History of a Wandering Yankee: Arrival in San Francisco

In the beginning of his 20 page (single spaced!) letter detailing his adventures in Alaska to family in New York, Frank Felter describes why he and his wife Nell wanted to take this trip. Their journey begins as they depart from their home in Los Angeles and travel to San Francisco by steamer, where they would stay for several days before heading further north. I can imagine how exciting it would have been to see San Francisco slowly appear through the fog on that spring day!

Folsom wharf.jpg
The Felters probably arrived in San Francisco at a wharf like the one on Folsom Street. Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library.

Los Angeles, Cal. Dec. 1900

To Uncle, and to all our dear friends and relatives, East of the Rocky Mountains.

Having promised to write you something about our trip to Alaska, I will set about it without any preliminary remarks other than these:-

We did not to with the definite idea of bringing back half, or even a third of the “Klondyke Wealth” in our strong boxes, and of having a guard of thirty or forty well armed men to escort us back to civilization.

We did not set out with the purpose of melting the ice and snow with red paint, or of eventually reaching the North Pole.

We had no intention of taking the trip because it was popular, and to enable us to say we had “done” this, or had seen that wonderful thing.

We never for a moment entertained the thought of telling yarns about the frozen North, and impossible stories stories of occurences which never happened. We never considered any of the above inducements for journeying to Alaska. Our sole purpose was the somewhat selfish one of enjoying ourselves: of traveling by restful and easy stages, stopping here and there as our whims and caprices might direct us, and with the general idea of having a good time and a continuous holiday.

With this end in view we started out on the first of May,- left the beautiful city of the Angels and boarded the Steamer for San Francisco. Some of our friends went down to see us off, and they were so thoughtful and kind as to inform us that the Captain prophesied a rough trip. We kept up our spirits however, in the face of this news, and started off with the firm belief that the passage would be a smooth and delightful one.  Strange as it may seem, the wind began to moderate shortly after starting, and during the whole of the trip the weather was unexceptionable. The Captain said there must be a Mascot on board, for all the indications had pointed toward a very rough passage. We had a very pleasant time on board, reading, walking on the deck, or swapping stories with the other passengers.

Early on Thursday morning after a sail of about thirty eight hours, we found ourselves entering the Golden Gate, but, as there was fog enveloping the City and hiding from us the rising sun, we could not appreciate the full beauty of this wonderful Gate.

It is over a mile wide and some three miles long, widening into San Fransisco Bay which covers Four Hundred and Fifty square miles, and is the best and largest harbor on the Western Continent, if not in the world. You will get a better idea of the immensity of this harbor, by recalling to mind that New York harbor has an area of only Twenty-two square miles: less than one-twentieth of the capacity of this bay which we were entering.

SF_oldest
San Francisco as it looked in 1850. There are actually older photographs of the city than this one. Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library.
As we neared the City, of over 350,000 population, and covering over forty square miles, of territory, we could not help being interested in the story of an old man who remembered that in the early part of 1847 there were less than 500 inhabitants, and the place was then called “Yerba Buena.” In 1850 it had increased to about 35,000 and made up of people of all nationalities, attracted by the Gold Fever.

Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island, circa 1902. Image credit: San Francisco Public Library.

While sailing in, the fog gradually lifted, and we could see Alcatraz Island, which is fortified, and supposed to protect the entrance to the bay.

Having reached the wharf, delivered our checks and baggage to the Agent, and taken a receipt therefore, we set out to find ourselves a home where we could stay a week, a month, as we felt disposed, and where after a day’s sight seeing we could come back to this home, take off our high collars, put on our slippers and feel satisfied with the world. At last we succeeded in finding this haven on Hyde street, quite near the car lines, and convenient to the theatres.

SF_Hyde Street
San Francisco as seen from the corner of Lombard and Hyde Streets, c. 1897. Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. For in introductory explanation about their adventures, click here. To read Part 2 click here.

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Author: Tyler Stump

Historian and archivist who likes writings about history kinds of things.

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