We are familiar with the romantic
birth of San Francisco and its precocious childhood;
we are well acquainted with its picturesque background
of Spanish history and the glorious days of ’49;
but I doubt if we are as well informed as to the significant
and perhaps equally important second decade.
It was my fortune to catch a hurried
glance of San Francisco in 1855, when the population
was about forty-five thousand. I was then on the
way from New England to my father’s home in
Humboldt County. I next saw it in 1861 while
on my way to and from attendance at the State Fair.
In 1864 I took up my residence in the city and it
has since been continuous.
That the almost neglected sixties
may have some setting, let me briefly trace the beginnings.
Things moved slowly when America was discovered.
Columbus found the mainland in 1503. Ten years
later Balboa reached the Pacific, and, wading into
the ocean, modestly claimed for his sovereign all
that bordered its shores. Thirty years thereafter
the point farthest west was named Mendocino, for Mendoza,
the viceroy ordering the expedition of Cabrillo and
Ferrelos. Thirty-seven years later came Drake,
and almost found San Francisco Bay. But all these
discoveries led to no occupation. It seems incredible
that two hundred and twenty-six years elapsed from
Cabrillo’s visit to the day the first settlers
landed in San Diego, founding the first of the famous
missions. Historically, 1769 is surely marked.
In this year Napoleon and Wellington were born and
civilized California was founded.
San Francisco Bay was discovered by
a land party. It was August 6, 1775, seven weeks
after the battle of Bunker Hill, that Ayala cautiously
found his way into the bay and anchored the “San
Carlos” off Sausalito. Five days before
the Declaration of Independence was signed Moraga and
his men, the first colonists, arrived in San Francisco
and began getting out the timber to build the fort
at the Presidio and the church at Mission Dolores.
Vancouver, in 1792, poking into an
unknown harbor, found a good landing-place at a cove
around the first point he rounded at his right.
The Spaniards called it Yerba Buena, after the fragrant
running vine that abounded in the lee of the sandhills
which filled the present site of Market Street, especially
at a point now occupied by the building of the Mechanics-Mercantile
Library. There was no human habitation in sight,
nor was there to be for forty years, but friendly welcome
came on the trails that led to the Presidio and the
An occasional whaler or a trader in
hides and tallow came and went, but foreigners were
not encouraged to settle. It was in 1814 that
the first “Gringo” came. In 1820
there were thirteen in all California, three of whom
were Americans. In 1835 William A. Richardson
was the first foreign resident of Yerba Buena.
He was allowed to lay out a street and build a structure
of boards and ship’s sails in the Calle
de Fundación, which generally followed the
lines of the present Grant Avenue. The spot approximates
number 811 of the avenue today. When Dana came
in 1835 it was the only house visible. The following
year Jacob P. Leese built a complete house, and it
was dedicated by a celebration and ball on the Fourth
of July in which the whole community participated.
The settlement grew slowly. In
1840 there were sixteen foreigners. In 1844 there
were a dozen houses and fifty people. In 1845
there were but five thousand people in all the state.
The missions had been disbanded and the Presidio was
manned by one gray-haired soldier. The Mexican
War brought renewed life. On July 9, 1846, Commodore
Sloat sent Captain Montgomery with the frigate “Portsmouth,”
and the American flag was raised on the staff in the
plaza of 1835, since called Portsmouth Square.
Thus began the era of American occupation. Lieutenant
Bartlett was made alcalde, with large powers, in pursuance
of which, on February 27, 1847, he issued a simple
order that the town thereafter be known as San Francisco, and
its history as such began.
The next year gold was discovered.
A sleepy, romantic, shiftless but picturesque community
became wide-awake, energetic, and aggressive.
San Francisco leaped into prominence. Every nation
on earth sent its most ambitious and enterprising
as well as its most restless and irresponsible citizens.
In the last nine months of 1849, seven hundred shiploads
were landed in a houseless town. They largely
left for the mines, but more remained than could be
housed. They lived on and around hulks run ashore
and thousands found shelter in Happy Valley tents.
A population of two thousand at the beginning of the
year was twenty thousand at the end. It was a
gold-crazed community. Everything consumed was
imported. Gold dust was the only export.
From 1849 to 1860, gold amounting
to over six hundred million dollars was produced.
The maximum eighty-one millions was
reached in 1852. The following year showed a
decline of fourteen millions, and 1855 saw a further
decline of twelve millions. Alarm was felt.
At the same ratio of decline, in less than four years
production would cease. It was plainly evident,
if the state were to exist and grow, that other resources
must be developed.
In the first decade there were periods
of great depression. Bank and commercial failures
were very frequent occurrences in 1854. The state
was virtually only six years old but what
wonderful years they had been! In the splendor
of achievement and the glamour of the golden fleece
we lose sight of the fact that the community was so
small. In the whole state there were not more
than 350,000 people, of whom a seventh lived in San
Francisco. There were indications that the tide
of immigration had reached its height. In 1854
arrivals had exceeded departures by twenty-four thousand.
