Archives for January 2012

A coming economic crash

In spite of the efforts of San Franciscans to maintain and even expand business in 1854 the strain of over speculation and extravagance had impeded the natural progress to the extent that there had to be a reaction more severe than the depression suffered in the earlier part of the year. However, in spite of lowered production from the mines, there was still a significant yield of gold that amounted to sixty-four million dollars, and, together with the large number of forty-eight thousand new … [Read more...]

San Francisco expands trade

Even while business in San Francisco was in the throes of a depression, efforts were made to reach out for more trade. Commodore Perry signed a treaty with Japan on March 31, 1854 that for the first time in history opened up that Asian nation to commerce with the United States. Shortly thereafter several ships sailed from San Francisco to Japan and later returned with full cargoes of Japanese goods. Efforts were undertaken to set up a line of steamships operating between the city and … [Read more...]

Fort Point and the defense of San Francisco

About the same time as the business depression occurred, efforts by the United States government to fortify the harbor at San Francisco got underway. While measures to this end had begun soon after the end of the Mexican War very little had been accomplished. The Spanish fortifications, which would have worked well in former times, were of no avail against the more modern war ships of the 1850s. In addition, the old Spanish cannon they contained, while still not worn out, had been spiked by John … [Read more...]

The 1854 depression slows

The lowest point of the business depression of 1854 was passed by the middle of the year. The public auction of twenty-two lots of the Government Reserve on the block bounded by Pacific, Broadway, Front and Davis Streets made over one hundred thousand dollars on June 6, nearly twice as much as was realized from the March 9 sale, less than three months before. While rents, which had been greatly reduced during the depression, did not rise, they had been much too high before and were still high … [Read more...]

Early burials in Yerba Buena

The first burials in Yerba Buena, before the small town was renamed San Francisco, and besides those laid to rest in the consecrated ground at Mission Delores, generally took place on the hills surrounding the village. At the brow of Telegraph Hill, where it overlooked the old landing site of Yerba Buena Cove, a number of bodies were exposed when Broadway and Sansome Streets cut into that part of the hill. As late as 1849, on the opposite height to the west, a few graves that bore black crosses … [Read more...]

A cemetery for San Francisco

A private company that had taken possession of a tract of land about two and a half miles west of Portsmouth Square, essentially by squatting on it, dedicated the land in a religious service and sermon by Edward D. Baker on May 30, 1854 as Lone Mountain Cemetery. As originally conceived in November of the year before this burial ground would constitute three hundred and twenty acres including the isolated cone shaped hill called Lone Mountain but since then was reduced to one hundred and sixty … [Read more...]

The first San Francisco Mint

Because there had been a severe shortage of coins for legal transactions in California from the very beginning of the gold rush, and transporting raw gold to the US mints in New Orleans and Philadelphia then shipping freshly minted coins back to the west was inefficient and costly, President Millard Fillmore proposed in 1852 the construction of a new United States Mint in San Francisco. Congress soon passed the proposal. The constant growth of the population in the west and the abundance of gold … [Read more...]

San Francisco real estate prices fall

Early in 1854 a major economic depression hit San Francisco. The once rich placer gold deposits were almost gone and expensive quartz crushing machinery was needed to sustain gold production. Miners who lacked the resources to buy such equipment were pouring into San Francisco. Their mines no longer ordered supplies from merchants in the city and bankers started to call in their credit. The building boom of 1853, when over three hundred brick buildings had been constructed, many of them three … [Read more...]

The California Steam Navigation Company

At about the same time that gas was introduced into San Francisco there were more improvements underway. Proposals to cut down all the hills in the city and use the dirt to fill in the hollows were modified and the hills we see today were saved. Many of the principal streets were paved with water-worn stones called cobbles that had been taken from the streams of inland California. These cobbles were rough and noisy but they were durable and in many ways preferable to the wood planking currently … [Read more...]

The gold rush laundry business

In San Francisco during the early days water cost at least a bit a bucket, or two buckets for a quarter, quite a lot of money back then. Consequently only the washing of clothes that was considered indispensable was done and mostly by Mexican and Indian women at a fresh water pond in today's Marina District south of Black Point that came to be called Washerwoman’s Lagoon. At the same time there were a few laundries and washerwomen who did very particular work in some of the other locations where … [Read more...]