms a considerable item in the expenses of housekeepers. It is expected that the Mountain Lake Water Company will be enabled, with a handsome profit to itself to supply millions of gallons daily of the softest and purest fresh water at greatly lower rates than what are now being paid for much smaller supplies. In a place like San Francisco, so much exposed from position and circumstances to conflagration, the unlimited supply of water for extinguishing fires is particularly requisite; and that will surely be obtained when this company has completed its works. Its name is taken from the Mountain Lake, which is but a small sheet of water, and of itself could not yield the expected supplies. This lake has no visible outlet. A few hundred yards from its northern margin, there gushes through the ground a full stream of water, which is believed to be amply sufficient for all the purposes of a city thrice the size of San Francisco. It is matter of doubt whether this great spring, or rather subterranean river, is the vent of the small Mountain Lake, or whether it is not the open end of a natural siphon, which discharges the rains and dews that fall among the mountains on the opposite shores of the bay.

MAY 19th.—We have already noticed various acts of the Legislature establishing a State Marine Hospital at San Francisco. Of this date, an act was passed which considerably altered the constitution of the existing establishment, and which was henceforward intended to be the sole general State Hospital in California. The administration of the hospital was declared to be under the control of a board of five trustees, to be annually elected by the Legislature, in joint convention. The trustees should themselves choose by ballot a president and vice-president from their own number. A treasurer, with a salary of $2,000 should also be chosen by them. The Legislature should elect every two years two resident and two visiting physicians, the former to receive annually the sum of $4,000, and the latter the same sum, each, in both cases payable quarterly. Particular provisions are made in the act as to the respective duties of the trustees, the treasurer and physicians. All invalid persons desirous of being received into the hospital should apply to the resident physicians or either of them, and on their certificate should be admitted. Indigent sick persons, not residents of any county in the State might likewise be admitted to the hospital, as State patients; as also the indigent sick of the city, upon such terms as the municipal authorities and the board of trustees might determine. All the State patients in the Sacramento and Stockton State Hospitals at the time when these should be abolished by law should be admitted as patients into the State Marine Hospital at San Francisco. There should be set apart by the State Treasurer, as a hospital fund, the net amounts accruing to the State Treasury, as follows, viz.—Three-fifths of the amount derived as a commutation or tax on passengers arriving at the ports of the State, and the fines and penalties collected by reason of a violation of the laws regulating the same; and all sums paid into the State Treasury for license for auction, gaming, billiards, ten-pin or bowling alleys, hawkers and peddlers, or collected as fines or penalties for a violation of the same. Of the amounts derived from these several sources, the one-half should be appropriated to the support and maintenance of the State Marine Hospital at San Francisco, and the other half should be distributed to each organized county in the State, proportionably to the population of said counties, as a special fund, to be appropriated exclusively to the support and maintenance of the indigent sick of such counties respectively. It was, however, provided that such allowance to the hospital at San Francisco should not exceed the sum of $100,000, and that if it did not amount to that sum then the State Comptroller should draw his warrant for the deficiency, if the necessities of the hospital should require it.

The State Marine Hospital at San Francisco is, while we write, located in Stockton street, in a large and commodious building (formerly at various periods, the American Hotel, the Marine Hospital, the Kremlin, and the Clarendon Hotel), and which is rented at a large sum. It has been much enlarged, and was expressly fitted up for the purposes of a hospital. The situation is pleasant and healthy, although the inhabitants of the adjacent houses have grumbled, with some reason, that such an establishment should have been located in a thickly peopled and fashionable part of the town. This hospital is efficiently conducted, and as might naturally have been expected, has been productive of much benefit to both foreigners and Americans. The average number of patients is about two hundred and fifty. The only other State Hospital is one solely for insane persons at Stockton.

