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A Ramble through San Francisco (1857)

Daily Alta California, 15 October 1857

Suburban Rambles.

Rincon Point and its vicinity presents just as animated a scene now-a-days as of yore, notwithstanding the fleet of dismantled ships and old hulks are gradually disappearing under the ant-like industry of the Chinese, and their remains, heaped in piles of fire wood of cord-like dimensions, ornament the base of the frowning cliffs. Starting from the terminus of the omnibus route, on mounting the hill to the north east, we catch a glimpse or one of the finest views in our vicinity. The sight stretches southward to Punta Avisadero, and sweeps the noble expanse or the Bay dotted with vessels, to the mountains of the coast range on the east. Mission Creek and the plain lie to the west, whilst the greater portion of San Francisco, that located south of the outlines of the tramontane, Telegraph, Russian and Clay street Hills, glitters in the noon-day sun resembling a series of villages, to strikingly prominent are the disconnected irregularities of our city's build. After lingering awhile on the various phases of the landscape, and indulging in a series of reveries on the probable use of the contents of a couple of huge brick kilns, one of which occupies a large portion of the public highway, we follow the circular path, or series of foot paths, to the edge of the hill. Almost at our feet, seemingly, lies the U. S. surveying steamer Active — to the right, the ruins of an ancient lime kiln, built up from the waters edge to the summit of the cliff, of brick, containing, as it were, two huge cauldrons. On a small wharf, which juts out into the Bay at its base, a couple of schooners are lying, although one doubts if they really are other than cutters, so diminutive do they appear. From this giddy height the precipice seems impassible, but it is not. A series of indentures, just sufficient for a foothold, enable the adventurous to descend to the stony beach below. Glancing downward, one starts back involuntary — the height is somewhat over one hundred feet.

Walking leisurely eastward, you pass a cottage or two — neat structures enough, but surrounded with bleak unshaded enclosures, the fences of which, at times, are used by the Chinese fishermen, for spreading their dog fish to dry. The masts of a vessel, lying close to the bluff, attracts the eye, and on a near approach to the edge, you discover a bark, on Neefus & Tichnor's Marine Railway, high and dry, undergoing repairs. To the right, the roof of their neat two-story dwelling house reaches half-way up the cliff. A circular road here leads to the depths below, and down it we go. The view from the base is uninviting— huge piles of wood, the debris of defunct vessels, with here and there a house, built out of an ancient poop cabin, or a hut of canvass, line the shore, whilst at every hundred feet or so, paths, devious and trying to the uninitiated, lead up to the world above. Here are moored the fleet of whaleboats used by the Chinese fishermen, whose huts cluster on and overhang the beetling cliff, to the northward. A strong aroma — not the most pleasant in the world — assails the sense, a mixture of decayed timber, salt water, and decaying fish.

Progress in this location is uninviting — the feet slip in the unctuous mud, or over the slimy stones, so we trust to the altitude above us.

Striking a narrow path on the very edge of the cliff, deep with sand, we crawl on towards New Canton, the Chinese settlement, which is entered by a diminutive gateway. The avenues or pathways of the town lead the visitor between a series of impromptu edifices, some twenty odd in number, built of a conglomerate of brick, wood, old iron and sail cloth, those located on the declivity of the edge being entrenched with ditches — a precaution against being swept away by the floods in the rainy season. The interiors of these shanties seem to be filled with provisions, principally preserved fish. On the roofs and on the ground can be seen shrimps and other small-fry fish spread on mats to dry. Chinamen, half nude, are busy within — some mending nets, packing provisions, &c. — and, at the time of our visit, it must be confessed the greater portion of the residents were busily engaged — eating. Cleanly looking rice was served up in dingy bowls, on greasy, smoke-stained tables, and it disappeared rapidly, notwithstanding it was ladled out by chop-sticks. Our presence did not seem to abash the Celestials a whit, but they grinned so dubious a welcome, that we hesitated in carrying out our original intention of prosecuting our inquiries until we had delved into the mysteries of their life, and finally concluded to " 'bout ship." One fact, however, was apparent — the inhabitants were patrons of celibacy, for no women kind were to be seen in any part. These fishermen, we learn, do a very thriving business, and supply quite a large portion of our residents with the products of their skill-piscatorial.

Throughout this whole section, the air is redolent of decayed fish, caused by huge piles of dog fish rapidly forming themselves into manure heaps. The narrow, shelving beach below and half-way up the cliff, is converted into a wood-yard, whilst further towards the point, iron of every conceivable shape, is heaped in grotesque piles. Beyond the slight cove, a series of one story brick storehouses closes our view, and a short distance above, towers the majestic proportions of the U.S. Marine Hospital. Finding the passage here blocked up, we reluctantly turned our steps northward, through Beale street, (which by the way, is ornamented with three or four very neat cottages,) and passing the old Sutter House, a relic of '50, still in good repair, reach Folsom. North from Folsom street, Beale street, once a graded and planked thoroughfare, is a ruin — impassable. The waters of the bay have broken through the sand — the planking is torn up, and the whole remains a monument of folly, or wasted capital. In Fremont street, north of Folsom, a strange, yet neat dwelling house has been built, we presume by a Mr. Brown, for so reads the door plate.

It is a solid granite house, the swell front is dressed smoothly, and the residue, rough. It presents a strange fortification appearance in this neighborhood, taken in conjunction with the frail tenements we just visited. A few steps more, passing the Gas Works and the huge machine shops, we are again in the bustle and life of San Francisco, having in a brief hour tramped through a portion where the calmness of almost rural life invested us, and carried us mentally far away from our actual locality. To the weary in spirit we can offer no better or more pleasing diversion than to follow our footsteps.

Source: Text retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection
Page created: 18-IX-2016
Last updated: 18-IX-2016