History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART SEVEN: CHAPTER 3: Governmental Activities

With the Mexican War San Diego became an important military station and considerable improvement has been made, from time to time, of its natural advantages as a harbor of refuge and defense. Troops were quartered in the Old Mission for about ten years after the Mexican War. The quartermaster’s depart­ment was established at New San Diego in 1850-1. Among well known army officers stationed here in early days were the following:

Colonel John Bankhead Magruder, about whom many stories are told. He was a strict disciplinarian when acting officially and was sometimes called “Bully” Magruder; but he was also convivial and drank deep with Lieutenant Derby and other con­genial comrades. When the Civil War broke out, he became a somewhat noted cavalry commander on the Confederate side.

Captain Nathaniel Lyon, who was much beloved in San Diego. He gave the first ball ever held in the old barracks, and owned one of the first houses in New San Diego. He was killed at the battle of Wilson’s Creek, in Missouri, early in the Civil War.

Lieutenant George Stoneman, later a general in the Union army and governor of California; Captain Edward O. C. Ord, later a Union general; Major William H. Emory, who came with Kearny’s expedition in December, 1846, and was later a Union general; Captain John F. Reynolds, who became a Union general and was killed at Gettysburg; Lieutenant George L. Andrews, whom Derby called “that mad wag,” and who was on the staff of General Canby at Mobile; Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, the hero of Fort Pickens at the beginning of the Civil War, who became a Union general, and lost a leg at the battle of Stone River (married a daughter of the Rev. John Reynolds); Lieutenant (afterward General) John S. Mason; Lieutenant Francis E. Patterson, who died a general in Virginia; Major Lewis A. Armistead, later a general in the Confederate army, who was killed at Gettysburg; Colonel Frederick Steele, later a general; Lieutenant George B. Dandy, afterward a general and stationed at different points on the Pacific Coast as quartermas­ter; Colonel (then Lieutenant) Hamilton; Lieutenant Murray, who became a Confederate colonel and was severely wounded at the first battle of Bull Run; Major George H. Ringgold; Major Edward H. Fitzgerald, who led “the Fitzgerald Volunteers” in the Garra Insurrection of 1851; Major Justus McKinstry; Cap­tain Foster; Captain Kellogg; Captain Winder; Captain Edward B. Williston; Doctor John S. Griffin, of San Pasqual fame, who later lived at Los Angeles; Surgeons Hammond, Keeney, Edgar; and many more.

The details of military life and activities in and around San Diego are somewhat beside the scope of this book. In a general way, a military post and quartermaster’s depot were maintained from the dates named. It was also for a time made a depot of military supplies for a large number of frontier army posts. The post at Fort Yuma was for a time supplied from San Fran­cisco by small steamers which ran up the Gulf of California, but in 1851 a line of pack trains across the desert was successfully established by William H. Milton, who carried the supplies from San Diego to Yuma for some time, under contract. Mr. Milton is still living, in Berkeley. Later, a military road and telegraph across the desert were constructed and played an important part in the life of the Southwest. In later years, the military activ­ities in and around San Diego have had reference chiefly to the construction of the harbor fortifications, improvement of the reservation, etc.

The necessity for a military reservation on Point Loma was recognized by the officers of the United States Army immediately upon taking possession of the country. In a report to the Sec­retary of War dated at Monterey, March 1, 1849, General Henry W. Halleck wrote, referring to a military reconnaissance ordered by General Kearny in 1847:

“The most southern point in Upper California here recom­mended for occupation by permanent works of defense, is the entrance to the Bay of San Diego. On the north side of this entrance, which is probably the most favorable position for works of military defense, are the remains of old Fort Guijarros, built by the Spaniards some seventy years ago. This fort, though never of much value in itself, was occupied nearly up to the time the United States took possession of the country, and all the ground in the vicinity is still regarded as public property.”

The military reservation was made by executive order dated February 26, 1852. The land included was practically all un­granted by the San Diego city trustees. In the patent which was issued to the city for its pueblo lands, this reservation was excluded, which left the title vested in the United States under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This fact was not clearly understood in early days, even by some government officials. As late as 1867, the chief of the government board of engineers for the Pacific Coast applied to the trustees of the city of San Diego for a grant of land as a military reservation on Point Loma. Nothing came of this, but it shows the lack of information regard­ing the source of the government’s title to its military reserva­tion on Point Loma.

The reservation includes all the outer end of the Point Loma peninsula, to a line running east and west through the center of La Playa. It forms a strip of land about two miles wide at the widest and about three miles long. Possession was taken February 28, 1870. The works were begun on Ballast Point in May, 1873, and have been carried on since. Work on the pres­ent fortifications began June 21, 1897. The barracks, officers’ quarters, depots, etc., are built along the military roadway lead­ing southerly on the eastern side of the peninsula. The situa­tion is a healthful and romantic one, and the fortifications are capable of being made very strong. The defensive works are known as Fort Rosecrans. They were first garrisoned by 20 men of Battery D, 3rd U. S. Artillery, under Lieutenant G. T. Patterson, February 20, 1898. The present garrison consists of 8 officers and 194 men, Major Charles G. Woodward, U. S. A., commanding. It is a two company post. It is thought worthy of record that the first child born at Fort Rosecrans was the daugh­ter of Lieutenant and Mrs. Deangly, of the 28th Company, Coast Artillery, born February 11, 1906. The army officers and their families have, from the days of the military occupation, formed an important part of the social life of San Diego. There are also a number of retired army officers who make it their home.


