San Francisco History

Street Names

The Making and Naming Of the Streets of San Francisco.

by Samuel L. Lupton.

Prior to the year 1835 the few ships that came into the bay of San Francisco usually anchored opposite the Presidio at Black Point, at North Point or at Sausalito. The latter was inconvenient and the anchorage of the others was unsafe. In consequence thereof, vessels began to seek the shelter and better anchorage found off what was known as Yerba Buena Cove, and the shipmasters petitioned Governor Figueroa to establish a port of entry there. This petition was favorably considered and as a consequence the town site of Yerba Buena, of which San Francisco is the successor, was laid out at the head of the cove in the latter part of October, 1835, by Francisco de Haro, an Alcalde residing at the Mission Dolores.

He did so by marking upon the ground a simple street called La Calle de la Fundacion, or Foundation street. It started from a point near the present corner of Kearny and Pine streets and ran in a northeasterly direction toward North Beach, having Telegraph Hill at one end and sand hills at the other.

The place was then declared to be a port of entry, and Captain William A. Richardson, who had arrived in California in 1823, and had become a naturalized citizen of Mexico, was made captain of the port. He had been acting as agent of a couple of schooners that were engaged in carrying on a desultory trade up and down the sea coast. He made a rough sketch of the location, and having brought over his family from Sausalito, where he had long resided, fixed his residence on the side hill near where Dupont street now is, between Clay and Washington streets. His house, being a combination of house and tent, was the first one located in the future city and he and his family were the first residents.

A year later, in 1836, the village contained in the neighborhood of thirty or forty houses, located in the sandhills around the present plaze.

In 1839, Governor Alvarado directed a survey to be made of the place, and Jose Castro, the prefect of the district, employed for that purpose Jean J. Vioget, who in November of that year surveyed and platted out the village of Yerba Buena, included between the present Broadway, Montgomery, Powell and California streets.

He did not, however, name any of the streets, nor did Richardson do so on his rough sketch.

On the 9th day of July, 1846, Commander John B. Montgomery, of the United States sloop of war Portsmouth, with seventy seamen and marines under command of Lieutenant Watson, took possession of the village and raised the United States flag.

He appointed a naval officer, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, Alcalde of the place, the first under United States authority. In September Bartlett was elected to the position which he held until February, 1847. This was not the Washington Bartlett who was many years afterward elected Governor of the State.

When Lieutenant Bartlett ended his career as Alcalde he resumed his position as an officer of the Navy and sailed away, never afterward to have any connection with the history of the city or State.

Bartlett, as Alcalde, employed a civil engineer named Jasper O’Farrell, who in 1845 had been in the military service with General John A. Sutter, to enlarge the old Vioget survey of 1839. O’Farrell took the present corner of Kearny and Washington streets as his starting point and enlarged the survey as far as North Beach, and west as far as Taylor street. He laid out Market street as the future main thoroughfare, corresponding in direction with Mission street, the road to the Mission Dolores, which, on account of the prevailing sandhills and salt marsh, was the only road at that time leading out of the city. The survey south of Market street ran on Second and Third streets as far as South Beach, and on Market street as far as Fifth street, leaving out the swamps or marsh south and west of Mission and Fourth streets.

O’Farrell named all the streets embraced in his survey, and laid down on his map and numbered the fifty vara lots between Taylor and Post streets and the bay.

In the following year, 1847, by direction of Alcalde Edwin Bryant, O’Farrell also laid off, surveyed and mapped the beach and water lot property lying between Montgomery and East streets, Telegraph Hill and Rincon Hill.

In the meantime, however, Alcalde Bartlett had by proclamation dated January 19, 1847, changed the name of the village of Yerba Buena  (meaning a good herb) to that of San Francisco, and by that name it was finally, on April 15, 1850, chartered as a city by the State Legislature, the boundaries thereof being Webster and Sixteenth streets and the bay.

An Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, with power to frame municipal laws and to appoint necessary town officers, was established in August, 1847, by order of Governor Mason.

In December, 1849, Sansome street was opened to Bush street, Bush to Market, and First to Folsom, $5000 toward the purpose being raised by private subscription.

