San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



SEPTEMBER.—The first “Directory” of the city was published this month by Charles P. Kimball. It was a duodecimo pamphlet of one hundred and thirty-six pages, and contained about twenty-five hundred names.

SEPTEMBER 7th.—There have been during the last few days a monetary crisis and great run upon the banks; when one of them, Mr. Henry M. Naglee’s, suspended payment to-day. During the troublous and exciting winter of 1849-50, speculation had gone beyond all bounds both in every kind of merchandise and in real estate. When the reaction came, prices fell nearly as much below the prime cost of goods as previously they had been above it, and in many cases great quantities of valuable merchandise could be had at nominal rates. Real estate, when forced on the market, often did not fetch a tenth of its recent value. Added to this sudden collapse of prices, three great fires had helped to ruin many, and had affected indeed every inhabitant of the city in some measure prejudicially. Thus a general financial embarrassment ensued, and numerous bankruptcies of people previously reputed wealthy followed. Some of the most extensive firms of the city were compelled to assign their property for the benefit of their creditors. On a sudden a panic seized those who held deposits in the different banks, and an immediate “run” was made on these establishments. Messrs. Burgoyne & Co., James King of William, and Wells & Co., nobly met the unexpected demand, and kept their doors open during unusual and extra hours to accommodate the half frantic depositors.

SEPTEMBER 17th.—About four o’clock in the morning of this day, fire broke out in the “Philadelphia House,” on the north side of Jackson street, near to the Washington market. It was the fourth great conflagration in the city. The principal portions of the different building squares lying between Dupont, Montgomery, Washington and Pacific streets were overrun by the flames. The buildings erected on these quarters were chiefly of wood, and generally one story only in height; so that, although the space over which the fire extended was very great, much less proportionate damage was sustained than on the occasions of the preceding great fires. The loss was estimated to be from a quarter to half a million of dollars. The newly organized fire companies were of much service in staying the progress of the conflagration, and would have been of still more had there not been a short supply of water. It was evident, however, that the want of a proper head or engineering chief sadly hindered the harmonious action not only of these and the hook and ladder companies, but of every person who volunteered help in extinguishing the flames. As usual, the burned space was so soon afterwards covered with buildings that in a few weeks all external traces of the disaster disappeared. It was remarked at this time that there were certain unlucky individuals whose properties had been consumed on each occasion of the four great fires—all within nine months! Many had suffered twice and thrice by these successive calamities. This surely was enough to try the patience of a modern Job, and drive the bravest to despair. But in a common calamity, however great, there is such sympathy and consolation, that the mind readily recovers its equanimity. People were almost beginning to consider that such conflagrations could not be avoided, but were surely sent either as a punishment for their wickedness or as a necessary drawback upon the otherwise great profits of general business. So those burned out just set themselves doggedly to work again, and soon reared up new and grander habitations for themselves. Happily indeed does the Phcenix appear on the corporation seal, since, like it, the city was continually reviving and springing from its own ashes a fairer and more substantial thing than before.

SEPTEMBER 26th.—Captain Bezer Simmons, the senior partner of the well-known house of Simmons, Hutchinson & Co., died this day. He was among the most respected citizens of San Francisco, and the earliest business men of the place. His name appears on several occasions in these “Annals,” in connection with subjects of public interest. Captain Simmons was a native of Woodstock, Vt. Some years previous to the cession of California to the American Government he was engaged in trading along the coast of Lower California, and in 1848, purchased property in San Francisco, where he settled, and soon afterwards engaged in extensive and successful business operations. In April, 1849, he was sorely afflicted by the death of his wife, (who was the sister of Frederick Billings, of the law firm of Halleck, Peachy & Billings,) and before the close of the year, he received intelligence of the death of his mother and a brother to whom be was strongly attached. In January, 1851, he repaired to Woodstock, with the remains of his wife, to bury them in her native town. On his return he learned that his business was in an alarming condition, and soon after the firm was declared insolvent. Being exceedingly sensitive, this rapid succession of misfortunes and afflictions were thought to aggravate an indisposition under which he had been for some time suffering, and which consequently terminated his life. His death was considered almost a public calamity, and his body was attended to the grave by an immense concourse of the best portion of the inhabitants of the city.

OCTOBER 22d.—To show the rapid progress of the city in one direction, we shall give a short notice of the state of the wharves in the bay about this time.

