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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, June 25, 1911, Image 4

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E. M. North-Whitcomb
. ■a tO, no," sang the voice of sweet
•" !\ I sixteen in this year of grace
J \j 1911. "There was no romance
in the struggling fifties; they
were too much Interested in looking for
gold." But sweet sixteen was wrong,
for there were sweet and lovely, ro
mances, even in those far off days.
Down near Clarke point there was a
pretty little cottage, pointed roofs.
French windows, the whole painted
brilliant yellow and white. Here lived
Charlie Minturn. . Ever know him? A
Jovial, pleasant man; his name was
well known in the early days on
change. One day he was standing
gazing longingly from out of one of
these same French windows. Turning,
he said to the woman beside him:
"How I would like to see a steamer
crossing that beautiful bay regularly."
"Why," said she, "build one and call
it the Contra Costa."
"I will," said he, "and you shall
christen it."
Soon the shipbuilder, John G. North,
was called in, and being young and im
pressive, able, as every man in early
days was wont to be, he fell a victim
to the pretty black eyes of the be
witching senorlta. The plans were soon
made and quickly the keel of the little
steamer was laid in the 50 vara lot at
the northeast corner of Fourth and
Townsend streets, right where the ruins
of the Southern Pacific offices stand
today. .
There were splendid mechanics In
those daysevery man was an expert
knew his work from "stem \to stern,
from keel to truck, from rivet to steam
whistle." They had learned their busi
ness in the days of a seven years' ap
prenticeship, and could tackle anything
from a dory to a cruiser. There was
Dan Taylor and Albert Rowe and Tim
Cusane the teamster, and .Tim Duncan,
who would put in the Joiner work. It
wasn't machine made either, but hand
carved and polished; the gilding and
decorating done by artists who later
won renown for themselves. Virgil Wil
liams contributed two landscapes, and
when the old boat. broken up, not
so many years ago, they were taken out
and sent to New York, where they sold
for $1,500 to a daughter of the golden
Then there was Coffee the boiler
maker; he would come along in his old
buggy, driving a thousand dollar horse,
and put in the machinery—didn't have
to wait for eastern shops to send it
either; It was all made in San Fran
cisco at the works of Coffee & Risdon.
Well, it didn't take long those days to
set things going. The yard was out
of the city, of course, but the timbers
came around the point "and the barges
with the paint and other supplies were
hauled out right alongside the "French
man's cottage," which was painted
yellow and covered with nasturtium
vines. Here lived the old watchman,
Mr. Weldon, and his son "Dan." '
The young folk found it a lovely
The Romance of Early
Ship=Building Days in San Francisco
place to sit and talk, watching the blue
sheen in the water reflected from the
bluer sky, to listen to the ripple of. the,J
incoming tide, and to gaze across the '
waters and feast on the crooning
shadows of the foothills, and think that
the glancing waters of the glorious
bay would soon bear upon its bosom
the graceful' steamboat now upon the
"stocks." Many a pair of lovers, now
celebrating their golden wedding, sat
on the great timbers that formed the
ways upon which that early steamboat
slipped into her native element, and
plighted the troth that has endured
through the century. -
There were divers troubles, such as
waiting for the paint until the steamer
came in, or having the teams on their
way in from First street stuck fast in
the sand or In a big rut In the plank
ing of the street. It was common in
those days to use a mixture of soft
soap and grease to slush the ways so
that the cradle would slip easily. Just
at that time they found that.the sup
ply had run short. What was to be..
done? The ever ready,, resourceful
pioneer spirit prompted the idea ; of
buying up the entire supply of castlle
soap (Imported French) that the Red
dington-Wakelee drug store had on.
hand. It was done at a cost of $700,,
quickly mixed and melted and. as
quickly poured upon the ways. The
new steamboat was now ready for
launching, but alas, the lovely sen-*
--orlta was not well, and had gone to*
Monterey for a few days. Of course
the vessel would remain on the stocks.
"Wo San Franciscans^ always await a
lady's pleasure," said "everybody inter
ested. After a week the tide served
(water was washing Brannan street
from Fourth to Eighth streets then),
and the lady arrived in a splendid
open carriage drawn by two prancing,
white, American horses, all covered
with red and yellow roses, "and amid
the wildest enthusiasm with all San
Francisco present" (I quote'from the
paper of that day), "the sweet senorlta
broke the traditional bottle of cham
pagne upon the steamer's bow. The
Contra Costa was an accomplished fact,
a dream fulfilled." .