In order to guard the harbor against the action of certain con­flicting currents caused by the Zuñinga Shoal, the government in 1894 commenced the construction of a jetty extending from a point on North Island, opposite Ballast Point, straight south into the ocean a distance of 7,500 feet. This jetty was several years under construction, and is a notable piece of engineering. It is constructed of willow mattresses, sunk between piles and weighted down with rock. Before commencing the work, 18.05 acres of land on the island were acquired by condemnation, and later 38.56 acres more were purchased. The cost of the jetty was about $500,000. The fort at this place is called Fort Pio Pico.


An automatic tide gauge was set up at La Playa by Lieutenant W. P. Trowbridge, assistant in the Coast Survey, in September, 1853. There had been one tidal observer before him. Lieutenant Derby writes of “an odd-looking little building on stilts out in the water, where a savant named Sabot, in the em­ploy of the U. S. Engineers, makes mysterious observations on the tide.” It was continued until September 1, 1872, under the care of Andrew Cassidy, W. Knapp and H. E. Urlandt in suc­cession. Cassidy served seventeen years. A new gauge was established at the Quarantine Station in January, 1906, by Assistant B. A. Baird. The present observer is John A. Watkins.

LIGHTHOUSE ON BALLAST POINT, SAN DIEGO. Site of the old Spanish fort; Point Loma in the background.

The old lighthouse on Point Loma is a somewhat noted land­mark. There was long a tradition that it was the highest light­house in the world, but this is an error. Its elevation is 492 feet, and there are others much higher, some having more than twice its elevation. Work upon it was began in 1851, when the members of the Coast Survey selected the site. The lantern was first lighted on November 15, 1855. Experience showed that occasional fogs obscured the light, and in the 70’s a new lighthouse was constructed at the southerly extremity of Point Loma, and early in the 80’s another one on the extremity of Ballast Point at the entrance to the harbor. Both these lights are at the water’s edge and free from the objections to the old situation. There is also a fog bell on Ballast Point, which it is necessary to use but little. The channel was not buoyed until October, 1875, when piles were driven and beacons placed upon them.


The first lighthouse keeper was named Keating. Joseph Reiner served for a time in the 50’s. From 1865 to 1868 the keeper was Wm. C. Price. John D. Jenkins served in 1869, and after him Enos A. Wall was in charge for a short time. Robert D. Israel became keeper June 14, 1871, and served until January 6, 1892 almost twenty-one years. He was succeeded by George P. Brennan. The present keeper of the Point Loma lighthouse is Richard Weis; of the lighthouse on Ballast Point, David Splaine.

The Quarantine Station at La Playa was established in 1888, and work upon the buildings was begun in 1891. The Marine Hospital in connection with it occupies nearly the site of the old hide houses. These buildings are to be turned over to the navy department and the site used as a coaling station, the quaran­tine station and hospital being removed elsewhere.

The United States Weather Bureau, at first called the “Storm Signal Office,” was established at San Diego late in October, 1871, by Sergeant J. B. Wells, and the reports began a few days later. The station has recently been raised to the rank of a forecast station.


Oct. 27, 1871 to Aug. 17, 1876, T. B. Wells.
Aug. 17, 1876 to June 29, 1877, C. F. Howgate.
July 9, 1877 to April 4, 1879, M. M. Sickler. Resigned.
April 4, 1879 to June 26, 1879, W. U. Simons.
June 26, 1879 to Nov. 8, 1879, M. L. Hearne.
Nov. 8, 1879 to Dec. 5, 1880, W. H. Clenderson.
Dec. 5, 1880 to Nov. 17, 1881, William Story.
Nov. 17, 1881 to Aug. 19, 1883, Asa C. Dobbins. Died in office.
Ang. 29, 1883 to July 28, 1884, F. R. Day.
July 28, 1884 to Aug. 29, 1886, T. C. Sprigg, jr.
Aug. 29, 1886 to March 9, 1896, M. L. Hearne. Died in office.
March 30, 1895 to present, Ford A. Carpenter.
Present Assistants: Clark Simpson and Dean Blake.

Under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, February 2, 1848, San Diego became a customs port of the United States. The port of entry was abolished by the Act of June 2, 1862, and reestablished by Act of March 3, 1873. The first collector under the American military administration was Miguel de Pedrorena, appointed in July, 1847. The first collector under the civil administration was Wm. C. Ferrell, who served from April 3, 1849, to 1853. From 1853 to 1857 the collector was 0. S. Witherby. March 23, 1857, General José H. Covarrubias, of Santa Barbara, was appointed, and served two years, when he was removed. Covarrubias’ successor was Henry Hancock, who served till January 10, 1860. Joshua Sloane followed with a term extending from April 8 to July 27, 1861. Some of the stories told about his administration have been related. Captain Mathew Sherman served from December, 1868, to the followings May, when David B. Hoffman was appointed. He was succeeded by G. W. B. McDonald in July, 1872, and McDonald by W. J. McCormick on March 26, 1873.