At the time the United States forces took possession of Yerba Buena, in 1846, there were about 300 inhabitants scattered about the sandhills. Small settlements had for a long time prior thereto existed at the Mission Dolores and at the Presidio, but they formed no part of the village of Yerba Buena. They did not fully become a part of San Francisco until 1856, when the act of the Legislature consolidating the city and county went into operation.

In February, 1849, the population of San Francisco was estimated at 2000. It rapidly increased thereafter.

Early in 1850 William M. Eddy was elected City Surveyor by the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, and directed to complete the survey of San Francisco. He completed the survey of the city between Larkin and Ninth streets and the bay, and mapped the fifty-vara and 100-vara lots not platted by O’Farrell. At this time many people thought, on the account of the prevailing high hills and the valleys, that the streets north of Market street should have been laid out in terraces around the hills instead of at right angles as they exist at present, believing it to be impossible to establish grades as they are now.

No effort had ever been made to improve in any way any of the streets laid down on the maps up to the winter of 1849-50, when their condition was so bad that even horses could not safely pass over parts of the most used of them.

A movement was therefore made for their improvement in the spring of 1850, and a few of them were graded and planked for one or two squares. When private enterprise made the improvement a toll gate was erected and toll collected, as was done on Kearny street near Post, and on Mission street, and afterward on Folsom street.

When the land overflowed by the tide, and lying between Montgomery and East streets, the line of low water mark, was surveyed and laid off in streets and lots, the streets were extended from time to time, often on piles driven into the bay and then planked over, and wharves were extended in the same manner from them. Many houses were built there on the same foundation. These lots and streets were not all filled up and stone substituted for the street planking for many years afterward. It was not until the seawall was finally built that the ebb and flow of the tide was shut off from them. The only cobblestones obtainable at the time had to be brought from the Sacramento River.

About 1859 David Hewes with his so-called “steam paddy” and sand cars on a temporary movable railroad track removed the sand hills on and immediately north of Market street and filled up the swamps or marsh south of Market street, making a very marked change in that part of the city.

The following is believed to be a correct statement in regard to the persons after whom the streets of the city were named:

KEARNY STREET—Originally known as “La Calle de la Fundacion,” or the foundation street, was named after General Stephen W. Kearny, a native of New Jersey, and a veteran of the war of 1812. He had been colonel of the First United States Dragoons, and during the Mexican war was ordered to march with his troops and Doniphan’s Missouri regiment across the plains from Missouri, and conquer and take possession of New Mexico, and then proceed to California and conquer or take possession of it. Having taken possession of New Mexico he reached California December 2, 1846, acting under direct orders from Secretary of War William L. Marcy. He afterward fought the battles of San Pasquale, San Bernardino, San Gabriel and the Mesa, near Los Angeles. He was the son-in-law of Clark of Lewis and Clark, who first crossed the continent to the Pacific in the famous Oregon exploration. When he reached California, Commodore Stockton, who had arrived in Monterey August 15, 1846, and had then succeeded Commodore Sloat in command, was at San Diego, and claimed to be in supreme command of all the military and naval forces of the Untied States in California. He had been acting in conjunction with Colonel John C. Fremont and designed to make him military governor. Kearny, however, repudiated Stockton’s claim and was sustained by the authorities at Washington. Stockton then turned his command over to Commodore Shubrick and went east across the plains. Kearny then became the first military governor of California under United States authority. Not a great while afterward he returned east through New Mexico, taking with him Colonel John C. Fremont, whom he had placed under arrest for insubordination.

Some persons suppose this street was named after Phil Kearney, who was a major during the Mexican war and was for a while stationed at Sonoma. He was a general in the civil war. This fact often leads to the misspelling of the name. Governor and General Kearny spelled his name with one e, while Phil Kearney spelled his with two. The proper spelling is Kearny. This street was once widened twenty feet from Market street to Broadway.

MONTGOMERY STREET was named after Commander John B. Montgomery of the United States sloop of war Portsmouth, and whose marines and sailors took possession of Yerba Buena, July 9, 1846, and raised the flag on the plaza, which was afterward known as Portsmouth Square.

WASHINGTON, JACKSON, TAYLOR, FILLMORE, PIERCE and BUCHANAN STREETS and GRANT AVENUE were named after Presidents of the United States.