CENTRAL WHARF.—So early as the autumn of 1848 the want of a good ship wharf was seriously felt, and different schemes were, in the following winter and spring months, projected to supply the deficiency. It was not, however, till May of 1849, that any active steps were taken in the matter. At that time a proper wharf association was formed, which raised considerable capital, and began operations. By December of the same year, eight hundred feet of the wharf was finished. In the fire of June, 1850, a considerable portion was consumed, but the part destroyed was promptly repaired—even while the smoke of the ruins around continued to ascend. In August following, measures were taken to continue the work; and at the date of this notice, it extended so much as two thousand feet into the bay. This wharf had already cost $180,000; and was of the greatest service to the shipping of the port. Large vessels could lay alongside and discharge at any state of the tide.

MARKET STREET WHARF commenced at the foot of Market street, and had already run out six hundred feet into the bay.

CALIFORNIA STREET WHARF was four hundred feet long and thirty-two feet wide.

HOWISON’S PIER was eleven hundred feet in length, by forty feet in width—the depth of water, at full tide, being fourteen feet at the extremity.

SACRAMENTO STREET WHARF was eight hundred feet in length.

CLAY STREET WHARF was nine hundred feet in length, by forty feet in width; and in another month was extended to eighteen hundred feet.

WASHINGTON STREET WHARF was two hundred and seventy-five feet long.

JACKSON STREET WHARF was five hundred and fifty-two feet in length, with thirteen feet depth of water.

PACIFIC STREET WHARF was already five hundred and twenty-five feet long, and sixty feet wide.

BROADWAY WHARF was two hundred and fifty feet long, and forty feet wide.

CUNNINGHAM’S WHARF was three hundred and seventy-five feet long, and thirty-three feet wide, having a T at its end three hundred and thirty feet long, by thirty feet wide. It had twenty-five feet depth of water at the cross line.

LAW’S WHARF, at the foot of Green street, was likewise in the course of formation; and a wharf, to be seventeen hundred feet in length, was immediately about to be undertaken by the city, on the north beach.

The cost of these various wharves already amounted to nearly a million and a half of dollars; and they provided artificial thoroughfares to the extent of almost two miles. A few of them were the property of the corporation; but the greater number were owned by private companies or by individuals, who drew large returns from them. There is little trace left of these works, for the water space along their sides is now covered with houses, while the wharves themselves have become public streets, their future extensions forming the existing wharves and piers of the city. This gradual march across the deep waters of the bay is a peculiar feature in the progress of the city, and serves to liken it to those other queens of the sea, Venice and Amsterdam, and perhaps also to St. Petersburgh. But where the latter have canals for streets, and solid earth now beneath their first pile-founded buildings, San Francisco, over a great portion of its business and most valuable districts, has still only a vast body of tidal water, beneath both the plank-covered streets and the pile-founded houses themselves. Year by year, however, this strange watery abyss is being filled up by the removal of the sand hills behind, which may be said to be taken up and cast bodily into the deep. When the original wharves were erected they proved of the utmost benefit to the commerce and prosperity of the city; and their extent, as detailed above, shows in a striking manner the energy and enterprise of the people who had constructed them in so short a space of time.

OCTOBER 29th.—This day was set apart to celebrate the admission of California into the Union. When, on the 18th instant, the mail steamer “Oregon” was entering the bay, she fired repeated preconcerted signal guns which warned the citizens of the glorious news. Immediately the whole of the inhabitants were afoot, and grew half wild with excitement until they heard definitely that the tidings were as they had expected. Business of almost every description was instantly suspended, the courts adjourned in the midst of their work, and men rushed from every house into the streets and towards the wharves, to hail the harbinger of the welcome news. When the steamer rounded Clark’s Point and came in front of the city, her masts literally covered with flags and signals, a universal shout arose from ten thousand voices on the wharves, in the streets, upon the hills, house-tops, and the world of shipping in the bay. Again and again were huzzas repeated, adding more and more every moment to the intense excitement and unprecedented enthusiasm. Every public place was soon crowded with eager seekers after the particulars of the news, and the first papers issued an hour after the appearance of the Oregon were sold by the newsboys at from one to five dollars each. The enthusiasm increased as the day advanced. Flags of every nation were run up on a thousand masts and peaks and staffs, and a couple of large guns placed upon the plaza were constantly discharged. At night every public thoroughfare was crowded with the rejoicing populace. Almost every large building, all the public saloons and places of amusement were brilliantly illuminated—music from a hundred bands assisted the excitement—numerous balls and parties were hastily got up—bonfires blazed upon the hills, and rockets were incessantly thrown into the air, until the dawn of the following day. Many difficulties had occurred to delay this happy event, and the people had become sick at heart with the “hope deferred” of calling themselves, and of being in reality citizens of the great American Union. It is only necessary to state here, without going into particulars, that the delay had arisen from the jealousy of the proslavery party in Congress, at a time when they and the abolitionists were nicely balanced in number, to admit an additional free State into the Union, whereby so many more votes would be given against the peculiar and obnoxious “domestic institution” of the South. Several compromises had been occasionally attempted to be effected by statesmen of each great party, but without success. In the end, however, the bill for the admission of California passed through Congress by large majorities.

