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This historical marker shares the story of the General Harrison, a ship that is buried beneath the streets of San Francisco and dates back to the Gold Rush. When the Gold Rush hit San Francisco in 1849, hundreds of ships transported thousands of passengers to the fledgling city. The ships docked in Yerba Buena Cove, as the San Francisco Bay waterfront was then known. Many of the ships were quickly abandoned, as people were eager to make their fortune mining gold. Eventually, a portion of the cove was filled in and the abandoned ships were buried beneath the growing city. This marker was placed by the Club Quarter. The ship sculpture and outline of the vessel that appears in the sidewalk were created by Topher Delaney and Curtis Hollenback.

  • The Ship General Harrison Historical Marker
  • The Buried "Ships of Yerba Buena Cove" Map by Michael Warner et al., 2017
  • An illustration showing the San Francisco waterfront near Yerba Buena cove, circa 1850. Some of the abandoned Gold Rush-era ships were hauled ashore and converted into public buildings, such as the Niantic Hotel and the Old Ship Saloon, which were each built upon the hull of an abandoned vessel.
  • The outline of the ship General Harrison shown in the sidewalk
  • The outline of the ship General Harrison shown in the sidewalk
  • A team of archaeologists excavates the hull of the General Harrison in 2001

In 1849, the population of San Francisco exploded as people from across the United States and other parts of the world flocked to the area upon hearing word of the Gold Rush. Eager to chase their own luck and discover riches for themselves, many crew members simply abandoned their ships when they reached the San Francisco Bay waterfront, then known as Yerba Buena cove. They eagerly joined the crowds of miners and other passengers heading towards Sutter's Mill on the Sacramento River, where they began their own hunt for gold.

The General Harrison was like many other Gold Rush-era ships that brought passengers to San Francisco, as it soon found itself abandoned in Yerba Buena cove upon reaching its destination. Also similar to other such ships, the abandoned General Harrison became used as a storehouse for goods, while sitting in the cove. Some ships were even towed ashore and used as public buildings, such as taverns, hotels, churches, or jails. On May 4, 1851, however, a raging fire broke out and the hundreds of ships still sitting in the cove went up in flames. Masts, sails, rigging, and decks were scorched as all of the ships in Yerba Buena cove burned down to the water line, leaving a mess of timber in their wake. To cope with the wreckage, the city of San Francisco ordered the land in the cove to be filled in, thus burying whatever remained of the burned-out ships. In some cases, this included even the cargo that they held in their hulls.

Eventually, a portion of Yerba Buena cove was paved over and built upon, gradually leading to the establishment of a densely packed Financial District in San Francisco with its high-rise buildings and public transportation systems. Meanwhile, few people realized just how much of the city's history was buried underneath its streets. Finally, in 1978, the first of the buried Gold Rush-era ships, the Niantic, was discovered by construction crews who were digging a foundation for a new building in the area. Then, in 2001, the General Harrison was discovered. This time, construction crews were busy digging a foundation for a new eleven-story hotel to be built at the corner of Battery and Clay Streets. Upon hitting the old wooden planks of a ship's hull, archaeologists were called in to further unearth what remained of the vessel. There lay the General Harrison, weighing a total of 409 tons. Based on historical documents, archaeologists also knew that the ship was once precisely 126 feet and 2 inches in length, as well as 26 feet and 7 inches wide.

As part of the city planning process involved in building the new hotel, and according to the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, a team of archaeologists was already on call as soon as the construction crews began digging. The archaeology team suspected in advance that there was a good chance that one of the Gold Rush-era ships might be buried in this exact vicinity. As it turned out, they were correct. The discovery of the General Harrison was called "the find of a lifetime." The ship itself was originally built in 1840 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1849, it sailed south through the Atlantic Ocean, rounded Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile in South America, and then headed north through the Pacific Ocean along the west coast of the Americas, finally reaching San Francisco. Not long after depositing its passengers in Yerba Buena Cove to pursue their Gold Rush dreams, the General Harrison met its final days at sea.

After archaeologists unearthed this historic vessel in 2001, they spent time examining it and documenting it for further study. And then, the General Harrison was covered up once again, to remain just as it lay. Today, it still remains under the foundation of the building that exists at this spot. To those who know the story or take the time to read historical marker, the General Harrison is partly revealed to passers-by thanks to an outline in the sidewalk. The outline shows the ship's original dimensions, as well as its position underground, leaving it up to the modern imagination to fill in the rest. To learn more about the history of the Buried Ships of San Francisco, including the General Harrison, visit the San Francisco Maritime Museum. This museum is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and it is operated by the National Park Service.

"Buried Ships in San Francisco", National Park Service. Accessed February 16th 2020.

Placzek, Jessica. "The Buried Ships of San Francisco", KQED News. November 23rd 2017. Accessed February 16th 2020.

Rasilla, Azucena. "What Lies Beneath: The Ships Buried Under San Francisco", The Bold Italic. January 13th 2020. Accessed February 16th 2020.

Schevitz, Tanya. "Up from the depths / 150 years after it was buried, Gold Rush ship unearthed in S.F.'s Financial District", SF Gate. September 8th 2001. Accessed February 16th 2020.

Swackhamer, Barry. "The General Harrison", The Historical Marker Database. December 19th 2013. Accessed February 15th 2020.

Werner, Mark. Purser, Margaret. Historical Archaeology Through a Western Lens. University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Barry Swackhamer, The Historical Marker Database

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, National Park Service

The Library of Congress

Barry Swackhamer, The Historical Marker Database

Barry Swackhamer, The Historical Marker Database

James Delgado