Search billions of records on






This City of San Francisco began at the Embarcadero--the stretch of beach between Clark's Point and Rincon Point.  There the predecessors of today's merchants and shipping men embarked their modest shipments of hides, which comprised the bulk of their commerce.  The little Embarcadero of Yerba Buena was one of the least important points on the Peninsula.  The Presidio of San Francisco and the Mission Dolores of San Francisco were the headquarters of the Army and the Church.


On the night of August 5, 1775, the paquebot San Carlos sailed through the Golden Gate, an uncharted channel as yet unnamed.  It was the first ship to enter San Francisco Bay.  She anchored first off Sausalito, and later moved to a safe anchorage in the lee of Angel Island.  She brought in man and supplies for the Presidio, but did not come to anchor off Clark's Point, nor did she find the cove later called Yerba Buena, where the whalers and the hide ships found a safe harbor.


On November 14, 1792, Captain George Vancouver, commanding the British war ship Discovery, sailed into San Francisco Bay.  As he passed what is now Fort Point he received and acknowledged a salute of two guns.  Further along he received other salutes.  Darkness fell, and still saw no lights from where he believed the town of Yerba Buena to be.  He had taken soundings all along, and dropped anchor for the night.  In the morning he found himself in a cove under the lee of a high hill and a steep bluff--Loma Alta and Punta del Embarcadero.  Today we call them Telegraph Hill and Clark's Point.  There were cattle grazing on the hills but no sign of the town, and no visible inhabitants.  At sunrise some horseman rode over the hills and down to the beach.  Captain Vancouver sent a boat ashore, and invited to breakfast Padre Danti, superior of the Mission Dolores, and Don and Hermenegildo Sal, ensign in the Spanish Army and commander of the Presidio military post.  The commander invited Captain Vancouver to move his ship, and anchor off the Presidio, which was done.  There the English captain, his officers and men, were received with the most cordial hospitality.  The officers were banqueted, and invited to enjoy the sport of quail shooting.  Captain Vancouver was taken on a horseback trip to Santa Clara.  On departing, his ship was furnished with needed supplies, including beef and mutton.  This is the first record of any vessel anchoring off what is now San Francisco.  Captain Vancouver's anchorage was in the little cove under the lee of Clark's Point, called later Yerba Buena cove.


In 1936 one may look out on the bay from the city front of San Francisco and still see few or no anchored ships.  But there are scores of steamers moored at the piers, some of them great 30,000-ton liners.  In the days of the gold discovery the bay was crowded with ships--some of them with cock billed yards.  It was literally a forest of masts.  Many ships were there because they could not get away, having been abandoned by their seamen, who had fled to the mines.  There were ships with every kind of cargo from every quarter of the seven seas.  There were magnificent clipper ships, with towering masts and clouds of canvas--marvels of speed, often averaging over two hundred miles a day and some of them logging four hundred.  These marine wonders all had doubled topsail and top galley topgallant sail yards to enable the men to handle their enormous sails.  Belonging to the same family of square riggers were the more modest brigs--mainly from Yankee Land, their business that of trading in Yankee notions with the natives in the South Seas.


There were many whalers, most of them hailing from New Bedford, dingy and dirty without, but loaded within with rich cargoes of oil and whalebone.


The records of the harbor master of San Francisco for 1849, 1850, and 1851 give seventy-four vessels claiming and entitled to be called clipper ships, as arriving in the port during those years.  The average clippers passage was one hundred twenty-five days.  However, the clipper Flying Cloud sailed from New York to San Francisco in eighty-nine days.  The Northern Light made the passage from San Francisco around Cape Horn to Boston in seventy-six days.  She was a clipper schooner sixty-two and a half feet long, seventeen a half feet beam, about seven feet depths of hold, and carried seventy tons.  She was heavily sparred.  But in "the knife-edged clipper with her ruffled spars" cargo space and low operating costs were sacrificed to speed.  The name clipper may have been derived from the expression "a fast clip."  After 1855 a number of medium clippers were built, usually barque-rigged.  They were built to make them roll down when "cutting out" a whale.  The so-called downeasters, that followed the clipper, combined speed, cargo capacity, and low operating costs.  The short career of the clipper ships, which was about fifteen years, from approximately 1843 to 1859, was undoubtedly due to the fact that the sharp ended ships so heavily sparred, were not economical.


It was the belief in San Francisco then--and perhaps since--that the clipper ship grew out of the trade between New York and San Francisco.  The demand for fast passages in California trade forced ship-builders to design new models.  Hence the clippers, and not too broad in the beam, not too rounded in the hull, with sharp lines bow and stern.  They were magnificent creations of man's handiwork.  Baltimore has always claimed to be the birthplace of the clipper.  For a long time they were called "Baltimore clippers."  Like Homer, whom seven cities claimed, so many cities have coveted the clipper that Baltimore's voice has been drowned.  However, the British have always insisted that the clippers grew out of their China tea trade.