JUNE.—For some things San Francisco has been always particularly notorious. Among these may be mentioned its gambling saloons and drinking bars. Many keepers of these places have made large fortunes. A great proportion of the community still gamble—the lower classes in public, and the upper, or richer classes in private. Very many also continue the habit of occasionally taking a daily “drink,” or two; while most of the inhabitants take many more “drinks” than they would perhaps care to confess to a rigidly sober acquaintance. In the Christian Advocate (a San Francisco weekly newspaper), about this date, there appeared some information which exhibits the intemperance and dissipation of San Francisco in a very alarming light. Religious journals are not always trustworthy, especially in facts and figures, when commenting on the vices of the age; but in this case there is ample room for all possible exaggeration in the statements, and still there would be statistics enough left to grieve the philanthropist. We copy the following from the Herald:

“The Christian Advocate has found, by actual count, the whole number of places where liquor is sold in this city to be five hundred and thirty-seven. Of these, eighty-three are purely liquor, in retail line, and fifty-two wholesale; making one hundred and twenty-five places which do not keep an onion to modify the traffic. Of the four hundred and twelve places where it is sold in connection with other business, one hundred and forty-four are tavern restaurants; one hundred and fifty-four groceries; forty-six gambling-houses; and forty-eight supposed to be kept by bawds. Some of these appear genteel, others are dance-houses and such like, where Chinese, Mexican, Chilian and other foreign women are assembled. There were five hundred and fifty-six bartenders present in the various places at the time when the memoranda were taken. We think we may safely add one-quarter, if not one-third, as reserve corps, making, including women, seven hundred and forty-three bar-tenders in our city.”

These statements, in all conscience, make matters black and and bad enough. Opposed to such an array—”seven hundred and forty-three bar-tenders!“—all the “Sons of Temperance,” the clergymen, churches, religious publications, Mercantile Library Associations and the like, can hope to do little good for strict sobriety. It happens to be the custom in San Francisco to take a “drink” occasionally, while the great mass of the people either have not, or will not avail themselves of any places of recreation or of retirement at the close of daily labor and business other than those where liquor is sold. The usual active and speculative mode of life at San Francisco encourages, if it does not necessarily lead to much indulgence in intoxicating liquors. Yet though so many are tasting again and again, in the course of the day, there is not so much gross drunkenness visible as one might expect. Many of the thirsty, better class San Franciscans are more tipplers than downright drunkards. Among the lowest and the rowdy classes, however, there is much brutal and degrading drunkenness, the effects of which are seen at all hours of day and night upon our streets. It is in the mixed dance and drinking-houses above noticed, that so many noisy brawls and desperate assaults, often ending in murders, chiefly take place, that make San Francisco so infamous for its crimes. It is impossible at present completely to close such places without bringing perhaps worse evils upon society. Only time, a naturally better set of citizens, the example and benefits of good men and good institutions, homes and domestic society, and an improved public opinion, will gradually reduce the number of the haunts of vice, close the drinking and gambling-saloons, and purify the general moral condition of the city.

We have already described the character of the “clipper ships” which the trade and necessities of San Francisco created, and have mentioned several of the shortest passages that had been performed by these vessels between the Atlantic ports and our city. These passages were the quickest that had ever been made. The voyage from San Francisco to the Atlantic ports is generally accomplished in a considerably shorter period, which arises chiefly from the prevalence of westerly winds in the region of Cape Horn, by reason of which homeward-bound ships are speedily wafted round that dreaded place, where usually so much delay is caused to outward-bound vessels. The Northern Light sailed from San Francisco, on the 13th of March this year, and arrived at Boston on the 29th May thereafter, thus accomplishing the voyage in the wonderfully short space of seventy-six days. This is the fastest passage that has ever been made between the places by any ship, not a steamer.

First Congregational Church.JULY 4th.—Independence-day this year was chiefly remarkable in San Francisco for the first battalion parade of the military companies. These, numbering seven in all, inclusive of the “Sutter Rifles,” from Sacramento City, which were here on a visit, formed into line and passed in review before Major General John A. Sutter and a brilliant staff. The benevolent and true hearted old pioneer was rapturously welcomed wherever he appeared. The battalion afterwards marched to the gardens of Mr. Russ, about a mile and a half from the plaza, where Mrs. C. N. Sinclair presented it with a set of colors.

Independence-day being the great annual festival of the American people, was otherwise celebrated in the usual manner. The Irish population turned out in large numbers, and marched in procession through the city, preceded by a band of music. In the evening there was a discharge of fireworks on the plaza, at the city’s expense.

