11. Integrating the San Francisco Region from the Pacific Coast to the Sierra Nevada
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173  Integrating the San Francisco Region from the Pacific Coast to the Sierra Nevada Little attention has been devoted yet to the growth and development of the primate city of this region: San Francisco. Instead I have attempted to show the importance of the hinterland in providing the early impetus for growth in northern California. But San Francisco grew concurrently with that hinterland . Without the explosion of immigrants who arrived at the mining areas during the first years of the gold rush, San Francisco would not have grown so quickly nor prospered so exceedingly (Soule et al. [1854] 1966, 209–17). Thus, San Francisco’s rise was an integral part of the whole and must be considered in concert with the rest of its region (Barth 1975). Some San Franciscans who had gone to the mines “returned very soon to their old quarters, and found that much greater profits, with far less labor, were to be found in supplying the necessities of the miners, and speculating in real estate” (Soule et al. [1854] 1966, 225). One of the important roles that San Francisco played for its hinterland was as a focal point of trade and commerce . It acted as a great redistribution point that channeled the goods and people of the expansive world of “supply,” connected by sea, to the interior mining activity and budding farms of the lands of “demand” that bounded the city on the north, south, and east. In turn, the places of demand in the hinterland became the foci of supply to more distant areas, with San Francisco benefiting from both the comings and the goings. Thus, the fortunes of San Francisco in its early days were inextricably tied to the mines (Brechin 1999, ch. 1). “The discovery of gold guaranteed that San Francisco Bay would witness a degree of urbanization. Transportation facilities of the day and California’s geography assured this outcome” (Lotchin 1974, 5). Because the newly developing supply cities of Stockton and Sacramento were on the shallow San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers respectively, San Francisco became the break-inbulk point where sea-borne shipments were reloaded on smaller boats for the trip inland (Lotchin 1974, 6). Chapter 11 174 Due to the tremendous demand for mining supplies farther inland, San Francisco (as well as smaller cities such as Sacramento) grew by leaps and bounds. During the first part of this year [1849], San Francisco was rapidly increasing the number of housing and population. Every day added sensibly to both. The mines were continuing to yield large returns, most of which was immediately forwarded to San Francisco, in exchange for new supplies.... Meanwhile, others who had been fortunate were returning from the mines with bags of gold dust, to squander in gambling , in drinking and all manner of thoughtless extravagance and dissipation . (Soule et al. [1854] 1966, 223) The large supply of gold and limited amount of goods and services in San Francisco led to exorbitant prices. For example, the price of admission to the pit of the circus was three dollars; while fifty-­five dollars was the cost of a private box.... Every mouthful at dinner might be valued at a dime; and to get a hearty meal would cost from two to five dollars.... A small loaf of bread, such as might cost four or six cents in the Atlantic States, brought fifty cents.... It was about as economical to throw away certain soiled articles of clothing and buy new ones, as to get old ones cleaned, when people had to pay ten to twenty dollars for the washing of each dozen articles, large or small. (Soule et al. [1854] 1966, 253) As San Francisco grew from a chaotic mass of busybodies, traders, gamblers  — ​ punctuated by devastating fires — ​ into the most dominant urban center on the Pacific Coast, other counties found their own place in the northern Cali­ fornia settlement system. This chapter illustrates the interrelated trajectories of the population growth of counties in the region from 1850 to 2000 and how the core or peripheral location, as well as their geographic characteristics, affected growth trajectories over time. By using geographic changes in space/time as markers at which to seek historical explanations of California’s development, a distinctive geographic history is revealed. Thus, this chapter analyzes how the differential geographic structure of the San Francisco city-­ system, stretching from core cities to the peripheral rural hinterlands (the lands connected to San Francisco economically), is a key factor in explaining the variations...


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Subject Headings

  • California, Northern -- Discovery and exploration.
  • California, Northern -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- California, Northern.
  • Land settlement -- California, Northern -- History -- 19th century.
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