HARRISON STREET—Some persons suppose this street was named after General William Henry Harrison, President of the United States, but it is altogether more probable that it was named after Henry A. Harrison, who was a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, in 1849-50, and a member of the pioneer mercantile firm of DeWitt & Harrison.

JEFFERSON STREET—This street, running from Black Point to the Presidio and near the bay, is the only one named after the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.

MISSION STREET—was originally the only road out to the Mission Dolores and to Santa Clara and San Jose. It went partly through a swamp, considered to be unpassable for vehicles. Charles L. Wilson and his associates obtained the right to build a tollroad to the Mission. They leveled or graded Kearny street to Market, made a road along Third street to Market, made a road along Third street to Mission, then out Mission street to Sixteenth. Where necessary they filled up the swamp or marsh and planked the street. The tollgate was place at Kearny and Post streets, but was shortly afterward removed to Mission street. The street was finally macadamized. To prevent opposition they also improved Folsom street and placed a tollgate on it. These tollgates remained for many years, until cross streets, opened from time to time, enabled people to avoid the tollgates, notwithstanding they were from time to time moved to prevent such being done.

MARKET STREET—Supposed to be so-called after Market street in either Philadelphia or Baltimore, or both, though about the time this one was named the latter was changed to Baltimore street. This street took its present direction because it was laid out parallel to Mission street. Sand hills fifty or more feet high stood on it from Kearny street west up until about 1859 or 1860.

VAN NESS AVENUE—After James Van Ness, a native of New York. He was Mayor and Recorder (Police Judge) at the time the consolidation act went into operation in 1856. He, as Mayor, approved the Van Ness ordinance, so-called, by which the city surrendered to the actual settlers the lands within the pueblo west of Larkin street.

GEARY STREET—After John W. Geary, a native of Pennsylvania, a graduate of Jefferson College. By profession he was a civil engineer. He commanded a regiment at Chapultepec, where he was wounded, and was in command of the citadel of Mexico after its capture. He came to San Francisco after the Mexican war. In 1849 he was Postmaster, then Alcalde, and in 1850 was selected the first Mayor of the city. He was afterward Governor of the Territory of Kansas, a brigadier general in the Civil War and twice elected Governor of the State of Pennsylvania between 1867 and 1873. He commanded a division at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Lookout Mountain and in Sherman’s campaign through Georgia in 1864. He and H. H. Haight, afterward Governor of this State, were together with the latter’s father, Fletcher M. Haight, afterward United States District Judge for the southern district of California, in partnership in the practice of law for a short time in the early fifties under the name of Haight & Geary. While Haight was Governor of California Geary was Governor of Pennsylvania.

HAIGHT STREET—After Henry H. Haight, a native of New York, lawyer by profession and Governor of California from 1868 to 1872.

VALLEJO—After Mariano G. Vallejo, a distinguished native Californian, born in Sonoma July, 1808. He was one of the founders of Benicia. He was once State Senator. The town of Vallejo was named after him. He was one of the delegates to the convention that framed the first constitution of this State.

CLAY STREET—Was named after Henry Clay, the distinguished Whig statesman and United States Senator from Kentucky.

WEBSTER STREET—Was named after Daniel Webster, the great Whig statesman and Senator from Massachusetts.

LEIDESDORFF STREET—After William A. Leidesdorff, a well-known business man of very early days; a pioneer of 1840. He was town treasurer and member of the Town Council in 1847. He died in 1848, leaving a large estate.

HYDE STREET—After George Hyde, one of the Alcaldes under the United States Government. Many early grants of lots to settlers were made by him. He returned in after years to Philadelphia, his native city, occasionally, however, paying a visit to this city. He was Alcalde in 1847-48.

LEAVENWORTH—After Dr. T. M. Leavenworth, elected Alcalde August 29, 1849. Peace with Mexico was declared about eighteen days previously, August 11, 1848 [sic]. At this time there were three bodies each claiming to be the only legal Ayuntamiento, or Town Council. In the contest Leavenworth made friends and many enemies. Many lots were granted by him to the early settlers. He removed to and lived many years in Sonoma County.