JULY 10th.—Dedication of the new First Congregational Church, at the south-w. corner of Dupont and California streets. This is a very elegant brick building, and forms one of the striking ornaments of the city. It is sixty feet in front, by one hundred feet deep, and is seated for about twelve hundred persons. According to the plan there is to be a steeple one hundred and sixty feet in height, but this has been as yet only raised to the top of the tower, leaving the spire to be constructed at some future date. The cost of the building was $40,000. The pastor of the congregation, the Rev. T. Dwight Hunt, was the first regular clergyman in San Francisco.

JULY 17th.—The various religious bodies of the city are gradually improving the style of their churches. The old, small wooden buildings that served the purposes of religious meeting-houses well enough a few years back are being discarded, and magnificent brick structures are rising in their stead. This day the corner-stone of a new Roman Catholic church was laid, at the north-east corner of Dupont and California streets, with the many imposing ceremonies performed on similar occasions by that body of Christians. A long train of priests and dignitaries officiated on the occasion. The building, St. Mary’s, is still in course of erection.

Unitarian Church.The same day the dedication of the First Unitarian Church took place. The exterior of this church is not yet finished; the interior is very fine. It is situated on Stockton street, near Sacramento street. The services at the dedication were conducted by the pastor of the church, the Rev. F. T. Gray.

These are among the most imposing and substantial edifices for public religious worship that have yet been erected in the city. The most of the other churches are still of wood. Among them may be noticed that eminently useful place the Seaman’s Chapel, or Bethel. This structure has been formed upon the hull of an old forsaken ship, and exhibits a remarkably chaste and beautiful interior. As congregations get larger and wealthier, the many churches constructed of frame which are now existing will gradually be supplanted by handsome edifices of brick or stone, in conformity with the improved character of other buildings throughout the city.

JULY 20th.—The under-sheriff, John A. Freaner, was shot on Mission street by one Redmond McCarthy, a “squatter,” when the former, in the performance of his duty, was endeavoring to execute a writ of ejectment against the latter. Revolvers were produced and fired by both parties, and both were severely wounded. The circumstance is particularly mentioned as illustrative of the “times” in San Francisco. About this period the “squatters” on city lands became suddenly more numerous and daring than ever. These were not like the legitimate “settlers,” who took possession of vacant unclaimed lands, under the ordinary pre-emption laws of the United States. On the contrary, many of the squatters seized upon lands known to be claimed by others, and who held them by the strongest legal titles known. As these titles, however, happened in almost all cases to have some nice legal doubt affecting them, “squatters” settled the matter in their own way, and at once forcibly seized upon every piece of ground that had no permanent improvements made upon it. They “squatted” every where; not only on choice lots along the line of public streets, and among the distant sand hills, but on the public and private burying grounds and on the open squares of the city. If they had the least colorable title adverse to the party in constructive possession, good and well; but generally there was no other right pretended than that of force. The intruder displayed only his six-shooter and with a scowl and a sullen curse would mutter to the offended owner—My title is as good as yours; I have now the ground, and I will keep it, ay, until death. Out of the way! Of course those who considered themselves the proper owners were not inclined tamely to submit to this violation of their rights. Sometimes they took counsel and aid from the law, but nearly as often they met the invader with his own weapons, the axe to destroy fences and buildings, and the revolver to frighten or kill his antagonist. Hired persons on both sides sometimes helped to carry on the war. Occasionally one “squatter” would envy, and seek to steal the already stolen possession of another; and then both would have a bloody fight about the matter. “To the victors belonged the spoils.”

