A Tent City No More—The Gold Rush Creates a City

Early, Excessively Rare, Large-Scale Map of San Francisco
With Vignettes of Landmarks & Architecture

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

245. [MAP]. BRIDGENS, R[ichard] P[erkins]. Map of the City of San Francisco Compiled from Records & Surveys by R.P. Bridgens, C.E. Respectfully Dedicated to the Citizens by the Publisher M. Bixby 1854. Entered according to an Act of Congress in the Year 1854 by R.P. Bridgens in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Lith. of [Norman] Friend & [Jacob] Aub, 80 Walnut St. Phila. Wagner & McGuigan’s Lith. & Steam Press, Phila. [at left below title, scales] Scales Varas 1/2 Mile Feet;[at middle left] Reference [key to City Hall, Post Office, New Custom House...]; [upper left] Sweeney & Baugh’s Marine Telegraph Signals [followed by 18 maritime signals, mostly semaphores]; [Views of architecture and landmarks surrounding central map, clockwise beginning from upper right]: [1] Rassette House... [2] C.B. Hazleton and Loud & Hosmer... [3] N. Side of Commercial St. between Kearney & Montgomery [4] J.W. Bingham O.A. Reynolds... [5] N.E. Corner of Sansome & Halleck Sts. No 66 & 68.[6] Banking House of Drexel, Sather & Church... [7] Owned by Truett & Truett... [8] East Side of Battery St. Between Merchant & Washington. [9] Montgomery Street. LeCount & Strong Book Bindery & Lithography... [10] City Hall... [11] 48 Commercial Street. [12] Oriental Hotel...Corner of Battery & Bush Streets. [13] East Side of Montgomery Street... [14] 189 & 191, W. Side of Sansome Street, between Pacific & Broadway. [15] W. Side of Sansome Street, between California & Pine. [16] No 58 & 60, E. Side of Sansome Street, between California & Pine. [17] Page, Bacon & Co.... [18] Nicaragua Steamship Co.... [19] North Side of Clay St. between Montgomery & Sansome. [20] S.W. corner of Sansome & Jackson Sts. [21] Second Telegraph House. [22] First Telegraph & Light House. Philadelphia: M. Bixby, 1854. Lithograph wall map within ornamental border, on six sheets of paper mounted on contemporary linen, original hand color, original varnish, original black wooden rollers with original tacks; border to border: 104 x 186 cm; overall sheet size: 146 x 192 cm; the City of San Francisco is shown on a large scale, relief by hachures, depths shown by soundings, distances from Portsmouth Square indicated by concentric circles; identified are wards, block and lot numbers, reservoirs, public buildings, Market Street railroad project, charter lines of 1850 and 1851. Except for light cracking at rollers and a few other areas (minor losses) and light chipping at edges (not affecting image), a very fine copy. Copies located: California State Library and Bancroft Library (University of California at Berkeley). Provenance: Bixby Estate.

     First edition. Warren Heckrotte, unpublished “Preliminary List of Maps of San Francisco” 48.Peters, America on Stone, p. 394 (article on lithograph firm of Wagner & McGuigan of Philadelphia noting many of their productions, but not this map), pp. 393-395: “Wagner was best as a map engraver, he had a son A.G. Wagner, and both drank themselves to death.” Peters, California on Stone, p. 58 (brief listing of the map under publisher Bixby); p. 122 (brief mention of lithographers Friend & Aub); p. 202 (fuller listing of map under lithograph and steam press firm of Wagner & McGuigan with note: “This firm, in various alignments, worked in Philadelphia from 1840 to 1865. Wagner was best known as a map engraver... Only one California lithograph has been seen”). Ristow, American Maps & Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, p. 457: “Although not from a local press, the Map of the City of San Francisco Compiled from Records & Surveys by R.P. Bridgens should be mentioned. It was a large wall map... Bordering the map are illustrations of about twenty public and commercial buildings. We have no information about R.P. Bridgens and do not know whether he was related to the H.F. Bridgens who was involved with county maps and atlases in the late 1850s and early 1860s.” Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers (revised edition), Vol. IV, p. 342, lists the firm but not this map. Anthony Wayne Vogdes, A Bibliography Relating to the Geology, Paleontology and Mineral Resources of California (Sacramento, 1904),p. 219. University of California, List of Printed Maps of California, Library Bulletin 9 (Berkeley, 1887),p. 19. Not in Phillips, Maps of America, Rumsey, and other standard sources.