HOWARD—After W.D.M. Howard, a very prominent, wealthy, and influential business man of early times. He was a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, elected December 27, 1848. He died many years ago. George Howard, a prominent real estate man and one time member of the Legislature from San Mateo County, was a brother. The Howard Presbyterian Church was named after W.D.M. Howard, he having advanced most if not all the funds for building the first church edifice for that congregation. His firm, Mellus & Howard, September 1848, erected the first brick building in San Francisco. It was located at the corner of Montgomery and Clay streets.

FOLSOM STREET—After Joseph L. Folsom, in the quartermaster’s department of the United States army in 1848-49. He built a fine residence on the northwest corner of Second and Folsom streets. He died in the early fifties, leaving a large estate, of which General H.W. Halleck, A.C. Peachy and P.W. Van Winkle were executors. The town of Folsom was named after him.

FREMONT STREET—After Colonel John C. Fremont, an officer of the United States Topographical Engineers and pathfinder across the plains to California in 1844-45-46. He co-operated with the Bear Flag party at Sonoma June 14, 1846. He was the first United States Senator from California; a son-in-law of Thomas H. Benton, the statesman and Senator from Missouri. He was the first candidate of the Republican party for President of the United States. He claimed California at that time as his residence. He is the only candidate California has ever had for the Presidency nominated by either of the leading political parties. He was a general in the army during the Civil War.

BARTLETT STREET—After Washington Bartlett, president of the San Francisco Homestead Union, and who was several times elected County Clerk, was also Mayor of the city and afterward Governor of the State. He died while holding the later office. He was a native of Georgia.

BRODERICK STREET—After David C. Broderick, a native of Washington, D.C. Once State Senator, and afterward United States Senator. While holding the latter office a duel between him and David S. Terry, at that time Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State, took place, and resulted in the death of Broderick. At some time for a short period he controlled the politics of the State, securing his own election to the United States Senate, and dictating the election of his colleague.

BRANNAN STREET—Was named after Samuel Brannan, a native of Maine, who came to San Francisco in 1846. By trade he was a printer, and on January 9, 1847, he issued the first number of the California Star, the first newspaper ever published in San Francisco. He was a very active, enterprising and influential citizen, a large, real estate owner, and at one time considered to be a very wealthy man. One of several of the first fine buildings erected in the city was one erected by him and recently torn down to make place for Alvinza Hayward’s new building at the corner of California and Montgomery streets.

BRENHAM PLACE—After Charles J. Brenham of the pioneer firm of Sanders & Brenham. He was elected Mayor of the city November 2, 1852.

DUPONT STREET—After Commodore Samuel F. DuPont of the United States navy.

STOCKTON STREET—After Commodore Richard F. Stockton of the United States navy. The United States flag was raised at Monterey July 7, 1846. Stockton arrived at Monterey August 15, 1846, and assumed command, as successor of Commodore Sloat, of all the United States forces on shore as well as at sea. On the 22d of August, 1846, he issued a proclamation as military commander and Governor, declaring California to be a part of the United States, and ordering an election for Alcaldes and municipal officers where such existed, to take place September 15, 1846. As naval officer he was succeeded by Commodore Shubrick and on land by General Stephen W. Kearny. He was a native of New Jersey.

POWELL STREET—Said to be named after Doctor Powell of the United States sloop of war Warren, Captain Hull.

JONES STREET—Doctor Elbert P. Jones was editor of the California Star, the pioneer newspaper of San Francisco, issued January 7, 1847 [sic]. He was a member of the Town Council in 1847. It is believed this street was named after him.

LARKIN STREET—This street was named after Thomas O. Larkin, who came to California in 1836 and was the United States Consul at Monterey when the United States took possession. He was a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, of this city, being elected thereto December 27, 1848. He was also a member of the convention that framed the first constitution of the State in September, 1849. He was one of the founders of the town of Benicia. He lived many years with his family on Stockton street, near Pacific, in one of a row of three houses built there.

O’FARRELL STREET—After Jasper O’Farrell, a civil engineer, who made the first survey of the city under United States authority, and mapped the streets and laid out the plan of the fifty and most of the hundred vara lots.

