The 1849 San Francisco post office

While the boom in wood frame construction was in full gear in 1849 San Francisco, a few substantial brick buildings were built and that number increased rapidly, but not to the point of becoming a feature of the city. And the old adobe on Portsmouth Square continued to be occupied by customs house officials until they moved into a new and roomy brick structure on the northwest corner of Montgomery and California.

George Henry Burgess San Francisco 1849

On the southwest corner of Clay and Pike stood a small, one and a half story wood building that served as the post office. There was little room for clerks on the inside and almost no standing room on the outside. When mail arrived from the east there was always a rush and it could have turned into a riot but for the admirable spirit of the Californians who characteristically formed an orderly line. Newcomers would then take their place at the end and wait their turn.

San Francisco post office 1849

Crowding, pushing, or displacing anyone in the line was not tolerated. If a man wanted to be first he would go hours early and wait. There were cases of people taking their place the evening before and standing all night. Sometimes the lines would extend down Clay Street to Portsmouth Square or up Pike Street across Sacramento and into the tents among the chaparral on the hillside. It could take a person hours to get his letters and those who had more money than time would buy an advanced position. There were those who made a lucrative business of getting to the post office early and then selling out as they neared the window.



  1. Isn’t man inventive? I did enjoy the story of the post office. Thanks

    • And you thought the lines were long now days. But in truth the mail from the east, the important stuff, only came into the city twice a month on a Pacific Mail Steamship. It was the only link to where they had come from not sop very long ago.

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