     This excessively rare map is among the earliest printed maps of the city of San Francisco and it is notable for its grand dimensions and the wonderful vignettes of the city’s landmarks and magnificent architecture. The map documents the impressive architecture in the city center and hints more than a little of proud boosterism, and rightly so. The structures depicted in the vignettes were comparable to those of Atlantic seaboard cities. Few of the buildings delineated by Bridgens survive, making the map useful for studying the architectural history of early San Francisco. Bridgens’ map is probably the largest of the city of San Francisco published to that time.

     The history and mapping of the city of San Francisco was preceded by the Spanish establishment of a mission and presidio (1776), followed by the Mexican era beginning in 1821 with Mexican Independence, and the subsequent privatization of the mission lands. In 1835 the town was named Yerba Buena, and the first street plan of the town was made. No printed plans or street maps of the town were made during the Spanish and Mexican eras, although a few manuscript maps were created prior to Yerba Buena becoming part of the United States, for example: William A. Richardson (1835); Jacob P. Leese (1839); the questioned Vioget map (1839); John Henry Brown (1846); and Jasper O’Farrell (1847). The transitional map from the Mexican town of Yerba Buena to San Francisco was Washington A. Bartlett’s “Alcalde” map, a manuscript map drafted between December 15, 1846, and January 20, 1847. Bartlett’s map was made the official map of San Francisco on February 22, 1847 (Map #36 in Neal Harlow’s Maps of San Francisco Bay). O’Farrell’s 1847 manuscript map of San Francisco was the first modern survey of San Francisco, made at the request of Bartlett (see Harlow #37).

     Harlow sums up the evolution of the rustic little village of Yerba Buena into the burgeoning City of San Francisco in his article “The Maps of San Francisco Bay and the Town of Yerba Buena to One Hundred Years Ago” in Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 16, No. 4, November, 1947, p. 375: “The seizure of California by the United States in July, 1846, and the incidents of the Mexican War stimulated the movement of Americans into the country. Several years of well-calculated American propaganda favorable to settlement in California had also begun to take effect when in January, 1848, the discovery of gold on the American Fork of the Sacramento River drew to California restless and fortune-hunting peoples from all over the earth. Soon San Francisco Bay became the port of entry for a fantastic commerce.” Dr. James D. Hart describes the earliest years of the City of San Francisco (A Companion to California, p. 373): “The gold rush caused radical and sweeping changes as San Francisco became the great port for men from around the world hurrying to the mines. Suddenly, the city became a cosmopolitan metropolis as a thousand tents covered the sheltered sand dunes of Happy Valley.... Soon definite districts evolved in the ever-growing city, which by 1860 numbered 56,000 residents.”

     In 1849 William Matson Eddy made the earliest printed map of the town of San Francisco proper. The present map, made only six years later, shows a dramatically transformed city due to the enormous economic, social, and political changes that came to the region in quantum leaps. Barth refers to San Francisco as the first “instant city” of the American West (Gunther Paul Barth, Instant Cities: Urbanization and the Rise of San Francisco and Denver, Oxford University Press, 1975). Now the tents are gone, and in their place are permanent structures, including some to rival any in the West. For example, one of the vignettes shows Montgomery Street and the book bindery and lithographic firm of LeCount & Strong. By 1854, the wild and high economic times of the early stage of the Gold Rush began to cool. Some firms in the book trade had a surfeit of inventory and subsequently went bankrupt. The prosperous LeCount & Strong was not among those unfortunate companies. Hugh Sanford Cheney Baker in “A History of the Book Trade in California, 1849-1859” (California Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3, September, 1951, p. 264) discusses the firm of LeCount & Strong and refers to the present map and LeCount’s building: “A picture of this building was printed on a map of San Francisco, 1854, issued by Bixby in Philadelphia.” Baker describes the firm and its building illustrated on the present map:

To survive, merchants, who were used to a market in which anything sold readily, had to learn to deal more moderately than they had in the early 1850s. During these years, LeCount & Strong prospered. They completed a large building by May 19, 1853. LeCount, in New York at the time, decided to remain there to buy books for his store. The Alta of May twenty-sixth, described the new building (which impressed San Franciscans because it cost $90,000), declares it to be the best building in the state. The basement was used for storage and newspapers; the first floor, for retail rooms; and the second floor, for the wholesale trade. On the third floor there were reception rooms, private apartments, and a bindery. The fourth floor had living rooms for the clerks, and the whole building was supplied with hot and cold running water.

