John Hayward, Gazetteer of the United States of America... (Philadelphia: James L. Gihon, 1854), 565-566.
The peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the ocean consists chiefly of barren sand hills. The city of San Francisco lies just within the northern point of the entrance into the bay, upon a deep curve of the shore, and on the sides of three hills of sand, which rise steeply from the water, the middle one receding so as to form a bold amphitheatre.
The Bay of San Francisco was entered by Sir Francis Drake during his famous expedition to the Pacific, in 1578, before any settlements, except those at St. Augustine, had been formed on the Atlantic coast of the United States. It was known to the Spaniards 30 years earlier, but was neglected till their occupation of Upper California, which commenced in 1769, not long after which San Francisco was taken possession of, and was subsequently held by a small garrison, maintained in a little fort just at the entrance into the bay, a hamlet of a few houses growing up on the site of the present city. At the time of the transfer of California to the United States, in 1848, and even as late as April, 1849, San Francisco did not contain more than 30 or 40 houses. But the discovery of gold gave it a sudden impulse, and by the 1st of September, 1849, there were 500 houses, tents, and sheds, with a population, fixed and floating, of 5000 or 6000. Streets had been regularly laid out, and already there were 3 piers at which small vessels could discharge. New buildings, though of the most flimsy description, the oldest and most substantial of adobes or dried mud, the rest of boards and canvas, were held, as well as the city lots, at the most extravagant prices. The Parker House, an ordinary frame building, of 60 feet front, used as a hotel, rented for $110,000 yearly, and other buildings in like proportion or at rates still more extravagant. These enormous rents led to a rapid and immense increase of buildings, and, notwithstanding the very high prices of building materials and labor, by the beginning of 1850, San Francisco had become a real city, with some 20,000 inhabitants, spacious and convenient buildings, though mostly of wood, including extensive hotels and warehouses, many of the frames of which had been shipped round Cape Horn, and others from China. Speculation and prosperity went on increasing till the city received a severe check by three successive fires, by which a vast extent of frame and canvas buildings were swept away, and immense amounts of property destroyed. These fires led, however, to the erection of fire-proof buildings of brick. The city has also received a great extension by the filling up of shallow water lots by sand from the neighboring hills, upon which many solid and substantial buildings have been built; and though real estate has greatly declined from its former extravagant prices, to the ruin of many who thought themselves worth millions, the city continues to be improved by the erection of solid and substantial buildings. Great expenses have also been incurred by the city corporation in the improvement of the streets.
From its local situation in reference to the gold region, San Francisco must always remain the great seat of the ocean trade of California. Already it has extensive mercantile communications with all parts of the world. It is connected with New York by two lines of steam packets, one by the way of Panama, making the distance in about four weeks, a packet leaving either city every fortnight, and carrying the mail; the other, also a semi-monthly line, by the Lake Nicaragua, which accomplishes the distance in about four days' less time. The shortest passage from San Francisco to New York has been 21 days.
Not only is the trade with the Atlantic ports of the United States very great, but San Francisco has an extensive commerce with Chili, from which large supplies of flour are derived, and also with China, whence a great influx of emigrants is flowing to California.
The arrivals at San Francisco for the first six months of 1852, ending June 30, were 68 steamers, 108 ships, 101 barks, 130 brigs, 75 schooners, 40 sloops. Total, 522. Total tonnage,. 201,473. The clearances were 77 steamers, 94 ships, 141 barks, 130 brigs, 229 schooners, 76 sloops. Total, 747. Total tonnage, 222,805. The amount of duties paid is greater than at any port of the United States, except New York and Boston.
The arrival of passengers at San Francisco from July 1 to 29, 1852, was 9923; departures, 1140; for the first six months of the year 1852, the arrivals were 40,000. The present population of California is estimated at 240,000.