In 1855 the excess dropped to six thousand.
My first view of San Francisco left
a vivid impression of a city in every way different
from any I had ever seen. The streets were planked,
the buildings were heterogeneous some of
brick or stone, others little more than shacks.
Portsmouth Square was the general center of interest,
facing the City Hall and the Post Office. Clay
Street Hill was higher then than now. I know
it because I climbed to its top to call on a boy who
came on the steamer and lived there. There was
but little settlement to the west of the summit.
The leading hotel was the International,
lately opened, on Jackson Street below Montgomery.
It was considered central in location, being convenient
to the steamer landings, the Custom House, and the
wholesale trade. Probably but one building of
that period has survived. At the corner of Montgomery
and California streets stood Parrott’s granite
block, the stone for which was cut in China and assembled
in 1852 by Chinese workmen imported for the purpose.
It harbored the bank of Page, Bacon & Co., and has
been continuously occupied, surviving an explosion
of nitroglycerine in 1866 (when Wells, Fargo & Co.
were its tenants) as well as the fire of 1906.
Wilson’s Exchange was in Sansome Street near
Sacramento. The American Theater was opposite.
Where the Bank of California stands there was a seed
store. On the northeast corner of California
and Sansome streets was Bradshaw’s zinc grocery
The growth of the city southward had
already begun. The effort to develop North Beach
commercially had failed. Meiggs’ Wharf was
little used; the Cobweb Saloon, near its shore end,
was symbolic. Telegraph Hill and its semaphore
and time-ball were features of business life.
It was well worth climbing for the view, which Bayard
Taylor pronounced the finest in the world.
At this time San Francisco monopolized
the commerce of the coast. Everything that entered
California came through the Golden Gate, and it nearly
all went up the Sacramento River. It was distinctly
the age of gold. Other resources were not considered.
This all seemed a very insecure basis for a permanent
state. That social and political conditions were
threatening may be inferred when we recall that 1856
brought the Vigilance Committee. In 1857 came
the Fraser River stampede. Twenty-three thousand
people are said to have left the city, and real-estate
values suffered severely.
In 1860 the Pony Express was established,
bringing “the States,” as the East was
generally designated, considerably nearer. It
took but ten and a half days to St. Louis, and thirteen
to New York, with postage five dollars an ounce.
Steamers left on the first and fifteenth of the month,
and the twenty-eighth and fourteenth were religiously
observed as days for collection. No solvent man
of honor failed to settle his account on “steamer
The election of Lincoln, followed
by the threat of war, was disquieting, and the large
southern element was out of sympathy with anything
like coercion. But patriotism triumphed.
Early in 1861 a mass meeting was held at the corner
of Montgomery and Market streets, and San Francisco
pledged her loyalty.
In November, 1861, I attended the
State Fair at Sacramento as correspondent for the
Humboldt Times. About the only impression
of San Francisco on my arrival was the disgust I felt
for the proprietor of the hotel at which I stopped,
when, in reply to my eager inquiry for war news, he
was only able to say that he believed there had been
some fighting somewhere in Virginia. This to
one starving for information after a week’s
abstinence was tantalizing.
After a week of absorbing interest,
in a fair that seemed enormously important and impressive,
I timed my return so as to spend Sunday in San Francisco,
and it was made memorable by attending, morning and
evening, the Unitarian church, then in Stockton near
Sacramento, and hearing Starr King. He had come
from Boston the year before, proposing to fill the
pulpit for a year, and from the first aroused great
enthusiasm. I found the church crowded and was
naturally consigned to a back seat, which I shared
with a sewing-machine, for it was war-time and the
women were very active in relief work.
The gifted preacher was thirty-seven
years old, but seemed younger. He was of medium
height, had a kindly face with a generous mouth, a
full forehead, and dark, glowing eyes.
In June, 1864, I became a resident
of San Francisco, rejoining the family and becoming
a clerk in the office of the Superintendent of Indian
Affairs. The city was about one-fifth its present
size, claiming a population of 110,000.
I want to give an idea of San Francisco’s
character and life at that time, and of general conditions
in the second decade. It is not easy to do, and
demands the reader’s help and sympathy.
