This is an excellent example of the famous 1859 Coast Survey chart of San Francisco. Its striking black and white impression brings the city and its surrounding topography into clear focus. Furthermore, while this map is usually found on thin, fragile paper, this example has been professionally backed to give it strength and stability. Thus, The map is ready for framing or study without worrying about damaging it.
The map depicts San Francisco about a decade after the Gold Rush and the dramatic demographic and economic changes it brought. What was once a few scattered Mexican settlements surrounded by sand dunes has now become a major port city, the most important West Coast maritime hub in a country that existed for less than a century.
This transition is evident if we compare the 1859 chart with an earlier one from 1853. Today’s commercial district, once the tiny village of Yerba Buena, has increased drastically. Although large parts of San Francisco burned down at least five times in the 1850s, the intricate detail on the map reveals the scope of development both inland up the hills and out into the water. By auctioning off water lots to be infilled and incorporating scuttled ships into the waterfront, the shoreline of Yerba Buena Cove was quickly pushed outward. It is easy to imagine the bustling and wild city built by an influx of fortune-seekers from all over the world.
Elsewhere, however, the vibe is decidedly more bucolic. To the west, across Larkin St. and the 1852 city charter line, buildings are more scattered. This area was essentially San Francisco’s “countryside,” from where we get neighborhood names like Cow Hollow, an area dotted with dairy farms. In the vicinity of the intersection of today’s Laguna and Greenwich Streets, we see a large body of water labeled Washerwoman’s Lagoon. Here, an enterprising community of Chinese immigrants, disillusioned at harsh treatment in Gold Country mines, established laundry businesses.
The original Mission neighborhood contrasts sharply with the bustling boom town port to its north. The reason for this contrast is that the Mission remained largely disconnected from the rest of San Francisco at this time, separated by enormous sand dunes that have since been blasted away. Despite constructing a plank toll road, the best way to get from the San Francisco waterfront to the Mission was to sail a small boat around Mission Rock and up Mission Creek.
And finally, the chart’s depiction of the area south of Market St. is exciting for viewers interested in the history of San Francisco. It shows the area in the process of industrialization. If we look at later 19th-century maps of the city, for example this 1884 Langley directory map, we note how, in subsequent decades, the southeast coastline of San Francisco became home to numerous factories, industrial facilities, and maritime enterprises. As part of this process, the shoreline was pushed out and consolidated. In 1859, we are only at the inception of this transformation. Potrero Nuevo is largely empty, with only the Rope Works and a few scattered structures visible in today’s Dogpatch neighborhood.
Mission Bay is still open and large. Less than a decade later, the construction of Long Bridge (roughly today’s 3rd St.) would enclose the bay and eventually doom it to infilling.