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Collection California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849 to 1900

Towns and Cities

Three settlements were principal beneficiaries of the Gold Rush. San Francisco, a sleepy village called "Yerba Buena" until 1847, became California's major seaport, far eclipsing San Diego, San Pedro, and Monterey to the south. Almost every immigrant who came by sea passed through the town, as did most goods imported from the outside world. The rowdy city, crowded with hotels, saloons, and gambling houses, was the place to which weary, dirty miners came to spend their hard-earned wealth. In 1845, Yerba Buena had fewer than 400 residents; the 1860 census enumerated 56,000 San Franciscans.

Illustration XIII: Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1852. Halftone reproduction of lithograph. Lot 9603. LC-USZ62-55762. #3645

Inland, two smaller and newer towns also reaped the profits of the boom. Johann Sutter had dreamed of a town called "Sutterville" that would make him rich. Instead, squatters and businessmen overran his property on the Sacramento River, and the city of Sacramento was born. It served as the trading center for the northern mines and even became the state's capital. Sacramento's significance in the state's economy was reflected when it was chosen as a terminus for Pony Express riders and the depot of the state's first railroad. As the southern mines below the Mokelumne became a force, a ranch at the junction of the San Joaquin and Calaveras Rivers gave birth to a settlement first called Tuleberg and then rechristened Stockton. As the gateway to the mines on the Calaveras, Stanislaus, Tulomne, Merced, and Mariposa Rivers, Stockton grew quickly.