Let him imagine, if he will, that he is visiting San
Francisco for the first time, and that he is a personal
friend of the writer, who takes a day off to show him
the city. In 1864 one could arrive here only
by steamer; there were no railways. I meet my
friend at the gangplank of the steamer on the wharf
at the foot of Broadway. To reach the car on East
Street (now the Embarcadero), we very likely skirt
gaping holes in the planked wharf, exposing the dark
water lapping the supporting piles, and are assailed
by bilge-like odors that escape. Two dejected
horses await us. Entering the car we find two
lengthwise seats upholstered in red plush. If
it be winter, the floor is liberally covered by straw,
to mitigate the mud. If it be summer, the trade
winds are liberally charged with fine sand and infinitesimal
splinters from the planks which are utilized for both
streets and sidewalks. We rattle along East and
intersecting streets until we reach Sansome, upon
which we proceed to Bush, which practically bounds
the business district on the south, thence we meander
by a circuitous route to Laurel Hill Cemetery near
Lone Mountain. A guide is almost necessary.
An incoming stranger once asked the conductor to let
him off at the American Exchange, which the car passed.
He was surprised at the distance to his destination.
At the cemetery end of the line he discovered that
the conductor had forgotten him, but was assured that
he would stop at the hotel on the way back. The
next thing he knew he reached the wharf; the conductor
had again forgotten him. His confidence exhausted,
he insisted on walking, following the track until
he reached the hotel.
In the present instance we alight
from the car when it reaches Montgomery Street, at
the Occidental Hotel, new and attractive, well managed
by a New Yorker named Leland and especially patronized
by army people. We rest briefly and start out
for a preliminary survey. Three blocks to the
south we reach Market Street and gaze upon the outer
edge of the bustling city. Across the magnificently
wide but rude and unfinished street, at the immediate
right, where the Palace Hotel is to stand, we see
St. Patrick’s Church and an Orphan Asylum.
A little beyond, at the corner of Third Street, is
a huge hill of sand covering the present site of the
Glaus Spreckels Building, upon which a steam-paddy
is at work loading flat steam cars that run Mission-ward.
The lot now occupied by the Emporium is the site of
a large Catholic school. At our left, stretching
to the bay are coal-yards, foundries, planing-mills,
box-factories, and the like. It will be years
before business crosses Market Street. Happy
Valley and Pleasant Valley, beyond, are well covered
by inexpensive residences. The North Beach and
South Park car line connects the fine residence district
on and around Rincon Hill with the fine stretches
of northern Stockton Street and the environs of Telegraph
Hill. At the time I picture, no street-cars ran
below Montgomery, on Market Street; traffic did not
warrant it. It was a boundary rather than a thoroughfare.
It was destined to be one of the world’s noted
streets, but at this time the city’s life pulsed
through Montgomery Street, to which we will now return.
Turning from the apparent jumping-off
place we cross to the “dollar side” and
join the promenaders who pass in review or pause to
gaze at the shop windows. Montgomery Street has
been pre-eminent since the early days and is now at
its height. For a long time Clay Street harbored
the leading dry-goods stores, like the City of Paris,
but all are struggling for place in Montgomery.
Here every business is represented Beach,
Roman, and Bancroft, the leading booksellers; Barrett
& Sherwood, Tucker, and Andrews, jewelers; Donohoe,
Kelly & Co., John Sime, and Hickox & Spear, bankers;
and numerous dealers in carpets, furniture, hats,
French shoes, optical goods, etc. Of course
Barry & Patten’s was not the only saloon.
Passing along we are almost sure to see some of the
characters of the day certainly Emperor
Norton and Freddie Coombs (a reincarnated Franklin),
probably Colonel Stevenson, with his Punch-like countenance,
towering Isaac Friedlander, the poor rich Michael Reese,
handsome Hall McAllister, and aristocratic Ogden Hoffman.
Should the fire-bell ring we will see Knickerbocker
No. Five in action, with Chief Scannell and “Bummer”
and “Lazarus,” and perhaps Lillie Hitchcock.
When we reach Washington Street we cross to make a
call at the Bank Exchange in the Montgomery Block,
the largest structure on the street. The “Exchange”
is merely a popular saloon, but it boasts ten billiard
tables and back of the bar hangs the famous picture
of “Samson and Delilah.”
Luncheon being in order we are embarrassed
with riches. Perhaps the Mint restaurant is as
good as the best and probably gives a sight of more
prominent politicians than any other resort; but something
quite characteristic is the daily gathering at Jury’s,
a humble hole-in-the-wall in Merchant Street back
of the Bulletin office.
Four lawyers who like one another,
and like good living as well, have a special table.
Alexander Campbell, Milton Andros, George Sharp, and
Judge Dwinelle will stop first in the Clay Street Market,
conveniently opposite, and select the duck, fish,
or English mutton-chops for the day’s menu.
One of the number bears the choice to the kitchen and
superintends its preparation while the others engage
in shrimps and table-talk until it is served.
If Jury’s is overflowing with custom, there
are two other French restaurants alongside.
