(Note: This history was included as part of the Biennial Reports of the State Belt Harbor Commissioners in the 1930's)


The first suggestion of possible development of the port occurred under the Mexican regime, in 1835. Before that date, it should be borne in mind, as well as for some time thereafter, San Francisco was not a port of entry, and would-be traders were expected to go to Monterey for official pratique.

In 1835, however, Captain W. A. Richardson, the erstwhile mate of a British merchant ship, who had seen fit to tarry and marry in California, came over to San Francisco from his home at Sausalito, on business bent, and established himself in an abode overlooking the heach of the cove above described.

Even before that date, the little cove had become known as the safest and most convenient anchorage in the bay of San Francisco, and it was because of that repute that the Mexican governor subsequently suggested the establishment of a settlement there-- '' "The settlement of Yerba Buena, situated upon Yerba Buena Cove, two and one-half miles of the Presidio of San Francisco," '' and so forth.

This name of Yerba Buena clung so tenaciously to the locality that lieutenant Washington Bartlett, the first American alcalde, had to publish a proclamation in January, 1847, ordering a reversion to the original name of San Francisco, '' "so that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the public map." ''

Captain Richardson's original abode was the first dwelling erected by a white man facing directly upon the bay and commanding a vista of what is now Oakland. It was a simple structure, consisting of a ship's foresail rigged as a roof over four posts of redwood. A year later, in 1836, Captain Richardson replaced the canvas with a substantial adobe house, and in 1837 he was appointed "Captain of the Port " by Governor Mariano Guadaloupe de Vallejo. Thus he became first harbor master of San Francisco. The same year he refused the appointment of alcalde.

Aside from his official duties as harbor master under General Vallejo 's regime, Captain Richardson, who was a skillful navigator, commanded and controlled the two schooners that belonged respectively to the San Francisco and Santa Clara mission establishments. In these craft he brought to the vessels in the fairway the produce from the missions and the ranches. -They were the first local freight boats.

During all these years the regular landing place was the before mentioned ridge of rocks subsequently known as Clarke's Point, and until the advent of the gold rush in 1849, it seemed as though the facilities by that ridge afforded would always be ample for such requirements as would prevail in the port of San Francisco. The nucleus of all future development in respect of wharfage and landing accommodations was undoubtedly at this spot, selected by the old-time trading captains.


There was a rude trail, shown on Captain Beechey's map, that led thence to the Mission Dolores. But the good padres of the mission brought their supplies from the bay up Mission Creek in boats. That waterway was thus navigable for small craft until the sixties.

Three years before the gold rush, in July, 1846, Captain Montgomery took possession of San Francisco and proclaimed its annexation to the United States. Eight months later, in March, 1847, General Kearny, as Governor of California, renounced in favor of the municipality of San Francisco the rights of the federal government in respect of the tidal lands between Clarke's Point and Rincon Point, so that the sale of the land for reclamation or other purposes would enable the new city to raise funds for municipal and administrative needs. Four months later occurred the first sale of "water lots" which will be referred to more fully in another chapter.

Such reclamation work was not possible until such definite action was taken by General Kearney. In fact no attempt could be made to improve even the rudimentary landing facilities at Clarke's Point with out the sanction of the federal authorities, because on the same day that he raised the American flag at Portsmouth Square Captain Montgomery proclaimed Clarke's Point as a military reservation and con structed a fort there. This fort was only a rudimentary earthwork on which a couple of old cannon were mounted. When an engineer officer was sent out from Washington to survey the new settlement, that particular site for a fort was colndemned and the land reverted to ordinary uses. Meanwhile the owner of the property, W. S. Clarke, built a rude timber structure out over the rocks of the point to serve the purpose of a wharf or jetty. Thus the place came to be known as Clarke 's Point.

To that wharf, in the month of September, 1848, came the brig Belfast, with a cargo of lumber from New York. Some of this cargo went to building homes for pioneers; some of it went to constructing the Broadway Wharf that was started shortly thereafter. This was a good and well built wharf. It was widened and extended a couple of years later and became the landing place for the vessels of the California Steam Navigation Company, "the Combination," as it was called, that practically monopolized the river business of that period.

The Directory of 1853 thus briefly describes the property (It may be explained that the president of the wharf company, Judge Levi Parsons, was Judge of the Fourth District Court, and a famous attorney. He was interested in several dock properties):

Broadway--Commenced Spring, 1851. Broadway extended from Front Street, 750 feet, 60 feet wide. Depth of water at last end, 26 feet. Joint stock company, capital $175,000. Offlcer...Levi Parsons, president, J. H. , Secretary and treasurer; ...ahas. 1.... Stanton, wharfinger.

The arrival of the brig Belfast and Clarke's attempts to improve hi ... reef of rocks as a result thereof marked a new era in the development of San Francisco. The price of goods fell 26 per cent, and the value of real estate rose from 50 to 100 per cent in the vicinity of the improved landing place. A vacant lot at the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets that had been offered at $5,000 a few days before and failed to attract a purchaser, sold for $10,000 the day the wharf was proven to be available as a berthing place for deep water ships. The one authentic picture we have of the point in 1847 shows its ledge of rocks as naked and unadorned as it was when Ayala entered the bay in 1776. In that year, however, according to Bancroft, the business of encroaching upon the water-front of the city was begun, "by city appropriations omitted by W. S. Clarke. " Bancroft also notes that in 1848 were constructed two short wharves at the foot of Broadway and Clay streets respectively. Also that "In May, 1849, Alcalde Leavenworth projected Central or Iong wharf, along Commercial street, which before the end of the year extended 800 feet, and became noted as the noisy resort peddlers and Cheap John Shops." As pointed out in the next chapter, Dr. Leavenworth was not the projector of the central wharf enterprise, but he happened to be alcalde when the ayuntamiento made the grant of tideland necessary for its construction.

[Chapter 3]