Such an occasion beyond all others demanded a proper celebration at San Francisco; and the citizens, accordingly, one and all, united to make the day memorable. On the 29th instant, a procession of the various public bodies and inhabitants of the city, with appropriate banners, devices, music and the like, marched through the principal streets to the plaza. The Chinese turned out in large numbers on this occasion, and formed a striking feature in the ceremonies of the day. The Honorable Nathaniel Bennett, of the Supreme Court, delivered a suitable oration to the people on the plaza, and an ode, composed for the occasion by Mrs. Wills, was sung by a full choir. During the day repeated discharges of fire-arms and a proper salute from great guns carried off some of the popular excitement, while the shipping displayed innumerable flags. In the evening, public bonfires and fireworks were exhibited from Telegraph Hill, Rincon Point, and the islands in the bay. The houses were likewise brilliantly illuminated, and the rejoicings were every where loudly continued during the night. Some five hundred gentlemen and three hundred ladies met at the grandest public ball that had yet been witnessed in the city, and danced and made merry, till daylight, in the pride and joy of their hearts that California was truly now the thirty-first State of the Union.

On this day (October 29th), the steamer “Sagamore” exploded, when about to leave the wharf for Stockton. Thirty or forty persons were killed.

OCTOBER 31st.—Destruction by fire of the City Hospital, which was situated at the head of Clay street, and owned by Dr. Peter Smith. This was supposed to have been the work of an incendiary. The fire broke out in an adjoining house, which was also consumed. Several of the patients were severely burned, and it was only by the most strenuous exertions of the firemen and citizens that they were saved at all.

NOVEMBER.—We have already noticed the progress that had been made in the erection of wharves, and we may now direct attention to the important steps that had been taken in grading, planking and otherwise improving the streets of the city. During the summer of this year, the care of the mayor and common council had been particularly turned towards the improvements of the communications through the town, and many ordinances had been passed with that view. Considerable hills had consequently been cut down and immense hollows filled up. Great quantities of rock and sand were removed, from places where they were only nuisances, to other quarters where they became of use in removing the natural irregularities of the ground, and making all smooth and level. Piles were driven deep in the earth where needed, the principal streets were substantially planked, and commodious sewers formed. The cost of these improvements was very great, it being estimated that nearly half a million of dollars would be required this year to complete those now in operation. The city paid about one-third of that amount, and raised the remainder by assessment upon the parties whose properties faced the streets which were altered. To show the extent of these improvements, we give the following lists of the streets in which they were now being executed. Those running north and south were as follows: —

Battery street between Market and California—graded and planked.
Sansome street between Bush and Broadway—graded and planked.
Montgomery street between California and Broadway—graded and planked, and sewer.
Kearny  street between California and Broadway—graded and planked, and sewer.
Dupont street between Sacramento and Broadway—graded and planked, and sewer.
Stockton street between Clay and Water—graded and planked.
Ohio street between Broadway and Pacific—graded and planked.
Taylorstreet between Lombard and Water—graded and planked.

Those running east and west were as follows:

Bush street, between Battery and Montgomery—graded and planked.
California street between bulkhead and Montgomery—graded and planked, and sewer.
Sacramento street between Sansome and Dupont—graded and planked, and sewer.
Clay street between bulkhead and Stockton—graded and planked, and sewer.
Washington street between bulkhead and Dupont—graded and planked, and sewer.
Jackson street between bulkhead and Dupont—graded and planked, and sewer.
Pacific street between Kearny and Dupont—graded and planked, and sewer.
Broadway street between Water and Ohio—graded and planked.
Francisco street between Water and Stockton—graded and planked.

Thus the municipal authorities were taking precautions to remove, before the rainy season commenced, as many as possible of the obstacles, which, during the preceding winter, had rendered the streets nearly impassable.