As to clippers in San Francisco in the fifties, Richard Henry Dana in his classic "Two Years Before the Mast," says that in 1859 he sailed "from the San Francisco to the Sandwich Islands on the magnificent Boston clipper Mastiff."  In our day the clippers and square riggers have been supplanted by a steamships.  It must not be supposed that there was more shipping in San Francisco eighty years ago than now.  To-day the bay is comparatively opened, because the steamships are berthed at the piers.  There are almost as many lines of steamships running into San Francisco Bay in 1936 as there were individual square riggers in 1850.


San Francisco began as a seaport and as a seaport she has grown.  The bold spirit of adventure which is born of the sea has colored the achievements of San Francisco's founders.  It is not strange, then, that in San Francisco's cemeteries there was written a dramatic history; that the inscriptions on her monuments should read like stories of adventure, of tragedy and inventive genius.


The most beautiful memorial parks in the world are found in the United States; and the trend of civic improvement in our large cities is toward landscape art in the cemeteries.  From the crowded churchyards of our ancestors have been evolved the great cemeteries like Greenwood and Woodlawn in New York; Pine Haven with its two thousand acres on Long Island; Lake View at Cleveland; and Laurel Hill at San Francisco.  A precious heritage lies at the foot of Lone Mountain that San Francisco's natives sons and daughters guard with zealous care.  By incoming vessels Lone Mountain may be seen far out at sea.  There are the monuments of the Pioneers.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, first named Lone Mountain Cemetery, is the resting place of the Pioneers.  Laurel Hill Cemetery is the property of their children, and for their children's children it should be preserved--a wooded open space in the midst of the crowded city.   Stately trees crown its hilltops, from which are visible gorgeous sunsets in the Pacific Ocean, and the picturesque Farallones outlined on the western sky, and the fog clouds rolling in through the Golden Gate.


In many of the big cities of the United States there are old cemeteries.  Trinity, in New York, is over two hundred years old.  That is to say, the churchyard is.  New York City looks on Trinity churchyard with a feeling akin in to affection.  Yet it is not always so.  More than once has Trinity been in danger.  There is a certain order of mind which looks on open ground in a city as worse then wasted.  These people might be called the Grabbers.  Central Park, New York, has always been in danger, and had the many schemes for "utilizing" Central Park been carried out, the park would now be a solid mass of buildings.  Trinity churchyard in New York did not have the magnificent expanse of Central Park, but small as it is it excited the greed of the Grabbers.  They spew the idea of the streets through old Trinity.  This was in the days just after the Revolution.  At first Trinity's lot owners and pew holders laughed at the idea.  But they soon found that the plan was popular.


Carlisle wrote in his day, "England has a population of twenty millions, mostly fools."  If Carlisle were alive today he might write: "New York has a population of seven millions, mostly fools."  The proportion of New York fools was probably just as high one hundred fifty years ago as now, and Trinity found that the Grabbers greatly impressed the fools.  The Trinity trustees found that the Grabbers' plan was to extend Pine Street through the graveyard.  The details of the plan are forgotten now, but the Trinity trustees consulted, thought deeply, and evolved another plan.  It was to erect a large and imposing monument in Trinity churchyard, exactly in the center of the street which Pine Street would make if extended.  This monument had a fervid and patriotic inscription: "To the memory of the Patriotic Americans who died during the Revolution in British Prisons."  The monument was designed and erected with speed.  Trinity was then in the heart of the city.  Rich and poor past it daily.  The fashionable promenade of the little city ran by Trinity's courtyard.  The Grabbers saw the new monument with consternation.  They knew that the people would oppose any street scheme which involve tearing down this monument to the Patriots of the Revolution who died in British prisons.  Such turned out to be the case.  The populace grew indignant and denounced the scheme.  And if you past Trinity you will see the monument still standing there today.


Lone Mountain is the most revered a San Francisco's seven hills.  El Divisadero is the Spanish name for Lone Mountain-- meaning the point from which one can see far.  The official elevation of Lone Mountain is only four hundred sixty-eight feet; but measured by its prominence in the lives and hearts of the people it towers above all other hills of San Francisco.  Telegraph Hill is two hundred sixty feet; Nob Hill, three hundred twenty; Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson are over nine hundred feet high.  The inscriptions of the eleven United States Senators are found in Laurel Hill Cemetery, at the foot of Lone Mountain; six were United States Senators from California, four from Nevada, and one, Colonel E. D. Baker, was United States Senator from Oregon.

© 2003 Nancy Pratt Melton

Back to Lone Mountain Index

Back to San Francisco County