MERCHANT STREET—After an early time business man of that name.

SUTTER STREET—After General John A. Sutter, a pioneer settler of 1839 in the Sacramento Valley, where he built a fort. He gave relief and welcomed the immigrants across the plains with open handed hospitality. He rescued the Donner party in 1847. It was while engaged in digging a millrace for him that James W. Marshall discovered the first gold in 1848. Sutter County was also named after him. He was a member of the State convention that framed the first State constitution in 1849. He died in the town of Liditz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, having lost his wealth.

VER MEHR PLACE—After the Rev. Dr. Ver Mehr, a pioneer Episcopal minister.

POST STREET—After Gabriel B. Post, a very prominent and influential merchant in the fifties and later. He was elected a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, August 1, 1849. In his time he was one of the leaders in public movements.

BRYANT STREET—After Edwin Bryant, a pioneer of 1846. He came across the plains from Independence, Missouri, and joined Fremont’s volunteers. He was the successor of Washington A. Bartlett as Alcalde, by appointment, February 22, 1847.

TOWNSEND STREET—After Dr. John Townsend, who was elected a member and president of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, December 27, 1848.

CAPP STREET—After C.S. Capp, the real estate agent, one time Deputy County Clerk. He was secretary of the San Francisco Homestead Union, the first homestead association formed in this city. The street runs through the lands of the association. He is a native of Philadelphia and a pioneer of 1849.

SHOTWELL STREET—After J.M. Shotwell, once cashier of Alsop & Co.’s Bank and secretary of the Merchant’s Exchange. He was treasurer of the San Francisco Homestead Union.

SHRADER STREET—After A.J. Shrader, a Supervisor from 1865 to 1873.

STANYAN—After Charles H. Stanyan, a Supervisor from 1866 to 1869.

MASON STREET—After General Richard B. Mason, one time colonel of the First United States Dragoons. He commanded the United States troops in California during a portion of the Mexican War. May 3, 1847, he became the fourth Military Governor of California, while General H.W. Halleck, then a captain, became Secretary of State under him.

EDDY STREET—After William M. Eddy who was elected City Surveyor by the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, in 1850. He completed the survey of the city between Larkin and Ninth streets and the bay.

ELLIS STREET—After A.J. Ellis, a prominent business man for many years. He was a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, of 1849-50, and a member of the convention that framed the State constitution in September, 1849, and once a member of the State Legislature.

BLUXOME STREET—After Isaac G. Bluxome, a well known and popular business man of early times.

BAKER STREET—After E.D. Baker, who was a colonel in the Mexican War. He was from Illinois, from which State he had been Congressman. He practiced law in this city for many years and was afterward elected United States Senator from Oregon. An eloquent man, he delivered the Broderick funeral oration. He was killed at Balls Bluff during the Civil War, while holding a commission as major general in the army, although at the time he was a United States Senator, the Senate having adjourned for the session. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

McALLISTER STREET—After the McAllister family, of which Hall McAllister, the distinguished lawyer, was a member. His father, M. Hall McAllister, was the first United States Circuit Judge of this city, and his brother, Cutler McAllister, the first clerk of the Untied States Circuit Court and afterward a partner of Hall in practicing law. Another brother was F. Marion McAllister, an Episcopal minister, who had a church about forty years ago south of Market street, near Third. Another brother, Julian McAllister, was a major in the United States army, ordnance department, and during the Civil War was stationed at Benicia Barracks. Ward McAllister, another brother, left San Francisco and became well known to the “four hundred” of New York City.

HAYES STREET—After Thomas Hayes, who was County Clerk from 1853 to 1856, when the fees went to the Clerk and the office was supposed to be worth $25,000 or more per annum. Under the Van Ness ordinance he became the owner of a large tract of land known as Hayes Valley, through which this street ran.

NOE STREET—After Jose de Jesus Noe, an Alcalde at the Mission in 1842.

WEBB STREET—After S.P. Webb, Mayor of the city in 1854.

GUERRERO STREET—After Francisco Guerrero, who was born at the Mission Dolores and was Alcalde there in 1840-42.

DE HARO STREET—After Francisco de Haro, once an Alcalde.