After luncheon we have a glimpse of
the business district, following back on the “two-bit”
side of the street. At Clay we pass a saloon with
a cigar-stand in front and find a group listening to
a man with bushy hair and a reddish mustache, who
in an easy attitude and in a quaintly drawling voice
is telling a story. We await the laugh and pass
on, and I say that he is a reporter, lately from Nevada,
called Mark Twain. Very likely we encounter at
Commercial Street, on his way to the Call office,
a well-dressed young man with Dundreary whiskers and
an aquiline nose. He nods to me and I introduce
Bret Harte, secretary to the Superintendent of the
Mint, and author of the clever “Condensed Novels”
being printed in the Californian. At California
Street we turn east, passing the shipping offices
and hardware houses, and coming to Battery Street,
where Israelites wax fat in wholesale dry goods and
the clothing business. For solid big business
in groceries, liquors, and provisions we must keep
on to Front Street Front by name only, for
four streets on filled-in land have crept in front
of Front. Following this very important street
past the shipping offices we reach Washington Street,
passing up which we come to Battery Street, where we
pause to glance at the Custom House and Post Office
at the right and the recently established Bank of
California on the southwest corner of the two streets.
Having fairly surveyed the legitimate
business we wish to see something of the engrossing
avocation of most of the people of the city, of any
business or no business, and we pass on to Montgomery,
crossing over to the center of the stock exchange
activities. Groups of men and women are watching
the tapes in the brokers’ offices, messengers
are running in and out the board entrances, intense
excitement is everywhere apparent. Having gained
admission to the gallery of the board room we look
down on the frantic mob, buying and selling Comstock
shares. How much is really sold and how much
is washing no one knows, but enormous transactions,
big with fate, are of everyday occurrence. As
we pass out we notice a man with strong face whose
shoes show dire need of patching. Asked his name,
I answer, “Jim Keane; just now he is down, but
some day he is bound to be way up.”
We saunter up Clay, passing Burr’s
Savings Bank and a few remaining stores, to Kearny,
and Portsmouth Square, whose glory is departing.
The City Hall faces it, and so does Exempt Engine
House, but dentists’ offices and cheap theaters
and Chinese stores are crowding in. Clay Street
holds good boarding-houses, but decay is manifest.
We pass on to Stockton, still a favorite residence
street; turning south we pass, near Sacramento, the
church in which Starr King first preached, now proudly
owned by the negro Methodists. At Post we reach
Union Square, nearly covered by the wooden pavilion
in which the Mechanics’ Institute holds its
fairs. Diagonally opposite the southeast corner
of the desecrated park are the buildings of the ambitious
City College, and east of them a beautiful church
edifice always spoken of as “Starr King’s
Very likely, seeing the church, I
might be reminded of one of Mr. King’s most
valued friends, and suggest that we call upon him at
the Golden Gate Flour-mill in Pine Street, where the
California Market was to stand. If we met Horace
Davis, I should feel that I had presented one of our
Dinner presents many opportunities;
but I am inclined to think we shall settle on Frank
Garcia’s restaurant in Montgomery near Jackson,
where good service awaits us, and we may hear the
upraised voices of some of the big lawyers who frequent
the place. For the evening we have the choice
between several bands of minstrels, but if Forrest
and John McCullough are billed for “Jack Cade”
we shall probably call on Tom Maguire. After
the strenuous play we pass up Washington Street to
Peter Job’s and indulge in his incomparable
On Sunday I shall continue my guidance.
Churches are plentiful and preachers are good.
In the afternoon I think I may venture to invite my
friend to The Willows, a public garden between Mission
and Valencia and Seventeenth and Nineteenth streets.
We shall hear excellent music in the open air and
can sit at a small table and sip good beer. I
find such indulgence far less wicked than I had been
led to believe.
When there is something distinctive
in a community a visitor is supposed to take it in,
and in the evening we attend the meeting of the Dashaway
Association in its own hall in Post Street near Dupont.
It numbers five thousand members and meets Sunday
mornings and evenings. Strict temperance is a
live issue at this time. The Sons of Temperance
maintain four divisions. There are besides two
lodges of Good Templars and a San Francisco Temperance
Union. And in spite of all this the city feels
called upon to support a Home for Inebriates at Stockton
and Chestnut streets, to which the supervisors contribute
two hundred and fifty dollars a month.
I shall feel that I am derelict if
I do not manage a jaunt to the Cliff House. The
most desirable method demands a span of horses for
a spin out Point Lobos Avenue. We may, however,
be obliged to take a McGinn bus that leaves the Plaza
hourly. It will be all the same when we reach
the Cliff and gaze on Ben Butler and his companion
sea-lions as they disport themselves in the ocean
or climb the rocks. Wind or fog may greet us,
but the indifferent monsters roar, fight, and play,
while the restless waves roll in. We must, also,
make a special trip to Rincon Hill and South Park
to see how and where our magnates dwell. The 600
block in Folsom Street must not be neglected.
