The city of San Francisco is filled with rich history and historical treasures. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, there are an abundance of sights to see and stories to be told.
But perhaps the most interesting is the story of what’s beneath this iconic, bustling metropolis. A new map, expected to be published this fall, is revealing dozens of 19th century ships just below the surface.
The Gold Rush
The first flakes of gold appeared in San Francisco in 1848. Shortly thereafter, the Gold Rush began. Thousands flocked to this small city to earn their piece of the golden pie. The fastest route for many was by sea and ships sailed in by the hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or more.
Many of these ships were abandoned when sailors caught the gold-craze and were deliberately sunk by merchants so they could claim water lots which were plots of land under a body of water. These lots would then be filled with sand, creating a new shoreline filled with these ghost ships.
In the Financial District is a bar called The Old Ship Saloon. This building lies directly over the remains of a ship called the Arkansas. Originally opened in 1851, the bar was created inside the hull of the ship. To enter, patrons would walk up a plank into the entrance cut into the side. The ship soon became landlocked and eventually buried by infilling at the bay. By 1859, all traces of the above-ground portion were removed.
The Niantic underwent many facelifts during her short life. She ran aground near what is now the intersection of Clay and Montgomery Streets. The ship was then converted into a building used as a warehouse, hotel and a store. In 1851, a fire tore the ship down to the waterline. The area was then buried under landfill and the Niantic Hotel was built. In 1872, the hotel burned down as well and the Niantic Building was erected in her place. That building was then destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and another complex was built.
Perhaps the best use of the ships from the Gold Rush is The Rome. In 1994, crews extending the Muni Metro tunnel discovered the ship lay directly in the tunnel they were digging. Archeologists analyzed the ship and determined it would be impossible to move any substantial portions of it. So the workers continued on. When travelers move through the tunnel, rounding the curve into Embarcadero Station, they are actually travelling right through a Gold Rush-era ship.
The next time you’re walking through The Embarcadero or the Financial District, take a moment to consider that while you are standing in the 21st century, pieces of the 19th century may be just below your feet.