The launching cost the owners 40
baskets of champagne, and as Adams
& Klbbe charged from $40 to $75 per
basket, Captain Mlnturn paid well for
the christening.; ;i ; "?
With the money thus earned ' the
young shipbuilder. North, built the first
three masted schooner ever constructed
on the Pacific coast, and named her
the ; "Susan and ' Kate Denln," after a
couple of clever, talented actresses who
were, creating quite a furore'at the
old American theater at : that time, and
who presented the vessel with a full
suit of flags that cost $1,800. The whole
company was taken out to sea, and en
tertained for a "wonderful week", (at
least that is what the paper said), and
then chartered to go to Australia, the
ladies promising to meet; the captain
In Sydney. But the; captain knew a
trick worth more than that, so he car
ried as passenger the pretty wife 'of; a
merchant of this city, and ;■ on arrival
at Melbourne traded off the cargo I and
sold the vessel to the government for. a
dispatch boat to be used among the
Islands of the Pacific Captain North
never ■ saw a dollar of his money, • nor
the merchant his wife, as it was under
stood that the, vessel's captain and the
merchant's wife had left ■ together for
South America.
Then there was the. Chrysopolls
(Golden city). Captain Whitney; had
Just been married and brought 7 his
young wife out from New ,York. ."We"
have handsomer boats on the Hudson,"
said she. "Perhaps, but: we'll have
How the First!
bay Ferryboat
, Came Into
1 Being at the i
m of a J
fwlack I
lUyed 1
* k Senorifa %
dner on the Sacramento." said he. Down
in the old California navigation office
Dick Jessup. Ben Hartshorn. Bill Moore
and Major Hensley had been talking
about old times on the Mississippi.
"Why cant we have a boat like the
old Eclipse or the Natchez?"
"Wo can and we will," voiced' Ca
ptains Whitney and Hartshorn, "and
we'll have Captain Bill Poole to run it"
"It's a go. Shall we limit the cost?"
"Limit the cost? No sir, she'll be a
lady'and her appointments will cost
s more than her hull, you can just bet
your bottom dollar." „
Again that "young nan. John G.
North," was sent for and asked to make
the plans for a boat that would beat
any other, either in New York or San
"Oh, yes," said North, "I can do that,
but where will you gel the timber?"
"We leave it all to you."
"But I am Just married and I don't
like to leave my wife alone."
"Take her with you," was the an
So away went Captain North and that
staunch old pioneer stevedore, Captain
Anderson, Into Marin and Mendocino
counties—it was a four months* jour
ney. They-had to blaze their own trails
and arrange for hauling to the coast,
but that is another —with their
stalwart corps of men, over land that
had not been traversed for - decades,
I looking for the heavy timbers and
giant trees that were to be a part of
the new boat, the boat that was to be
the "largest and fastest, with more
beautiful lines, than any boat on the
Hudson." <•;-■: '„/--.... J ■"",
"The largest natural trees," was the
ftrder, and soon came a shipload of the
finest that had ever been cut on this
coast, brought down .by these hardy
Norsemen, and before they had even
been trimmed off they were placed on
exhibition at the Mechanics' fair, which
was then open. " .
The hauling of these great timbers
was done under difficulties. Third street
was cut through, but planked streets
Tere then the rule, and the ruts were
'ound as easily as today. Near Clem
entina street the wagons were stalled..
The driver had 12 horses hitched to his
truck and didn't dare leave them. What
was to be done? There was a group of
loyal women in the vicinity. One said:
"My husband is going to be the engi
neer of that boat let's go and help?"
