(Contributed by Oakland Pioneers - No. 50)
THE CREEK ROUTE IN EARLY DAYS (NO. 1)
By HENRY MALOON
Before the Seventh street, or so-called "local" railroad, commenced operation in 1863, the only communication between Oakland and San Francisco was by what was known for many years as the "Creek Route," now known as the Harbor Ferry.
With the various rail and steamer lines now operating, the boats carrying two or three thousand persons with ease and rapidity, it is hard to realize that at one time a single steamer, the Clinton. handled all the transbay traffic, There are but few old-timers living today who can recall the Clinton and the United States steamer St. Mary, which sometimes lay in the bay channel, off the entrance of our Oakland harbor, apparently guarding the inner shrine of the Bay from outer invasion.
Let us take a step back into the past and visualize the scene of a Sunday morning trip in the '50's, commencing at the San Francisco side and leaving the old ferry landIng.
The last bell has rung as we rush aboard a small steamboat, the Clinton, which lies at its regular landing, at the corner of Davis and Broadway streets in San Francisco, for a trip across the bay to the town of Oakland and Captain Jakes cries "All aboard!" The old fashioned gang plank is hauled in, the ropes cast off, two bells are rung, the walking beam goes up and down, the wheels commence to churn the waters, and the little steamboat backs from her pier into the open waters of the bay, swings around, points her bow toward the eastern shore, three bells are rung in the engine room and we are off on our trip to Oakland.
The Clinton was a small side wheel steamboat about 90 feet long, with boiler, engine and cabin on the lower deck. The cabin was located at the rear of the boat. The crew consisted of captain, engineer, fireman and two deck hands.
Down along the waterfront we steam, passing through a large fleet of sailing vessels lying at anchor, whose crews had deserted them in that mad rush for gold on the banks of the upper Sacramento. We pass the United States Ship St. Mary lying at anchor at the foot of Sacramento street, with guns pointing at the sandbag fort at the corner of Battery and Sacramento streets - then the water's edge - occupied by the Vigilance Committee, which for a time had control of the city government, and pass Yerba Buena island, with its single occupant, Captain Jenkins, who was raising goats and chickens for the San Francisco market.
As the steamer speeds along, we see thousands and thousands of wild ducks, the great pelican, and hear the honk of the wild goose, all of which seem to be entering their protest against the advance of civilization. About a mile off shore from where the Alameda ferry landing now is two piles project from the water bearing a box on the top. This indicates the bar which obstructs the entrance of San Antonio Estuary, with barely three feet of water at dead low tide.
The boat now slows down while Portuguese Joe, the deckhand, takes a rod lying on the deck, stands at the bow, places the rod over the side, and calls to Captain Jake [sic] in the pilot house, "Seven feet, sir." Again he sounds, "Five feet, sir." Again "Four and a half, sir."
The boat draws four feet and the engine stops. Slowly drifting ahead, the depth is sounded. Joe cries "Five feet, sir," then "Six feet." The bell in the engine room rings to go ahead and a sigh of relief goes up from the passengers on board, for well they know to get stuck on that bar on the outgoing tide meant four hours of life wasted.
We are now sailing up the San Antonio estuary. On both sides are mud flats as far as the eye can reach, with thousands of wild geese, snipe, curlew, plover, pelican and here and there the tall crane, and the wild swan searching for food on the sandspits or flats. A shot from a revolver is fired. The sun is almost obscured and the noise deafening as they rise in flight. Standing on deck we look as far north as the Potrero hills and not a single wharf, house or sail is in sight; to the south all is an unbroken expanse with the exception of a small shack standing on the point on the Alameda side, afterwards called "Birds' Point."
(To be continued.)