In the following fall, the collector’s office was robbed and McCormick was found bound and gagged and claimed it was the work of the robbers. He was accused of having taken the funds himself and of trying to conceal his guilt by a pretended rob­bery. The trial excited great interest and some bitterness; McCormick was acquitted, but removed from office.

Wm. W. Bowers was appointed on September 25, 1874, and served until July 29, 1882. George A. Johnson was then appointed, and served to August 7, 1886, when Thomas J. Arnold became collector. His successor was John R. Berry, appointed February 6, 1890, during whose administration the Itata case occurred. He was followed by John C. Fisher, on February 16, 1894, and Wm. W. Bowers was again made col­lector on March 15, 1898. He served until February 6, 1906, when Frank W. Barnes was appointed, and the latter is the pres­ent incumbent.

There is no official record of clearances of vessels and custom house receipts at the port of San Diego, prior to the year 1875. In the following table the figures prior to that year have been gathered from newspapers, and those later are furnished by the Treasury Department:

Statement showing entrances and clearances of vessels and aggregate receipts from customs at the Port of San Diego.

Foreign Coastwise Total Foreign Coastwise Total
1878 13 72 85 13 63 76 12,660.97
1879 13 148 161 20 32 52 18,038.28
1880 16 104 120 13 39 52 20,819.33
1881 54 103 157 52 24 76 35,963.56
1882 89 110 199 65 45 110 357,413.50
1883 59 81 140 38 37 75 91,142.69
1884 30 75 105 33 4 37 12,664.28
1885 31 74 105 25 2 27 2,809.99
1886 28 83 111 21 8 29 10,719.00
1887 115 138 253 109 22 131 29,847.19
1888 284 159 443 233 92 325 311,937.59
1889 225 90 315 181 58 239 122,127.64
1890 190 94 284 151 40 191 74,460.35
1891 214 104 318 182 34 216 83,964.50
1892 200 101 301 152 60 212 82,817.16
1893 183 111 294 141 49 190 93,394.26
1894 151 94 245 132 25 157 95,027.24
1895 169 90 259 144 29 173 57,507.26
1896 188 94 282 172 20 192 59,360.31
1897 169 90 259 154 9 163 38.508.26
1898 172 96 268 146 5 151 46,410.99
1899 156 92 248 146 26 178 71,522.35
1900 168 102 270 137 31 168 131,901.27
1901 136 111 247 115 33 148 140,710.84
1902 131 96 227 105 17 122 128,183.03
1903 132 107 239 113 12 125 73,967.89
1904 108 107 215 105 7 122 75,114.41
1905 100 114 214 99 13 112 53,463.39
1906 100 112 212 88 25 113 104,380.69

The first postmaster at Old San Diego was Richard Rust, in 1850. The following year Henry J. Couts served. In 1853 George Lyons was postmaster; in 1856, Richard Rust; and the next year Lyons again. In 1858 W. B. Couts was appointed and the next year Joshua Sloane. D. A. Hollister served in 1865-6-7; then Thomas H. Bush was appointed. After Bush, Louis Rose served about ten years, resigning in June, 1883. The present postmaster at “North San Diego” is Paul Connors.

The postoffice at South San Diego was established April 8, 1869. The first postmaster was Dr. Jacob Allen. He kept a drug store and the postoffice was kept in this store. A few years later he removed to Riverside and spent his last days in that city.

On December 23, 1869, Freeman Gates was appointed to suc­ceed Dr. Allen. He made Columbus Dunham deputy postmaster, and Dunham did all the work of the office. At this time, the postoffice was removed to Dunham’s building, on Fifth Street between F and G. In the following May South San Diego was made a money order office. Mr. Dunham succeeded Gates as postmaster on April 28, 1870, and served until his death, March 18, 1876. His salary as postmaster was $150 per annum. The name of the office was changed to San Diego, April 14, 1871. The subsequent incumbents have been: Daniel Choate, from March 27, 1876; Henry H. Burton, appointed February 25, 1881; George D. Copeland, from May 23, 1881; Gustav W. Jorres, October 12, 1885; Allen D. Norman, November 10, 1887; Howard M. Kutchin, January 27, 1890; Richard V. Dodge, February 16, 1894; Moses A. Luce, February 11, 1898; and John N. Newkirk, appointed February 28, 1902, and recently reappointed.

One of the most interesting relics of governmental activities now at San Diego is the old boat Pinta. She was built at Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1864, and when new was the fastest boat in the navy. Later, she served as a fourth-class gunboat. Her last regular service was at the Alaska station. She was condemned at San Francisco about the year 1896 and sent to San Diego, where she barely arrived under her own steam. At the time of the Virginius affair, in the fall of 1873, she was off the Cuban coast and played an important part in conveying the news to the United States. At present her only usefulness is as headquarters for the naval battalion.

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Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County