A toll road for San Francisco

While work was going on to repair the streets of San Francisco, paid for partly from city funds and partly by the property owners, an enterprising man named Charles L. Wilson proposed to build a plank road at his own expense out to the Mission Delores. Wilson proposed to build the road from California by way of Kearny to Third and Mission Streets and out to Sixteenth Street, a distance of a little over two and a half miles on the condition that he be allowed the exclusive right to collect a toll for those who passed over it for a period of ten years, after which time the road would belong to the city.

Mission Dolores 1851

While this seemed fair enough, many objected. Still, the road was much needed, as the regular route to the mission was difficult to travel since it was very sandy and winding, making a huge swerve between Seventh and Eighth Streets to avoid a sandy, impassable bog. The sand and the difficulty in crossing the bog made the journey to or from the mission a difficult undertaking and added tremendously to the cost of the transportation of any merchandise. Just to move a load of hay from the mission to the city cost from fifteen to twenty dollars.

1852 Mission Bay map

In spite of the opposition to Wilson’s road the plan passed the city council in November of 1850, but only on the condition that the franchise should expire in seven years instead of ten and that the road would be finished in six months. And in spite of the new conditions it was still opposed by Mayor John W. Geary who refused to sign it. It was returned to the council and then passed over Geary’s veto. Then, on account of some doubt about the legality of the city’s action the bill was taken to the state legislature where it was ratified with all its provisions on April 5, 1851.

Mission Plank Road 1856



  1. What a story. I can just see and hear what you didn’t tell. Thanks.

    • San Francisco roads were a muddy mess in the early days. It’s hard to think that the Mission was so hard to get to. Now it’s in the middle of town and you can take the subway.

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