San Francisco History

Story of S.F. Roadway Evolution

Story of S. F. Roadway Evolution From Days of Spanish Pioneers Related

O’Shaughnessy Traces History of Highways, Looks Into Future With Vision of Builder

by M. M. O’Shaughnessy, Consulting Engineer of San Francisco

It gives me pleasure to dwell upon the present and future roadways of San Francisco.

The earliest history we have of San Francisco is when the Spaniards arrived, traveling up along the pathways from San Diego with pack mules. The earliest Spaniards founded the Presidio and the Mission Dolores in 1776. Further detailed information on the occurrence may be obtained from Professor Bolton’s “Lives of the Mission Fathers”; also William Heath Davis’ “Seventy Years in California.


The first information we have of their activities is in November, 1786, 10 years afterwards, when Jean Francois Galup de la Perouse made a report and survey of San Francisco harbor for the French Government. Those of you who are interested may see a copy of this chart, which is in my possession.

The French Government sent an exploration fleet of three vessels to examine the Pacific and cruise along the Chinese and Japanese coasts, up to Alaska, and then down along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco and San Diego.


The fleet was manned with artists and observers, who made sketches and pictures of all the natives of their different points of embarkation. They fortunately made duplicate drawings of all their designs, so when Perouse was lost with his ship on the return voyage to France, the other two vessels survived and a report of their voyage and their maps were saved.

The most curious development is the change of our coast frontage since that day. At that time the Lake Merced waters flowed freely by open water course into the ocean. Since then the gradual accumulation of sands along the beach  on the southwest boundary of the city to a height of 15 feet has converted those bodies of fresh water known as the Lake Merced, instead of the open salt water sloughs into which the tide waters ran in the days gone by.


The next notice of human activity was in 1839, when the survey ordered by Alcalde Francisco Haro was made. He instructed Juan Vioget, who was a Swiss ships officer residing in San Francisco, and the only available surveyor, to survey the area between Pacific, Sacramento, Montgomery and Dupont streets, into rectangular blocks.

Tides at that time came up near Montgomery street and at Jackson street, across Montgomery to the west. Evidences of early navigation were found in the foundations of the Niantic block on the west side of Sansome street, between Sacramento and Clay streets, where timbers of the ancient ship Niantic that was anchored there were found in making the excavations for a new building.


In March, 1847, nine months after [sic] the discovery of gold, General S. W. Kearny, military Governor of California, whose grandson resides near the old Jefferson home at Charlottesville, Va., after whom Kearny street was named, employed Jasper O’Farrell, surveyor, to lay out beach and water lots for the benefit of the town of San Francisco. He laid out 444 lots each 45’10” x 137’6”, which were subsequently designated on the official map made by William M. Eddy, City Surveyor.

Jasper O’Farrell also surveyed out Market street, the great diagonal which runs from the Ferry building to the base of Twin Peaks, and he also surveyed the 100 vara district, the south portion of Market street, into larger streets and larger blocks.


At the time of O’Farrell surveys, 1847, the population of San Francisco was 459, which did not include soldiers or inhabitants of the Mission Dolores. Gold was discovered in California in January, 1848, when the population of San Francisco increased by leaps and bounds. On October 14, 1849, the City Council ordered Eddy to extend the survey to Larkin street, north of Post street, and south of Post street to Leavenworth and Eighth streets. One hundred-vara lots sold for $500 and 50-vara lots for $200.

In 1850 franchise was granted for a plank wagon road from California and Kearny streets to Fifteenth street by way of Mission street to the Mission Dolores. By an act of the Legislature passed March 11, 1858, the city relinquished all claims to lands west of Larkin and Ninth streets to those persons and their successors who had been in actual possession thereof from January 1, 1855, to June 30, 1855.


The city of San Francisco, inheriting its rights as a Spanish Pueblo, was entitled to four leagues of land for municipal uses. The southern boundary line of the pueblo land was finally determined by the United States Government, and ran in an east and west direction between the ocean and the bay, just a little north of Sloat boulevard.

Contests were maintained between private squatters who preempted this land and the city authorities, and it was not until October 15, 1866, when Supervisors R. P. Clement, Frank McCoppin and Charles H. Stanyan were made members of the Outside Lands Committee of the Board of Supervisors, that George C. Potter and William P. Humphreys were employed as City and County Surveyors to complete a map of the region, with the provision that no claim should be delineated unless taxes were paid for five years previously.


On May 3, 1869, contract was awarded to Humphreys & Potter for the sum of $19,900, “since which time they have been steadily at work and have up to this date (November 1, 1869), completed the surveys, lines have been run, 600 small monuments of iron and stone have been set, and grade and monument maps completed.”

On July 20, 1868, the final map was approved by the board and confirmed by Mayor McCoppin on July 24, 1868. Said map has become and is, by virtue of the provisions of Ordinance No. 800, and act of the Legislature ratifying the same, the official map of said lands and the lands set forth for public uses as drawn, shown and delineated. The appraisal of all the outside lands amounted to $12,087,306, and the following lands were included in parks, being 1376.55 acres:
Acres Value
1 Main park 1,013.00 $801, 593
1 Haight Park 36.22 88,250
3 Public squares 15.53 12,025
1 Cemetery 200.00 127,465
1 Mountain lake 19.93 19,930
1 County Hospital 9.34 68,607
1 County Jail 1.37 2,730
1 City Hall and Library 2.92 35,423
1 Asylum for foundlines 3.30 6,600
1 Home for vet. soldiers 0.82 1,462
1 Home for inebriates 0.82 2,100
1 Woman's Hospital 0.81 5,500
1 Ladies' Relief 0.82 1,283
1 Academy of Sciences 0.86 3,200
91 School lots 63.21 115,077
  32 Engline lots        2.31          5,700
139 Total 1,376.46 $1,296,967

The rate of assessment upon the outside lands being fixed at 10.73 per cent upon each $100 of valuation.


Those men originated the idea of Golden Gate Park and projected visions of the future in the following flowery language: “The magnificent and for many miles extended frontage upon the ocean beach, which San Francisco possesses upon the Pacific shore, is believed to be unsurpassed elsewhere, and it may be said by those who have looked upon or listened to the unceasing waves as they roll and break upon its sands, that in primitive sublimity and majestic grandeur it is unequaled in the world.

“Therefore, with such natural advantages, when there shall be provided the adjunct of a grand park similar in purpose and design to those established in the eastern cities and in Europe, the future dwellers in San Francisco will give deserved credit to those who faithfully and diligently, strove to entail such a benefaction upon them.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 3 December 1933. C5.

Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License