Did you know that much of today’s Embarcadero was originally underwater? During the California Gold Rush, people flocked to San Francisco and left over one thousand ships abandoned on the shoreline. This caused the water to recede significantly, and today’s city is now built on top of beached ships from nearly 200 years ago.
Author Ron S. Filion recently released a new map, Buried Ships of San Francisco, cataloging over 70 such ships that are still buried beneath our streets. The map documents San Francisco’s migrating waterline between 1849 and 1857, as well as both found and possible locations of the buried ships.
Some of the found ships include the Rome underground across the street from the Ferry Building, the Arkansas on the same block as the Old Ship Saloon (which incidentally is also built from an abandoned vessel), and the Apollo under the Federal Reserve Bank Building. Check out the map below or see a full-size version here.
Filion created the Buried Ships of San Francisco map for his 2023 book of the same name, which is available on Amazon. The book delves further into the stories and origins of over 180 Gold Rush-era ships that met their demise here.
The National Parks Service has a similar map that they released in 2017 documenting abandoned ships under San Francisco, which you might have seen at SF Maritime National Historical Park. Filion tells us that his 2023 map shares some of the primary sources used by NPS, but also reflects his more recent research into the U.S. National Archives, research libraries in Berkeley and L.A., and newspaper databases, among other things.
Some more historical context…
If you’re a fan of local history, you likely know that San Francisco was previously called Yerba Buena starting in 1821 when Mexico won its independence from Spain. However in 1846, Captain John B. Montgomery claimed Yerba Buena for the United States during the Mexican-American War.
He raised the American flag over the town plaza, which became known as Portsmouth Square in honor of Montgomery’s ship, the U.S.S. Portsmouth. Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco, the California Gold Rush began, and the city transformed seemingly overnight.
By 1849, San Francisco’s population had grown from below 1,000 people to 25,000 and counting due to the influx of “forty-niners.” This is what brought so many ships to SF’s shoreline, thus changing it forever.