So the women and children armed with
staves, planks, anything they could get
to push under . the wheels went to the:
rescue. Soon the animals, under the
cheering Influence of the women, hauled
the big timbers to the yard at the foot
of Third street
The driver, whose [ name is well
known in later days and whose daugh
ter In after years married an English
lord, noticed one of the girls who
helped, such a bonnle, clear, eyed girl,
and smiled acquaintance on the very
moonlight eve that the boat was
launched. Some months later they
were married. V
Well, the trees arrived at the yard,
and after a while the curving, swell
ing, beautiful lines of the hull could
be seen. Then along came Mr. Win
gard, a southerner who knew all about
*flic Mississippi, and put in the joiner
work. Such a toothpick deck had
never been seen,, such a grand cabin
had never been known; the large glass
windows, the splendid appointments of
the staterooms, the "bridal chamber"
elegance. The great cabin ran the full
length of the boat and was adorned
with noble pictures, painted by '■ artists
who have since been crowned with tho
\ laurels 'of > fame ,by ' European critics.
There: were landscapes j from the
brushes of Thomas Hill; William Keith,
and Bierstadt; Spanish scenes from Ar
* thur and Charles Nahl; Mexican and
Indian scenes from Arlola, the only
artist of that time (so it was said) who
dared to put the color of meonlight and
'firelight' in the same picture. Several
The San Francisco Sunday Call
of these panels are still extant and
ornamenting some of the ferry boats
now crossing the bay. The inside deco
rating was done In white and gold.
"Just like the Hudson river boats,"
said little Mrs. Whitney. The vessel .
was a picture, and the time came for
the launching. "Prosaic day would not
do for the launching," said poetio San
Francisco, for every one knew the
story, and this beautiful boat was San
Francisco's own, and should "walk the
water like a thing of life." So one
dreamy, moonlight night all San Fran
cisco came to the christening. But
lo! and behold! somebody called a halt
Squire Dewey and the California steam
navigation company had come to words.
"You shall not launch your boat
across my two 50 vara water lots unless
you pay for it," said the squire.
"We will launch our boat, and we
will not pay you a cent," said the
company. But how were they to make
good? There was a consultation In the
office. The "young man, North," and
the "old man, Anderson," were sent for
and the case placed before them. Ten
thousand dollars wae the sum de
"We'll pay it to yon," «aid Captain
"All right" said the "old and the
young man." "We'll launch that boat"
When night fell there were great
cauldrons of hot coffee poured out by
the willing hands of the wives and
sweethearts of the splendid men who
were engineering a feat never equalled
in the annals of San Francisco. What
with Jackscrews, | hydraulic pumps
there were but 10 men in townand
nervy men. the vessel was moved so
that it pointed In a new direction, Just
grazing the "Dewey 60 raras," and at
the appointed time It "felt the thrill of
life along Its keel" and slid into the
■ water, a floating palace.
Proud "young man. North." On that
same evening his first born arrived, and
neither the plaudits of the people nor
the magnificent gold watch, made by
John W. Tucker of California gold and
engraved with the scene of his exploit
presented by the C. S. navigation com
pany, counted alongside the steadfast
gaze of the two bright brown eyes of
his baby girl.
The \Chrysopolis fulfilled her boast
of "the fastest on the river" by making
the trip from Broadway wharf to Beni
cla In 1 hour and 19 minutes, a time
that has never been equaled. You all
know the life of this beautiful river
palace. Although she had a glorious
sister in the Yosemlte, now In the Vic
toria trade, her fame was never
eclipsed. Old settlers on the Sacra
mento tell how that mighty river was
as clear as crystal in those early days
and flowed in stately fashion to the
bay. But It carried nothing more beau
tiful upon its bosom than the noble
Chrysopolis, with its myriad of gleam
ing lights casting weird shadows upo»
the waters on a clear, still, starlign«.
night, nor more interesting than the
varied stories told in her cabin when
the expectant gold miner was on his
Journey to the mines or on his ret>'~»»
trip with his pile of gold. How tho
drooping willows used to bow their
heads In the wash of the steamer, and
the trailing wild grapevines receive a
wondrous sprinkling, when the Golden
City - passed down the river in the
Ah, the days of oldgolden days
when > men and women lived, not so
much for dollars as for civic pride
pride in the work of their own people.
And now, when the foot is placed on
the good ; steamer Oakland (formerly
the Chrysopolis), just give a toast to
the, faithful "lady" who has carried
millions In safety from the "old days'!
to 5 the present with hardly a sorroTj^
All honor to the honest workman of
that earlier day, when graft was just a
word in the dictionary, and to the love
ly women who lived and loved in the
:' "splendid working fifties." "-

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