Many lives were lost in these savage contests, and bitter enmity engendered among rival claimants. The law was almost powerless to redress wrong and punish guilt in such cases. It said that the owner of ground was entitled by every means in his power, to prevent unlawful and hostile intrusion upon it; and thus men had not the slightest scruple to use fire-arms upon all occasions. In the confusion and conflict of adverse titles, it could not be instantly determined who were the true owners, and judges therefore could not punish the trespassers and murderers. If even the title of one slain in such a struggle were clear, juries could not be found who would bring in the slayer guilty of murder. His plea, however false and ridiculous, of supposed title to the ground which was the cause of the fatal dispute, was always held sufficient to save him from any verdict that would justify the extreme penalty of the law. Probably one or more of the jurors themselves had committed similar outrages, and would not condemn in the prisoner their own principles of action, and weaken the titles to their own properties. It was supposed that many of these “squatters” were secretly instigated in their reckless proceedings by people of wealth and influence, who engaged to see their pupils out of any legal difficulty into which they might fall. Such wealthy speculators shared, of course, in the spoils of the proceedings. To this day, many of the most valuable districts in and around San Francisco are held by “squatter’s titles,” which had been won perhaps at the cost of bloodshed, and in defiance of other titles, that, if not the best in law, had at least a colorable show, and should have been always strong enough to resist the strong-hand claim of the mere robber. In this way the city itself the great victim of real estate speculators, “squatters” and plunderers, has lost, for a time at least, much of its remaining property. The new charter, if passed by the Legislature, will make many of these temporary losses, final and irretrievable ones. If it were desirable to enlarge on this painful subject, as showing the independent and lawless state of society in California, a history might be given of the great gang of squatters who have stolen the broad rich acres of the native Peraltas on the opposite side of the bay, in Contra Costa. However, it is sufficient merely to mention the subject, in illustration of the like practices that had been long carried on, and at this time seemed to be at their height in San Franciseo and its environs.

JULY 24th.—Fire broke out in the store-ship Manco, which lay in close proximity to the wharves, near the corner of Mission and Stewart streets. The store-ship Canonicus—an old “forty-niner,”—which was moored alongside, next caught fire. The firemen turned out, as usual, but from the want of proper resting-places found much difficulty in working their engines with effect. There happened to be a large quantity of gun powder on board the Manco at the time, the knowledge of which fact, when circulated, speedily sent to a respectful distance the curious crowd that had gathered on the neighboring ships, and wherever they could procure a view of what was going on. The firemen, however, gallantly stuck to their posts, and poured vast quantities of water into the hold of the burning ship. By these means the powder was so damped that only partial explosions of small quantities took place. At last, the ship was scuttled, and she sank in shallow water. The flames continued, and were only extinguished a considerable time afterwards. The losses sustained by both the Manco and Canonicus were estimated at about $50,000.

JULY—AUGUST.—There was a succession of “strikes” during these months, among most classes of mechanics and laborers, when wages were generally raised from fifteen to twenty per cent. The following may be quoted, as being the average rate of daily wages payable at this time to journeymen:—Bricklayers, $10; stone-cutters, $10; ship carpenters and caulkers, $10; plasterers, $9; house carpenters, $8; blacksmiths, $8; watchmakers and jewellers, $8; tinners, $7; hatters (but few employed), $7; painters and glaziers, $6; tenders, $5; ‘longshoremen, $6; tailors, $4; shoemakers, $100 per month, without boarding; teamsters, $100 to $120 per month, finding themselves; firemen on steamers, $100 per month; coal-passers, $75 per month; farm hands, $50 per mouth, and found. These wages are at least five times higher than what are paid similar workers in the Atlantic States; while they are about double the highest rates of wages that are now (1854) given mechanics and laborers in the gold-producing country of Australia. Most trades and occupations other than those above named were paid equally well. The printers, who have been always a highly remunerated class, could earn, according to skill and employment, from $10 to $15 a day. Perhaps the fbrmer sum may be taken as a low average. As we have elsewhere said, there is no place in the world where so high remuneration is given for labor—useful, wanted labor, as in San Francisco. The rates above mentioned do not vary much in the course of the year; and may, in 1854, be still quoted as nearly correct. At the same time it should be mentioned that it is not always the case that the applicant can find constant employment at his particular trade. However, if necessity should compel him to work for a time at an inferior occupation, and provided only he have bodily strength, he may always fairly calculate in finding employment as a laborer in coarse work, or in doing odd jobs, at from $3.50 to $5 a day. The immigrant, however, must work at something, unless he means to starve outright. The expenses of living are very much greater in San Francisco than in the dearest of the Atlantic cities, while there is very little charity or sympathy bestowed on idle, healthy men. People who would honestly succeed in this country must be prepared to turn their hand and attention to any kind of labor that promises to pay, no matter how disagreeable, or how little used to it may be the hesitating beginner. That has been the case with many of the most respectable and wealthy citizens, who at earlier times in San Francisco have been without a dime in their pocket or a friend to give them a gratuitous meal. They had to strip to the shirt, and earn the beginning of their present fortunes by “the sweat of their brow.” If all employment should by possibility fail in the city, the robust immigrant has still the gold mines to fall back upon for sustenance and wealth, as well as the rich unclaimed lands of the United States, that seek only a tiller to produce marvellous crops, or he may always secure a situation as an agricultural laborer for others. Again, then, we say, there is no country in the world to be compared for wages and profits to California. It is emphatically the poor working-man’s paradise on earth.