The residences of such men as John Parrott and Milton
S. Latham are almost palatial. It is related that
a visitor impressed with the elegance of one of these
places asked a modest man in the neighborhood if he
knew whose it was. “Yes,” he replied,
“it belongs to an old fool by the name of John
Parrott, and I am he.”
We shall leave out something distinctive
if we do not call at the What Cheer House in Sacramento
Street below Montgomery, a hostelry for men, with
moderate prices, notwithstanding many unusual privileges.
It has a large reading-room and a library of five
thousand volumes, besides a very respectable museum.
Guests are supplied with all facilities for blacking
their own boots, and are made at home in every way.
Incidentally the proprietor made a good fortune, a
large part of which he invested in turning his home
at Fourteenth and Mission streets into a pleasure
resort known as Woodward’s Gardens, which for
many years was our principal park, art gallery and
These are a few of the things I could
have shown. But to know and appreciate the spirit
and character of a city one must live in it and be
of it; so I beg to be dismissed as a guide and to offer
experiences and events that may throw some light on
life in the stirring sixties.
When I migrated from Humboldt County
and enlisted for life as a San Franciscan I lived
with my father’s family in a small brick house
in Powell Street near Ellis. The Golden West
Hotel now covers the lot. The little houses opposite
were on a higher level and were surrounded by small
gardens. Both street and sidewalks were planked,
but I remember that my brother and I, that we might
escape the drifting sand, often walked on the flat
board that capped the flimsy fence in front of a vacant
lot. On the west of Powell, at Market, was St.
Ann’s Garden and Nursery. On the east,
where the Flood Building stands, was a stable and
Much had been accomplished in city
building, but the process was continuing. Few
of us realize the obstacles overcome. Fifteen
years before, the site was the rugged end of a narrow
peninsula, with high rock hills, wastes of drifting
sand, a curving cove of beach, bordered with swamps
and estuaries, and here and there a few oases in the
form of small valleys. In 1864 the general lines
of the city were practically those of today.
It was the present San Francisco, laid out but not
filled out. There was little west of Larkin Street
and quite a gap between the city proper and the Mission.
Size in a city greatly modifies character.
In 1864 I found a compact community; whatever was
going on seemed to interest all. We now have a
multitude of unrelated circles; then there was one
great circle including the sympathetic whole.
The one theater that offered the legitimate drew and
could accommodate all who cared for it. Herold’s
orchestral concerts, a great singer like Parepa Rosa,
or a violinist like Olé Bull drew all the
music-lovers of the city. And likewise, in the
early springtime when the Unitarian picnic was announced
at Belmont or Fairfax, it would be attended by at
least a thousand, and heartily enjoyed by all, regardless
of church connection. Such things are no more,
though the population to draw from be five times as
In the sixties, church congregations
and lecture audiences were much larger than they are
now. There seemed always to be some one preacher
or lecturer who was the vogue, practically monopolizing
public interest. His name might be Scudder or
Kittredge or Moody, but while he lasted everybody
rushed to hear him. And there was commonly some
special fad that prevailed. Spiritualism held
the boards for quite a time.
Changes in real-estate values were
a marked feature of the city’s life. The
laying out of Broadway was significant of expectations.
Banks in the early days were north of Pacific in Montgomery,
but very soon the drift to the south began.
In 1862, when the Unitarian church
in Stockton street near Sacramento was found too small,
it was determined to push well to the front of the
city’s growth. Two lots were under final
consideration, the northwest corner of Geary and Powell,
where the St. Francis now stands, and the lot in Geary
east of Stockton, now covered by the Whitney Building.
The first lot was a corner and well situated, but
it was rejected on the ground that it was “too
far out.” The trustees paid $16,000 for
the other lot and built the fine church that was occupied
until 1887, when it was felt to be too far down town,
and the present building at Franklin and Geary streets
was erected. Incidentally, the lot sold for $120,000.
The evolution of pavements has been
an interesting incident of the city’s life.
Planks were cheap and they held down some of the sand,
but they grew in disfavor. In 1864 the Superintendent
of Streets reported that in the previous year 1,365,000
square feet of planks had been laid, and 290,000 square
feet had been paved with cobbles, a lineal mile of
which cost $80,000. How much suffering they cost
the militia who marched on them is not reported.
Nicholson pavement was tried and found wanting.
Basalt blocks found brief favor. Finally we reached
the modern era and approximate perfection.
Checker-board street planning was
a serious misfortune to the city, and it was aggravated
by the narrowness of most of the streets. Kearny
Street, forty-five and one-half feet wide, and Dupont,
forty-four and one-half feet, were absurd. In
1865 steps were taken to add thirty feet to the west
side of Kearny. In 1866 the work was done, and
it proved a great success. The cost was five
hundred and seventy-nine thousand dollars, and the
addition to the value of the property was not less
than four million dollars. When the work began
the front-foot value at the northern end was double
that at Market Street. Today the value at Market
Street is more than five times that at Broadway.