     The San Francisco directory for 1856-57, p. 126, describes the firm and its building: “This complete and extensive establishment unsurpassed in the United States deserves more than a passing notice.... In the early part of 1853, the present splendid structure occupied by Mr. LeCount was erected at an expense of $82,000 and exhibits, in all its details, completeness of adaption, the result of the perfect acquaintance of its enterprising owner in the business in which he is engaged. It is 26 by 90 feet, and four stories in height.” The Fourth Annual Report of State Mineralogist (Sacramento, Vol. 4, p. 92) notes that after 1852 “LeCount & Strong built the granite edifice on Montgomery Street, No. 517, which was occupied by them.” LeCount’s building was next to the Montgomery Block, and like the “Monkey Block,” LeCount’s structure with its four stories was among the tallest buildings in the West.

     Little is known of the maker of the present map, Richard Perkins Bridgens (born in London 1820-died in Japan, ca. 1891). He was the elder of the two sons of Richard Hicks Bridgens (1785-1846), an Englishman whose wide-ranging interests and talents included designer (initially under George Bullock), sculptor, artist, architect, and author of the plate book West India Scenery (London, 1836). He also created the plates for the 1821 publication Manners and Costumes of France, Switzerland and Italy by John William Polidori, one-time companion of Lord Byron, physician, and writer (credited by some as the creator of the vampire legend). In 1825 Richard Hicks Bridgens emigrated from Birmingham, England, to Trinidad with his two sons and his wife, who inherited a sugar plantation in Trinidad. There he became the Superintendent of Public Works in Port of Spain and was responsible for the design of the first Government Offices on the site now occupied by the Red House. He died in Trinidad in 1846.

     Our mapmaker was only five years of age when the family emigrated to Trinidad. Next he can be found in Charleston, South Carolina, doing survey work and draughting. Later he can be traced to at least one map published in his name in Pennsylvania (Map of the Township of Manor Lancaster County, Pa. from the Original Surveys by R.P. Bridgens, C.E. Philadelphia: Lith. & published by R. & H[enry] F. Bridgens, 1852). His younger brother, Henry Frederick Bridgens (ca. 1824-November 22, 1872), mapmaker and lithographer, published cadastral maps and atlases of Pennsylvania under his name and the Bridgens Publishing Company (see Mark P. Conzen, “The County Landownership Map in America: Its Commercial Development and Social Transformation: 1814-1939” in Imago Mundi, Vol. 36, 1984, p. 17; also Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers (revised edition), Vol. I, p. 189). See also “Philadelphia on Stone: Biographical Dictionary of Lithographers” at the Library of Company of Philadelphia web site.

     In 1851, Richard P. Bridgens engaged in a survey of Charleston, South Carolina, the field notes of which survive (Helen G. McCormack, “A Provisional Guide to Manuscripts in the South Carolina Historical Society in The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine” in Vol. 46, No. 3, July, 1945, p. 175). Richard P. Bridgens worked and resided in San Francisco for several years (see San Francisco directories for the following years: 1859, p. 72, name misspelled R.P. Bridgers, overseer, Fort Point; 1860, p. 78, name misspelled R.P. Bridgers, engineer, dwl Fort Point or Wharf; 1861, p. 78, engineer, 528 Clay; 1862, p. 81, draughtsman with C.C. Kuchel, dwl 443 Green; 1863, p. 78, draughtsman 528 Clay room 14; 1864, p. 81, artist and lithographer, 528 Clay). Fort Point, on which Bridgens worked in the late 1850s and early 1860s, became known as “the Gibraltar of the West.” The California Gold Rush took the U.S. by surprise. What had been a sleepy little village evolved to represent incalculable wealth in the nearby gold fields. What had been a port with only a few ships a year, suddenly had 770 vessels arrive in 1849. The U.S. military suddenly was responsible for protecting its most valuable asset in North America: San Francisco Bay. Among the lithographs Bridgens made during his San Francisco sojourn was a large lithograph of St. Mary’s College measuring 63.2 x 88.7 cm (Bancroft Library).  

     In 1864 Bridgens moved to Japan, where he designed several buildings, most notably the Shimbashi Railway Station (1872; Japan’s first railway; documented in a wood-block print by Hiroshige); the Yokohama Railway Station (1872); and the Hōraisha office building (1872). Bridgens “was the only private architect who came to Japan in those early days, [and] very little is known about Bridgens’ career” (K. Abe, “Early Western Architecture in Japan” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 13, No. 2, May, 1954, pp. 15-18). Active as an architect in Yokohama and Tokyo, Bridgens’ influence on western architecture in the two cities was very strong. He designed many other buildings that played important roles during the Meiji Period. The architect for the Grand Hotel overlooking Yokohama has been attributed as Bridgens; upon the opening of the Western looking hotel, it became the favored spot for those who could afford it. Bridgens was among the foreign experts hired by the Japanese government to teach their subjects in the early Meiji era.


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