Archives for December 2011

San Francisco suffers yet another fire

Whispers and rumors swirled through San Francisco that there would be another great fire on the anniversary of the second conflagration that had ripped through the city on June 14, 1850. The newly formed Committee of Vigilance and their recent hanging of John Jenkins coupled with a strict watch by all citizens may have had some effect and the appointed day came and went without incident. Then people began to relax. On Sunday June 22, at eleven in the morning on Pacific Street just below Powell … [Read more...]

A fifth fire leads to the vigilantes

Almost all of San Francisco had been destroyed in the fire of May 4, 1851, yet the people of the town still had heart. The city was located on a beautiful bay and the enormous yield of the gold mines still flowed into the port on that bay. Nothing could hold back their rebuilding. The preparations for new buildings, many much more substantial than before, were started at once and soon a new San Francisco rose from the ashes. Building materials were brought in from across the world, granite from … [Read more...]

A fifth fire destroys San Francisco

The greatest of all the conflagrations that ravaged gold rush San Francisco occurred on May 4, 1851, one year to the day after the second fire, but it actually started an hour before midnight on the evening before at the upholstery store of Baker and Messerver on the south side of Clay Street across from Portsmouth Square. A strong wind blew in from the west and the flames spread rapidly towards the bay. Then the wind shifted, blowing hard from the south, roaring along the planked streets like … [Read more...]

San Francisco suffers a third and fourth fire

On Friday, June 14th, 1850 at eight in the morning the fire started in a bakery on the east side of Kearny Street between Sacramento and Clay. The wind blew in hard from the west across the city toward the bay, and the flames spread rapidly the two blocks to the water’s edge, then between Montgomery and Sansome. Like the second fire another three hundred buildings were destroyed and again the damage amounted to three or four million dollars. By now it had become all too clear to everyone that … [Read more...]

A second fire consumes San Francisco

A little more than four months passed since the first Great Fire in San Francisco when, around four in the morning on Saturday May 4, 1850 at a drinking and gambling house called the United States Exchange, flames broke out again and spread quickly east, north, and west. The fire consumed the entire block bounded by Kearny, Clay, Montgomery and Washington, save for a couple of lucky houses, and moved on to sweep two entire blocks between Montgomery, Washington, Dupont [since renamed Grant] and … [Read more...]

The Great Fire of 1849

While San Francisco grew at an astonishing rate in the years directly after the discovery of gold, with houses spreading in every direction and populated by people from across the world, there were drawbacks. By the turn of the next century the city was more than fifteen times larger than in 1849 but in all that time there was nothing, until the great earthquake and fire of 1906, to compare with the number of fires that tore through San Francisco from 1849 to 1851. The first fire, … [Read more...]

Telegraph Hill in 1849

The quantity of imports that arrived in San Francisco in 1849 was enormous, especially for such a new city, and increased for years afterward. Day after day the vast amount of goods unloaded in Yerba Buena Cove, when coupled with both a lack of storage space and buyers who lacked significant credit, had to be disposed of at once, and for cash. This resulted in a great auction business, not uncommon in those days, and which gave a start to a number of firms that would later become quite large. … [Read more...]

Four views of gold rush San Francisco

Growth and progress were rapid in 1849 San Francisco, with people flooding into the port on their way to the gold fields. Activity and excitement were everywhere. J. L. Tyson, a doctor who got to the city on May 19, 1849 complained that everything was too high-pressure and inconsistent with the normal order, pistols fired in rapid succession in every direction, horses carrying drunken riders raced through the streets, colorful serapes and gaudy trappings flapped in the wind. Everywhere men … [Read more...]

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. On the southwest corner of Clay and Pike stood a small, one and a half story … [Read more...]

A building boom in San Francisco

Despite the high cost of building materials, fueled by the intense demand, sawmills in Santa Cruz, Sonoma and at other points around the San Francisco Bay were running at the top limit of their ability, and a host of others were established to help meet the need. All the timber near San Francisco, including the lofty and magnificent redwoods that adorned the hills across the bay in Contra Costa County, fell to the lumberman’s axe leaving only great stumps from five to twenty feet in diameter … [Read more...]