The first Sunday after my arrival
in San Francisco I went to the Unitarian church and
heard the wonderfully attractive and satisfying Dr.
Bellows, temporary supply. It was the beginning
of a church connection that still continues and to
which I owe more than I can express.
Dr. Bellows had endeared himself to
the community by his warm appreciation of their liberal
support of the Sanitary Commission during the Civil
War. The interchange of messages between him in
New York and Starr King in San Francisco had been
stimulating and effective. When the work was
concluded it was found that California had furnished
one-fourth of the $4,800,000 expended. Governor
Low headed the San Francisco committee. The Pacific
Coast, with a population of half a million, supplied
one-third of all the money spent by this forerunner
of the Red Cross. The other states of the Union,
with a population of about thirty-two million, supplied
two-thirds. But California was far away and it
was not thought wise to drain the West of its loyal
forces, and we ought to have given freely of our money.
In all, quite a number found their way to the fighting
front. A friend of mine went to the wharf to
see Lieutenant Sheridan, late of Oregon, embark for
the East and active service. Sheridan was grimly
in earnest, and remarked: “I’ll come
back a captain or I’ll not come back at all.”
When he did come back it was with the rank of lieutenant-general.
While San Francisco was unquestionably
loyal, there were not a few Southern sympathizers,
and loyalists were prepared for trouble. I soon
discovered that a secret Union League was active and
vigilant. Weekly meetings for drill were held
in the pavilion in Union Square, admission being by
password only. I promptly joined. The regimental
commander was Martin J. Burke, chief of police.
My company commander was George T. Knox, a prominent
notary public. I also joined the militia, choosing
the State Guard, Captain Dawes, which drilled weekly
in the armory in Market Street opposite Dupont.
Fellow members were Horace Davis and his brother George,
Charles W. Wendte (now an eastern D.D.), Samuel L.
Cutter, Fred Glimmer of the Unitarian church, Henry
Michaels, and W.W. Henry, father of the present
president of Mills College. Our active service
was mainly confined to marching over the cruel cobble-stones
on the Fourth of July and other show-off occasions,
while commonly we indulged in an annual excursion
and target practice in the wilds of Alameda.
Once we saw real service. When
the news of the assassination of Lincoln reached San
Francisco the excitement was intense. Newspapers
that had slandered him or been lukewarm in his support
suffered. The militia was called out in fear
of a riot and passed a night in the basement of Platt’s
Hall. But preparedness was all that was needed.
A few days later we took part in a most imposing procession.
All the military and most other organizations followed
a massive catafalque and a riderless horse through
streets heavily draped with black. The line of
march was long, arms were reversed, the sorrowing
people crowded the way, and solemnity and grief on
every hand told how deeply Lincoln was loved.
I had cast my first presidential vote
for him, at Turn Verein Hall, Bush
Street, November 6, 1864. When the news of his
re-election by the voters of every loyal state came
to us, we went nearly wild with enthusiasm, but our
heartiest rejoicing came with the fall of Richmond.
We had a great procession, following the usual route from
Washington Square to Montgomery, to Market, to Third,
to South Park, where fair women from crowded balconies
waved handkerchiefs and flags to shouting marchers and
back to the place of beginning. Processioning
was a great function of those days, observed by the
cohorts of St. Patrick and by all political parties.
It was a painful process, for the street pavement
was simply awful.
Sometimes there were trouble and mild
assaults. The only recollection I have of striking
a man is connected with a torchlight procession celebrating
some Union victory. When returning from south
of Market, a group of jeering toughs closed in on
us and I was lightly hit. I turned and using
my oil-filled lamp at the end of a staff as a weapon,
hit out at my assailant. The only evidence that
the blow was an effective one was the loss of the
lamp; borne along by solid ranks of patriots I clung
to an unilluminated stick. Party feeling was strong
in the sixties and bands and bonfires plentiful.
At one election the Democrats organized
a corps of rangers, who marched with brooms, indicative
of the impending clean sweep by which they were to
“turn the rascals out.” For each presidential
election drill crops were organized, but the Blaine
Invincibles didn’t exactly prove so.
The Republican party held a long lease
of power, however. Governor Low was a very popular
executive, while municipally the People’s Party,
formed in 1856 by adherents of the Vigilance Committee,
was still in the saddle, giving good, though not far-sighted
and progressive, government. Only those who experienced
the abuses under the old methods of conducting elections
can realize the value of the provision for the uniform
ballot and a quiet ballot box, adopted in 1869.
