from Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley Collections (src)

The ferryboat Piedmont was a ferry that ran between Oakland and San Francisco from 1883 to 1940 for the Southern Pacific Railroad's ferry service. It was a side-wheeler, with an unusual "beamless" beam engine design. The ferry was noted for its elegant interior. The Piedmont was the first ferry to arrive at the new Ferry Building in San Francisco on July 13, 1898. 1 In 1888, it was the first Southern Pacific ferryboat to be equipped with incandescent lights. 2,4

With the completion of the Bay Bridge in 1936, there was less need for the ferryboats. The Piedmont took a final, ceremonial voyage on January 14, 1939. 13 She was briefly put into service for the Key System carrying passengers to the exhibition on Treasure Island in 1939 and 1940.

The Piedmont was primarily a passenger ferry, but sometimes wagons and later automobiles were carried on the fore or aft decks. 17,18


With a career of almost 60 years on the busy and sometimes foggy waters of the bay, the Piedmont had its share of collisions, near misses, and other adventures.

In 1884, the tug Wizzard and the Piedmont collided. An inquiry determined the master of the tug was at fault. 11

In 1893 during a squall on the bay, the Alameda went temporarily out of control and the Piedmont had to slow suddenly to avoid her. Waves crashed upon the deck, and some of the passengers panicked and screamed. One passenger, Joseph Adams of Oakland, died of an apparent heart attack. 3

from San Francisco Call 23In 1898, the Piedmont and the Garden City collided in the fog. 10,16,23 Later that year, the passengers and crew were treated to the sight of a graybacked whale while passing near Yerba Buena Island (then Goat Island) 9

In 1900, while waiting for a slip at the wharf to become available, the Piedmont and the Llewellyn J. Morse drifted into each other in a heavy fog. The cathead (a spar near the bowsprit that holds the anchor) of the Morse tore into the Piedmont's superstructure. There were no injuries, but the passengers and crew had a good scare. 19

In 1902, the Piedmont narrowly avoided crashing into the Godiva in a dense fog on the bay. The ships apparently passed so closely that a deckhand on the Piedmont touched the side of the tug Relief which was guiding the Godiva. 5

In 1905, the Piedmont came into Oakland rather quickly and smashed into one of the dolphins (pilings beyond the pier) with such force it knocked some passengers off their feet. 7

In 1906, the paddle wheel struck an abandoned scow, causing many of the passengers to panic and don life preservers. The ship was crowded with refugees fleeing San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. 22

In 1911, a car driven by Mrs. Herbert Stockton plunged off the Piedmont into the water. Walter J. Seaborn dove in and rescued her, and a diver was hired to recover the automobile. 17,18

In 1913, the Piedmont crashed into the Newark in a dense tule fog on the bay. It was a glancing blow and there were no injuries or serious damage. 15

In 1918, the Newark crashed into the Piedmont. There was serious damage, but no fatalities and the ships were able to continue their journeys. 25

In 1920, the Edward T. Jeffrey crashed into the Piedmont while approaching Oakland. The Piedmont suffered damage to the railing and flagpole. 8

Alice Dell 20Over the years, there were numerous people who attempted suicide by jumping off the Piedmont into the bay; a few examples are listed here. In December, 1900, a women named Alice Dell jumped from the Piedmont into the water in an attempt to commit suicide, but she was rescued. 20 In 1901, a young man named William Jaurez, son of a Napa County rancher, committed suicide by jumping into the bay from the front of the Piedmont. 6 B. Nasu was less successful in his attempt. After drinking heavily he jumped off the Piedmont, but he was rescued and survived. 14 In 1903, Mrs. Max F. Berges dropped a bottle of carbolic acid on the deck then leaped from the Piedmont. She was rescued but badly bruised by the paddle wheel. 21

Captains and Crew

Gene's great grandfather, Andrew Anderson, worked on the Piedmont c.1893-1900+ as a deckhand.

It seems likely the ferry had several crews because it was run for many hours during the day.

In 1898, J, T. Jones was a captain of the Piedmont. From at least 1889 to 1900, Walter Clairville (Clareville in one article) was captain, and James H. Douglass was the chief mate. 19,24

In 1909, Richard Bradley was the captain of the Piedmont. Bradley's wife Mary Wall (Bradley), inherited the Wall mansion at Santa Clara and Lafayette Street in Alameda. 12 A 1913 article 15 lists Bradley as the captain of the Newark and a Captain Spohn as master of the Piedmont, but it's possible the names were transposed.

c.1888 26

Links and References

  1. Transit in San Francisco, A Selected Chronology, 1850-1995
  2. Ferries of San Francisco Bay by Paul Trimble and William Knorp, Arcadia Publishing

  3. A Ferry Fright San Francisco Call January 27, 1893

  4. Lighted by Electricity Daily Alta California March 24, 1888

  5. Ferryboat Piedmont Narrowly Escapes Disaster in a Dense Fog San Francisco Call December 9, 1902

  6. Boy Commits Suicide Los Angeles Herald July 6, 1901

  7. Piedmont Smashes Dolphin San Francisco Call December 7, 1905

  8. Two Collisions on Bay In Blanket of Fog Marin Journal January 15, 1920

  9. A Graybacked Whale Causes Excitement San Francisco Call October 30, 1898

  10. Lost in the Fog Los Angeles Herald February 4, 1898

  11. Marine Notes Daily Alta California January 25, 1884

  12. Fine Mansion is Deeded to the Wife of a Ferry Captain San Francisco Call October 1, 1901

  13. The End of the Side-Wheeler Line on the San Francisco Bay Fog City

  14. He Wanted to Die San Francisco Call November 6, 1901

  15. Ferries Clash in Dense Tule Fog San Francisco Call January 30, 1913

  16. The Ferry Collision San Francisco Call February 10, 1898

  17. Diver to Seek Stockton Auto San Francisco Call January 2, 1911

  18. Medal Wanted for Walter J. Seaborn San Francisco Call January 3, 1911

  19. Crowded Ferry Steamer Crashes into Ship's Bow San Francisco Call November 27, 1900

  20. Tries to End Her Life in the Bay San Francisco Call December 19, 1900

  21. Woman Who Jumps From Ferry Boat Suffers Severe Injuries San Francisco Call April 9, 1903

  22. Ferryboat Panic Narrowly Averted Los Angeles Herald April 27, 1906

  23. Two of the Ferry Steamers Crash Together in the Fog San Francisco Call February 4, 1898

  24. A Man Jumps Overboard from Ferry boat Piedmont Daily Alta California December 28, 1889

  25. Ferries in Collision in Fog on Bay; Panic Oakland Tribune January 26, 1917 (p2)

  26. Ferry Boat entering Oakland Slip, Cal. 3148 by I.W. Taber, California State Library