NOVEMBER 18th.—This day an ordinance regarding the plank-road to the Mission Dolores, and which had previously been carried in the Board of Assistant Aldermen by a two-third vote, passed the Board of Aldermen by a constitutional majority, notwithstanding certain objections of the mayor and his consequent veto. The mission, which is situated two and a quarter miles from the plaza, was a place of common resort for the citizens, but the road to it being sandy, was difficult of travel, especially for vehicles. Owing to this cause, the cost of carriage was very great. A load of hay, for instance, moved from the mission to the city, cost as much as fifteen or twenty dollars. The same way likewise led to San José, the capital of the State. It was therefore of considerable public importance that this road should be speedily improved. In the summer of this year, Colonel Charles L. Wilson conceived the plan of laying a plank-road from Kearny street to the mission, and presented a proposition to that effect to the Common Council. He offered to build the road, which, at that time, was considered a tremendous enterprise, in consequence of the high price of lumber and labor, on condition that he was allowed to collect certain rates of toll from those using it, and that he should have the exclusive right of the way for the term of ten years, at the expiring of which time the entire improvements were to revert to the city. An ordinance to grant Col. Wilson the privileges he asked, readily passed one of the boards of aldermen, but it was a long while before it obtained the concurrence of the other; and not even then until it was so modified that seven years only were allowed the projector for the use of the road, and but five months granted him for completion of the work. The importance of the undertaking was admitted on all sides; and the chief opposition to it was based upon the assumption that the city should rather make it at its own expense and reap the large profits which it was supposed would be the result. This, however, at that period, was impossible, the city being upwards of a million and a half of dollars in debt, and without the slightest prospect of being able for years to defray its unavoidable current expenses.

Beach of Yerba Buena Cove, Winter of 1849-50, from Central Wharf to Happy Valley.Having obtained the consent of the council, Col. Wilson next met with a formidable obstacle in rather an unexpected quarter. The mayor, after retaining the ordinance the full length of time allowed him, returned it unapproved. Notwithstanding, the council again adopted it with almost a unanimous vote. Still, the veto of the mayor affected the enterprise unfavorably to a considerable extent. Several parties, who had previously engaged to furnish funds for the work, now became alarmed as to the legality of the council’s procedure, and withheld their promised aid. Col. Wilson was therefore left alone, to abandon altogether his weighty project, or to carry it on unassisted. He determined upon the latter course, and although without any definite idea of the source from whence the means were to be obtained, commenced the work. Having proceeded far enough to give a guarantee for the completion of the project, he visited the capital, and obtained from the legislature an act confirming the ordinance of the city council. This renewed confidence in the measure. A half interest in the undertaking was immediately sold, and funds were thus obtained for carrying it on. Upon the very last day allowed under the ordinance for completion of the work, loaded wagons passed on the road from the mission to the town.

This plank-road has proved of the greatest service to San Francisco, and the property through which it passes has increased immensely in value for building purposes. Formerly that property was at times nearly inaccessible, and on all occasions was very difficult and troublesome to reach; while it is now of comparatively easy access. Since the formation of this plank-way, another road of the same kind has likewise been formed to the mission, upon similar terms granted by the council to the projectors; and both are believed to have proved highly lucrative schemes to their spirited proprietors.

NOVEMBER 27th.—Hon. Harden Bigelow, Mayor of Sacramento City, died this morning at the Union Hotel. He had taken an active part in suppressing the squatter riots at Sacramento, when he received a gun-shot wound which required the amputation of an arm. The operation was performed by Dr. John Hastings, by whose advice Mr. Bigelow was removed to San Francisco, believing the climate of that city would conduce toward effecting a more rapid recovery from the effects of the injury. While here he was attacked with cholera, which caused his death. His body was conveyed to the steamboat New World, to be taken to Sacramento for burial, by an escort composed of the California Guard, the mayor, members of the Common Council, heads of departments of the city, and the Society of California Pioneers. Mayor Geary delivered a very appropriate address on the occasion, in which the many excellent traits in the character of the deceased were depicted in a most affecting manner.

NOVEMBER 30th.—A thanksgiving-day for the admission of California into the Union.

DECEMBER 14th.—On the evening of this day a fire broke out in an iron building on Sacramento street, below Montgomery street. Several large stores and much valuable goods were destroyed. The total damage was estimated at about a million of dollars. Elsewhere such a fire might well be called a great one; but it was not so reckoned in the “Annals of San Francisco.”

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