There had been no secrecy or privacy, and peddlers
of rival tickets fought for patronage to the box’s
mouth. One served as an election officer at the
risk of sanity if not of life. In the “fighting
Seventh” ward I once counted ballots for thirty-six
consecutive hours, and as I remember conditions I
was the only officer who finished sober.
During my first year in government
employ the depreciation in legal-tender notes in which
we were paid was very embarrassing. One hundred
dollars in notes would bring but thirty-five or forty
dollars in gold, and we could get nothing we wanted
except with gold.
My second year in San Francisco I
lived in Howard Street near First and was bookkeeper
for a stock-broker. I became familiar with the
fascinating financial game that followed the development
of the Comstock lode, discovered in 1859. It
was 1861 before production was large. Then began
the silver age, a new era that completely transformed
California and made San Francisco a great center of
financial power. Within twenty years $340,000,000
poured into her banks. The world’s silver
output increased from forty millions a year to sixty
millions. In September of 1862 the stock board
was organized. At first a share in a company
represented a running foot on the lode’s length.
In 1871, Mr. Cornelius O’Connor bought ten shares
of Consolidated Virginia at eight dollars a share.
When it had been divided into one thousand shares and
he was offered $680 a share, he had the sagacity to
sell, realizing a profit of $679,920 on his investment
of $80. At the time he sold, a share represented
one-fourteenth of an inch. In six years the bonanza
yielded $104,000,000, of which $73,000,000 was paid
The effect of such unparalleled riches
was wide-spread. It made Nevada a state and gave
great impetus to the growth of San Francisco.
It had a marked influence on society and modified
the character of the city itself. Fifteen years
of abnormal excitement, with gains and losses incredible
in amount, unsettled the stability of trade and orderly
business and proved a demoralizing influence.
Speculation became a habit. It was gambling adjusted
to all conditions, with equal opportunity for millionaire
or chambermaid, and few resisted altogether.
Few felt shame, but some were secretive.
A few words are due Adolph Sutro,
who dealt in cigars in his early manhood, but went
to Nevada in 1859 and by 1861 owned a quartz-mill.
In 1866 he became impressed with the idea that the
volume of water continually flowing into the deeper
mines of the Comstock lode would eventually demand
an outlet on the floor of Carson Valley, four miles
away. He secured the legislation and surprised
both friends and enemies by raising the money to begin
construction of the famous Sutro Tunnel. He began
the work in 1859, and in some way carried it through,
spending five million dollars. The mine-owners
did not want to use his tunnel, but they had to.
He finally sold out at a good price and put the most
of a large fortune in San Francisco real estate.
At one time he owned one-tenth of the area of the
city. He forested the bald hills of the San Miguel
Rancho, an immense improvement, changing the whole
sky-line back of Golden Gate Park. He built the
fine Sutro Baths, planted the beautiful gardens on
the heights above the Cliff House, established a car
line that meant to the ocean for a nickel, amassed
a library of twenty thousand volumes, and incidentally
made a good mayor. He was a public benefactor
and should be held in grateful memory.
The memories that cluster around a
certain building are often impressive, both intrinsically
and by reason of their variety. Platt’s
Hall is connected with experiences of first interest.
For many years it was the place for most occasional
events of every character. It was a large square
auditorium on the spot now covered by the Mills Building.
Balls, lectures, concerts, political meetings, receptions,
everything that was popular and wanted to be considered
first-class went to Platt’s Hall.
Starr King’s popularity had
given the Unitarian church and Sunday-school a great
hold on the community. At Christmas its festivals
were held in Platt’s Hall. We paid a hundred
dollars for rent and twenty-five dollars for a Christmas-tree.
Persons who served as doorkeepers or in any other
capacity received ten dollars each. At one dollar
for admission we crowded the big hall and always had
money left over. Our entertainments were elaborate,
closing with a dance. My first service for the
Sunday-school was the unobserved holding up an angel’s
wing in a tableau. One of the most charming of
effects was an artificial snowstorm, arranged for
the concluding dance at a Christmas festival.
The ceiling of the hall was composed of horizontal
windows giving perfect ventilation and incidentally
making it feasible for a large force of boys to scatter
quantities of cut-up white paper evenly and plentifully
over the dancers, the evergreen garlands decorating
the hall, and the polished floor. It was a long-continued
downpour, a complete surprise, and for many a year
a happy tradition.
In Platt’s Hall wonderfully
fine orchestral concerts were held, under the very
capable direction of Rudolph Herold. Early in
the sixties Caroline Richings had a successful season
of English opera. Later the Howsons charmed us
for a time. All the noteworthy lecturers of the
world who visited California received us at Platt’s
Hall. Beecher made a great impression. Carl
Schurz, also, stirred us deeply. I recall one
clever sentence. He said, “When the time
came that this country needed a poultice it elected
President Hayes and got it.” Of our local
talent real eloquence found its best expression in
Henry Edgerton. The height of enthusiasm was
registered in war-time by the mighty throng that gathered
at Lincoln’s call for a hundred thousand men.