AUGUST 14th.—The second anniversary of the German Turnverein (the gymnasts already noticed) was observed to-day, in the park of Dr. Wedekind, in the southern quarter of the city. This affair was a very grand one with the whole German race here; and nearly three thousand persons participated in the festivities of the occasion. Besides Dr. Wedekind’s grounds, the gardens of Mr. Russ adjoining were thrown open to the people, where athletic games and many amusing sports, music, dancing and singing, and the indispensable smoking and drinking were kept up till a late hour at night. The amusements were resumed on the following day.

SEPTEMBER 7th.—The annual election of city and county officers. The following parties were chosen:—

E. J. Moore,
W. M. Lent (for short term),
Samuel Brannan, and subsequently on his resignation, David Mahoney.

J. C. Hubbard,
A. A. Green,
N. Hubert,
E. P. Purdy,
W. J. Swasey,
Elijah Nichols,
F. W. Koll,
J. W. Bagley,
James A. Gilbert.

Sheriff.—William R. Gorham.
County Judge.—T. W. Freelon (J. D. Creigh, to fill vacancy.)
District Attorney.—Henry H. Byrne.
County Clerk.—Thos. Hayes.
County Recorder.—James Grant.
County Treasurer.—G. W. Green.
County Surveyor.—James J. Gardner.
Coroner.—J. W. Whaling.
Public Administrator.—S. A. Sheppard.
County Assessor.—J. W. Stillman.
Mayor.—C. K. Garrison.
Recorder.—Geo. W. Baker.
Tax Collector.—W. A. Matthews.
Comptroller.—Stephen R. Harris.
City Attorney.—S. A. Sharp.
Treasurer.—Hamilton Bowie.
Street Commissioner.—John Addis.
Marshal.—B. Seguine.
Harbor Master.—Robert Haley.
Clerk of the Supreme Court.—Henry Haskell.

Robert Kerrison,
Jas. H. Keller,
Richard Parr.

H. Meiggs,
Richard M. Jessup,
John D. Brower,
John Nightingale,
Chas. 0. West,
Joseph F. Atwill,
D. H. Haskell,
Jas. Van Ness.

Assistant Aldermen.
Chas. H. Corser,
Geo. 0. Ecker,
Win. H. Talmage,
Saml. Gardner,
C. D. Carter,
J. R. West,
Frank Turk,
J. G. W. Schulte.

On this occasion the proposed new charter of the city, framed by the delegates already mentioned, was submitted to the people for their approval or rejection. There were given for it 747 votes, and against it 620; showing a majority of 127 votes in its favor. In all the wards, except the 2d and 8th, there were considerable majorities against it. In the 2d ward, the numbers were nearly equal; and in the 8th almost the whole votes were for it. The people, except perhaps in the last-named ward, seemed to take little interest in the proposed measure.

French Shoeblacks.SEPTEMBER 19th.—The French inhabitants of the city organized among themselves the “Lafayette Hook and Ladder Company.” The uniform they adopted was that common to firemen in France. We have at different places alluded to the public spirit of this class of citizens, and their appearance in large bodies on occasions of public ceremonial. They are nearly as numerous as the Germans in San Francisco, and may now (1854) number about 5000 persons of both sexes. They preserve many of their national characteristics, and do not seem capable of thoroughly adopting American thoughts and fashions. But a small proportion seek to become naturalized citizens, and they do not readily acquire our language. California, and America itself, are but places where money may be made to enable them to return to their own land in Europe. In San Francisco they have monopolized many professions of a semi-artistic character. They are the chief shoeblacks and hairdressers, cooks, wine importers and professional gamblers. In the first-named capacity, they form one of the street features of the place. They are posted at many of the prominent corners, with seats for their customers, whose boots they are ever ready to polish at the charge of twenty-five cents; and some of them have at this singular business gathered money enough to open shops, neatly furnished, for the same purposes. It is not uncommon to see a dozen of these shoeblacks in a row upon the edge of the side-walks, scouring and scrubbing away at the muddy or dusty boots of their patrons. But besides these occupations, this people pursue all other callings here, and many of them are among the most distinguished, wealthy and respectable inhabitants of the city. They are partial to public amusements, and have often a theatre open, when plays, vaudevilles and operas in their own language are performed. They have a society for the relief of poor immigrants, besides several other benevolent associations. Two tri-weekly newspapers are published in their language, a portion of one of which is written in Spanish.

