Explore the Rolling Meadows of Southwest Bernal Heights in 1875

Neighbor Sandra recently shared this fantastic photo of Bernal Heights in 1875. It may have originally come from the fabulous SF Public Library Historical Photograph Collection.

There are so few landmarks in the photo that it was a little challenging at first to get oriented. But a few minutes of image-exploration confirmed that this is the view of southwest Bernal Heights, as seen roughly from the area where Silver and Congdon streets intersect in The Portola today.

The key detail that confirms the perspective is the College Hill Reservoir, built in 1870. It’s clearly visible on the west slope of Bernal Hill:

Notice that this was taken about 20 years before Holly Park was a proper park. The circular park we know and love today, was built in the 1890s.

Anyway, now that we’re properly situated, let’s look an annotated version of the 1875 image:

Lucky for us, Neighbor Sandra sent us a high-res image of the 1875 photo, so there’s a lot to zoom and enhance.

For example, here’s a tight crop of Bernal Hill, and the future Cortlandia. But in 1875, the west slope of Bernal Hill was home to just a few farm houses:

On the far left, there’s a dark line running north-south, just west of Mission Street. That’s the trench of the Bernal Cut,  which was excavated in the 1850s by the Southern Pacific for use as a raildroad right-of-way. Later, the cut was widened to become a stillborn freeway, and it’s now known as San Jose Boulevard:

In the foreground, we see the campus of St. Mary’s College, with two baseball diamonds on the south side:

Burrito Justice zoomed and enhanced even further, and noticed there’s a game underway on the diamond to the right. Looks like there may even be runners on first and second:

St. Mary’s College still exists, of course, but it’s in Moraga now.

The college’s website details its founding years in Bernal Heights, before moving east in the 1880s:

Archbishop Joseph Alemany had been dispatched to the West Coast in the mid-19th century by Pope Pius IX with the words: “You must go to California. Others go there to seek gold; you go there to carry the Cross.”

Alemany soon saw the need for education and religious instruction for the working class youth of a burgeoning San Francisco. Determined to open a school, he sent the intrepid Irish priest, Father James Croke, to seek donations from farmers, ranchers, merchants and the gold miners in the Sierra Nevada. He came back after two years with cash and gold dust to the tune of $37,166.50, a princely sum for the time.

Alemany threw open the doors of Saint Mary’s College in 1863. After five years of struggle, he made a difficult journey to Rome to ask for help from Christian Brothers, whose superior sent nine mostly Irish Brothers in 1868 to travel from New York by sea to San Francisco to manage the new school. Soon the Brothers were able to increase enrollment, stabilize the College’s finances and establish Saint Mary’s as the largest institute of higher education in California at the time. The first bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 1872. […]

The College moved from its cold, windswept campus in San Francisco to Oakland in 1889.

St. Mary’s College has been gone for 120 years, but the southwest corner of Bernal Heights is still called College Hill.

 

11 thoughts on “Explore the Rolling Meadows of Southwest Bernal Heights in 1875

  1. I love this photo! It was taken by the famous photographer Carleton Watkins, whose San Francisco studio was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

  2. I tried to duplicate this photo and the closest I could get was a pic from near the top of the Peru steps in the Excelsior. We have so many more trees and vegetation now, it makes it hard to figure out where those old buildings were on the hill. I tried Google Earth unsuccessfully some years ago. Maybe the new version would give better results.

  3. Got me feeling nostalgic for the soft, round, mound that once was the Hill. Kind of been carved up a bit in 142 years.

  4. Did you intend that “zoom and enhance” link to go to a Youtube video? Where’s the link to the high-res pic?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s