Starr King was the principal speaker. He had
called upon his protege, Bret Harte, for a poem for
the occasion. Harte doubted his ability, but he
handed Mr. King the result of his effort. He
called it the “Reveille.” King was
greatly delighted. Harte hid himself in the concourse.
King’s wonderful voice, thrilling with emotion,
carried the call to every heart and the audience with
one accord stood and cheered again and again.
One of the most striking coincidences
I ever knew occurred in connection with the comparatively
mild earthquake of 1866. It visited us on a Sunday
at the last moments of the morning sermon. Those
in attendance at the Unitarian church were engaged
in singing the last hymn, standing with books in hand.
The movement was not violent but threatening.
It flashed through my mind that the strain on a building
with a large unsupported roof must be great.
Faces blanched, but all stood quietly waiting the
end, and all would have gone well had not the large
central pipe of the organ, apparently unattached,
only its weight holding it in place, tottered on its
base and leaped over the heads of the choir, falling
into the aisle in front of the first pews. The
effect was electric. The large congregation waited
for no benediction or other form of dismissal.
The church was emptied in an incredibly short time,
and the congregation was very soon in the middle of
the street, hymnbooks in hand. The coincidence
was that the verse being sung was,
“The seas shall melt,
And skies to smoke decay,
Rocks turn to dust,
And mountains fall away.”
We had evening services at the time,
and Dr. Stebbins again gave out the same hymn, and
this time we sang it through.
The story of Golden Gate Park and
how the city got it is very interesting, but must
be much abridged. In 1866 I pieced out a modest
income by reporting the proceedings of the Board of
Supervisors and the School Board for the Call.
It was in the palmy days of the People’s Party.
The supervisors, elected from the wards in which they
lived, were honest and fairly able. The man of
most brains and initiative was Frank McCoppin.
The most important question before them was the disposition
of the outside lands. In 1853 the city had sued
for the four square leagues (seventeen thousand acres)
allowed under the Mexican law. It was granted
ten thousand acres, which left all land west of Divisadero
Street unsettled as to title. Appeal was taken,
and finally the city’s claim was confirmed.
In 1866 Congress passed an act confirming the decree,
and the legislature authorized the conveyance of the
lands to occupants.
They were mostly squatters, and the
prize was a rich one. Congress had decreed “that
all of this land not needed for public purposes, or
not previously disposed of, should be conveyed to
the persons in possession,” so that all the
latitude allowed was as to what “needs for public
purposes” covered. There had been agitation
for a park; indeed, Frederick Law Olmstead had made
an elaborate but discouraging report, ignoring the
availability of the drifting sand-hills that formed
so large a part of the outside lands, recommending
a park including our little Duboce Park and one at
Black Point, the two to be connected by a widened
and parked Van Ness Avenue, sunken and crossed by ornamental
The undistributed outside lands to
be disposed of comprised eighty-four hundred acres.
The supervisors determined to reserve one thousand
acres for a park. Some wanted to improve the
opportunity to secure without cost considerably more.
The Bulletin advocated an extension that would
bring a bell-shaped panhandle down to the Yerba Buena
Cemetery, property owned by the city and now embraced
in the Civic Center. After long consideration
a compromise was made by which the claimants paid to
those whose lands were kept for public use ten per
cent of the value of the lands distributed. By
this means 1,347.46 acres were rescued, of which Golden
Gate Park included 1,049.31, the rest being used for
a cemetery, Buena Vista Park, public squares, school
lots, etc. The ordinances accomplishing
the qualified boon to the city were fathered by McCoppin
and Clement. Other members of the committee, immortalized
by the streets named after them, were Clayton, Ashbury,
Cole, Shrader, and Stanyan.
The story of the development of Golden
Gate Park is well known. The beauty and charm
are more eloquent than words, and John McLaren, ranks
high among the city’s benefactors.
The years from 1860 to 1870 marked
many changes in the character and appearance of San
Francisco. Indeed, its real growth and development
date from the end of the first decade. Before
that we were clearing off the lot and assembling the
material. The foundation of the structure that
we are still building was laid in the second decade.
Statistics establish the fact. In population
we increased from less than 57,000 to 150,000 163
per cent. In the first decade our assessed property
increased $9,000,000; in the second, $85,000,000.
Our imports and exports increased from $3,000,000
to $13,000,000. Great gain came through the silver
production, but greater far from the development of
the permanent industries of the land grain,
fruit, lumber and the shipping that followed
The city made strides in growth and
beauty. Our greatest trial was too much prosperity
and the growth of luxury and extravagance.