The presence of the French has had a marked influence upon society in San Francisco. Skilled workmen of their race have decorated the finer shops and buildings, while their national taste and judicious criticism have virtually directed the more chaste architectural ornaments, both on the exterior and in the interior of our houses. Their polite manners have also given an ease to the ordinary intercourse of society which the unbending American character does not naturally possess. The expensive and fashionable style of dressing among the French ladies has greatly encouraged the splendid character of the shops of jewellers, silk merchants, milliners and others whom women chiefly patronize, while it has perhaps increased the general extravagance among the whole female population of the city.

There are in San Francisco many natives of Switzerland and Alsace, those debatable lands between the French and German people. The Alsatians are claimed, and sometimes rejected by both. There does not seem much sympathy between the rival races, less a great deal than is between either of them and the Americans. The French complain that they are not treated so kindly by the last as are the Germans. The reason seems obvious. It is because they do not take the same pains to learn the American language and character. The naturalized Germans are professed and acknowledged brethren; the French—foreign in manner and physical appearance, in thoughts and hopes—can never he considered as such. The occasional devotion of Germans to old Fatherland does not so fill their hearts that they become insensible to the numberless political and social blessings which they receive in their adopted country. But the wild glorification of Frenchmen to every thing connected with their beautiful Fiance, is often a neglectful insult to the land that shelters them, and which they would ignore, even although they seek not to become its permanent citizens. Both races have played a prominent part in the industrial history of San Francisco, and in that of California generally. Their numbers are very large in the various mining districts; while, as we have seen, they form a considerable proportion of the population of the city. They are not the dominant spirits of the place—for these are of the true American type that ever cry go ahead!—but they help to execute what the national lords of the soil, the restless and perhaps unhappy people of progress contrive. The character of a man may at least partially be inferred from his “drinks.” The true Germans dote on lager-bier—and they are a heavy, phlegmatic, unambitious race; the French love light wines—and they are as sparkling, yet without strength or force of character; the genuine Yankee must have a burning spirit in his multitudinous draughts—and he is a giant when he begins to work, tearing and trampling over the impossibilities of other races, and binding them to his absolute, insolent will.

Inner Telegraph Station.Outer Telegraph Station.

SEPTEMBER 22d.—Opening of the first electric telegraph in California celebrated. This extended eight miles, between San Francisco and Point Lobos, and was erected by Messrs. Sweeny & Baugh, to give early information of shipping arrivals. Early in 1849 this enterprising firm had erected a station-house on Telegraph Hill, which commanded a view of the entrance to the Golden Gate and the ocean in that immediate vicinity; and having adopted a variety of appropriate signals, well understood by merchants and others in the city, were enabled to give early intimation of the approach and peculiar character of all vessels coming into the harbor. This proved of immense value to newspaper publishers and other business men, from whom the enterprise received a liberal patronage, it being principally supported by voluntary contributions. Thus encouraged, Messrs. Sweeny & Baugh afterwards established another station at Point Lobos, overlooking the ocean, from which, on a clear day, vessels may be distinguished many miles distant. This station is in full view of that on Telegraph Hill, which, receiving early signals from it, communicated them at once to the citizens, who were thus apprised of the arrival many hours before the vessel entered the harbor. The electric telegraph is still another improvement, and increases materially the facilities previously afforded by the method of signalling. Occasionally heavy fogs prevented the signals from being intelligible, or even seen, which difficulty is measurably obviated by the electric telegraph. The proprietors have also established in Sacramento street, near Montgomery, a Merchants’ Exchange, supported by subscription, in the spacious rooms of which are always to be found the latest papers from all parts of the world. These enterprises have proved exceedingly lucrative to their projectors.

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

Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License