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A rarity of Marin County: 19th century San Rafael silver baron map.

Place/Date: San Francisco / ca. 1888
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Title: Lands In and Near San Rafael Marin County Cal. Owned by John W. Mackay and Jas. L. Flood. Formerly known as the Coleman Tract
Technique
Photolithograph
Dimensions
54.5 x 71 cm (21.5 x 28 in)
Identifier
NL-00691
Coloring
Uncolored
Condition Rating
VG

Description

This unrecorded map of San Rafael documents the purchase of properties by two of the four Bonanza Kings, John Mackay and James Flood, both of whom became fabulously wealthy from the Nevada silver strikes of the 1870s.

The map shows the developed areas of San Rafael: Downtown and Montecito/Happy Valley, with the new areas of Picnic Valley and Lomita Park (now part of Bret Harte). It also extends to the southeast to show the undeveloped parcels of land along the San Rafael Canal, with an inset to include the meeting of the canal with San Francisco Bay.

Among the interesting features of the map are two railroad lines running on a northwest-southeast axis. The first, the North Pacific Coast Railroad, ran from Sausalito to San Rafael, and then out to West Marin. It stopped at the B-street station, which is marked as one of two ‘depots’ on the map. As we see in the image below, the influence of this route is seen today at the southeast corner of B St and 2nd St, most notably in the shape of the Flatiron building, which was dictated by the rail line.

The southeast corner of B and 2nd. The enduring influence of the railroad route is seen in the diagonal line running through the block.

The other rail line shown on the map is that of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad. It follows the same path used by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit today, swinging north along the east edge of town, stopping at the other ‘depot’ on the map — today’s central bus station — and then continuing north. The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad provided the first extensive standard gauge rail service to Sonoma County and became the southern end of the regional Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Running parallel in the area southeast of town is the San Rafael – San Quentin Turnpike, the predecessor to today’s Highway 101. It is marked as a toll road.

San Rafael flourished in the 1880s and became a fashionable place to live and invest. Many wealthy San Francisco businessmen and socialites built grand victorian houses there. Perhaps no single establishment symbolized these times more than Hotel Rafael, marked with #5 on this map. The investor list was a who’s-who of Bay Area money, especially Rail Barons. The splendid, 100-room hotel opened to the public in June 1888 with great fanfare. The hotel had a colorful history until it was burned down by a disgruntled employee in 1928.

For their part, one can assume that MacKay and Flood saw the growing potential of San Rafael and decided to diversify some of their newly-gained enormous fortunes there. Mackay in the 1880s formed two extremely powerful communications companies, laying transatlantic cables and wires across North America. But Flood especially invested heavily in real estate.

Much of the land shown, as mentioned in the map title, was once part of ‘Coleman’s Addition.’ In the 1870s, William Tell Coleman was San Rafael’s most influential developer, building the courthouse, improving infrastructure, and promoting the railroads. But in 1887 he was financially ruined when the U.S. Government lifted tariffs on borax mines, in which he had staked most of his fortune. To settle his debts, he was forced to sell land.

Overall, this map is an extremely rare and truly special piece of Marin County history.

 

Bonanza Kings

In 1871, Irish-Americans John William Mackay, James Graham Fair, James Clair Flood and William S. O’Brien, organized the Consolidated Virginia Silver Mine near Virginia City, Nevada, from a number of smaller claims on the Comstock Lode and later added the nearby California mine. Mackay and Fair had the mining knowledge and Flood and O’Brien raised the money. The purchase price of the claims, later to become a fabulous source of wealth, was about $100,000. The original stock issue was 10,700 shares, selling for between $4 and $5 a share.

In 1873 the “big bonanza” was uncovered and San Francisco and the entire mining world were hurtled into a fever of excitement. The first stock issue was converted into two issues of 108,000 shares each, and by the middle of 1875 the speculative value of the two mines were close to $1,000,000,000. Shares went as high as $710.

For three years after the discovery of “big bonanza” the two mines produced $3,000,000 per month. In 1876, for exhibition purposes, $6,000,000 was taken in one month from both mines. Production began to fall off in 1879 but in twenty-two years of operation the two mines yielded more than $150,000,000 in silver and gold, and paid $78,148,800 in dividends, making the four owners into some of America’s wealthiest men.

Cartographer(s)

Britton & Rey

Joseph Britton (1825 – July 18, 1901) was a lithographer, the co-founder of prominent San Francisco lithography studio Britton and Rey, and a civic leader in San Francisco, serving as a member of the Board of Supervisors and helping to draft a new city charter.

In 1852 he became active in lithography and publishing, first under the name Pollard and Britton, and then Britton and Rey, a printing company founded with his friend and eventual brother-in-law Jacques Joseph Rey. Britton and Rey became known as the premier lithographic and engraving studio of the Gold Rush era, producing letter sheets, maps, and artistic prints.

Condition Description

Minor loss and discoloration along fold lines. A couple of manuscript markings, presumably by someone using the map and interested in several particular properties.

References

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