It was 1848, the beginning of the year; the first month was coming to an end and February would begin. What seemed like an ordinary day turned out to be one that changed history forever. It began a period that would be one of the biggest events in America’s history. Introducing: the Gold Rush.
What was the Gold Rush?
The Gold Rush was a time in America when gold was found in the top layers of the earth’s soil and would bring an estimated 81 billion dollars worth of gold to the forefront. One day, a New Jersey man was doing his daily job for Mr. John A. Sutter in Coloma, California, making sure the water was flowing through his mill. To his satisfactory, water was a-flowing. Ready to call it a day, something caught his eye. A shimmering, shiny… item? He leaned in closer and would not believe what his eyes were seeing. Could it be? Was it possible? This would become the day when James Marshall discovered gold.
Que the Gold Rush to commence.
As the two men did not believe this news, they also said, mum’s the word. That didn’t hold for long. The gossip was leaked to a reporter and word spread like wildfire.
In 1849, the country sadly lost President James K. Polk and poet Edgar Allan Poe. This was the same year many men (and a few women) would leave families and businesses behind to flee for northern California to become wealthier than they could dream. The first to arrive came by boat, from Oregon, Hawaii, Mexico and China – the East Coast didn’t come until later as they did not believe the rumors. Following this event, the population immensely grew and the group of miners that found gold were coined as the 49ers. According to the History Channel, as 1849 was coming to a close a poll found that in two years the non-native population went from 1,000 to 100,000 and ‘a total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852.’
As one grows so does the other. With the major increase of people coming in via boat and by foot, cities developed and grew bigger, turning San Francisco into the metropolitan area for northern California which also ran the economy upward. The flip side of this was that gambling, prostitution and violence grew as well.
Many boats, ships and tankers were docked and abandoned at Yerba Buena Cove (then located on Montgomery Street between Clay and Washington Street) in the 1850s. Side fact: This part of town was called Yerba Buena originally until it was changed to San Francisco in the late 1840s ‘to end confusion.’ After abandoning their boats, the men ran to the mountains of Coloma seeking gold. Thus, these boats later became landfill for what is known today as San Francisco’s Financial District. This area now contains the largest businesses and art galleries.
Fast forward to July 2013, when a new building was going up in the Financial District and a small boat properly known as a lighter was found buried in the mud. Historians would discover that the unnamed lighter, held together by sitting in soil all these years was in fact from the Gold Rush Era. Lynn Cullivan, from the San Francisco Maritime National Museum, told CBS that this proves how different the shoreline is today from the 1850s. During the lighter’s hay day, it was a simple boat used to bring in items from ship to shore and was nothing spectacular, more of a common boat. However, today, a piece of history was found and many more rest under the glamorous high rises and under the millions of tourists that visit the Financial District.
By Julia Santucci
Based in San Francisco and originally from the East Coast. Julia is a writer and host, passionate about the hidden facts only the locals know about, from culture to architecture, fashion to food.