CASTRO STREET—After Jose Castro, once a prefect of this district.

VALENCIA STREET—After a native family living in that neighborhood.

WALLER STREET—After R.H. Waller, a lawyer of early times, elected City Recorder (Police Judge) in 1851, and also in 1854. His nephew, George Waller, who was connected with him in business, was for a time a notary.

TURK STREET—After Frank Turk, a native of New York, lawyer, second Alcalde, Secretary of Ayuntamiento, Clerk of Councils and later a notary public. A well-known citizen of early times.

TREAT AVENUE—After George Treat, an early settler on the Treat tract in that neighborhood.

STEVENSON STREET—After Colonel D. Stevenson. His was the first regiment that landed in San Francisco during the Mexican War. It was recruited in New York City. Many of its members became well-known citizens, some still living here. Stevenson practiced law here for many years, was one time Shipping Commissioner and later notary public. He was over 80 years of age when he died. He landed in San Francisco March 6, 1847.

BUSH STREET—Possibly after Dr. Bush, a well-known physician of early times.

STEUART STREET—After Colonel William Spruce Steuart, a member of the Ayuntamiento for a short time in 1849.

STEINER STREET—Supposed to be after a business man of that name.

SANCHEZ STREET—After Francisco Sanchez, an Alcalde in 1843.

SCOTT—After General Winfield Scott, commander in chief of the United States army during the Mexican War and the last candidate of the Whig party for President of the United States.

SANSOME STREET—After a merchant who seems to have been more of a business man of Boston or New York than San Francisco.

BATTERY STREET—The Federal Government once made a reservation at North Point and established a battery there, which fact gave the name to this street. The reservation was subsequently abandoned.

SPEAR STREET—After Nathan Spear, who moved from Monterey to San Francisco as a merchant about 1841.

BEALE STREET—After Edward F. Beale, a lieutenant in the navy. He lived many years in the southern part of the State. Was one time United States Surveyor General for California. Was afterward United States Minister to Austria, or some other European court.

DRUMM STREET—After Lieutenant Drumm of the army. Supposed to be the same person who was adjutant of this department during the Civil War, and subsequently adjutant general of the United States army, residing at Washington.

DAVIS STREET—W.H. Davis, a pioneer of 1831 and a member of the Ayuntamiento in 1849-50, and who still lives in this city, says this street was named after him.

PAGE STREET—After Robert C. Page, a clerk to the Board of Assistant Alderman of Common Councils from 1851 to 1854. He was afterward in the real estate business.

PERALTA AVENUE—After a native family.

FRANKLIN STREET—Supposed by some to be named after Benjamin Franklin, but probably after Selim Franklin, a pioneer merchant, or Dr. E.C. Franklin, a pioneer.

GOUGH STREET—After Charles H. Gough, a pioneer and member of the Board of Aldermen of Common Councils in 1855. Horace Hawes, C.H. Gough and Michael Hayes were authorized to lay out the streets in the Western Addition. There were two brothers of the Goughs, Charley and Harry, who were twins. It was not easy to tell one from the other. They were contractors. Another brother, Thomas Gough, was a lawyer and once District Attorney of San Mateo County. At one time he was a partner of Tully R. Wise, under the firm name of Wise & Gough, in the practice of the law. Another brother, Dorsey, was also a lawyer and was a Deputy County Clerk under Thomas Reynolds. They were natives of Maryland. Thomas and Dorsey were graduates of Dickinson College.

GREEN STREET—After Talbot H. Green, who was elected a member of the Ayuntamiento, or Town Council, August 1849.

LAGUNA STREET—After a lake which once existed near its northern end, about half a mile south of Black Point, and which was known as Washerwomen’s Lagoon, where in early times most of the washing of the people of the city was done by women of various nationalities and Chinamen.

LYON STREET—Was named after General Lyon, who, early in the Civil War, fell in Missouri while bravely leading his troops.

CORBETT AVENUE—Formerly Corbett road, was named after a pioneer family in that neighborhood. John C. Corbett, a son was Deputy County Clerk under Thomas Hayes in 1855-56, and still lives in that locality.

Source: San Francisco Call. 8 September 1901. 5 and 7 (Magazine Section).

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