By Rufus K. Porter
Note: From April 7, 1860, when the last issue of the San Diego Herald came out, until the first issue of the Union on Oct. 10, 1868, San Diego was in a journalistic vacuum – a fact which has bedeviled local historians ever since. However, this unrecorded part of the city’s history was, in part, filled by items in the San Francisco Bulletin, which had a capable and articulate correspondent here, in the person of Rufus K. Porter, who settled in Spring Valley in 1865. Porter’s letters to the editor of the San Francisco daily are of importance as eye-witness accounts of the city in those days, and from them the following excerpts on the idiosyncrasies of the San Diego steamer service are taken. Dates given are those of the issues of the Bulletin in which the items appeared.
May 27, 1867
The people of San Diego are much elated by the report that Capt. S. C. Bogert is to run permanently on the steamer plying between San Francisco and southern ports. They know he likes San Diego and has many acquaintances in the county, and therefore they have reason to rejoice at the prospect of a change in captains, as they can hardly be worsted. Capt. Seeley (of the Senator) used generally to stop over in Los Angeles, and his successor hardly ever came up to town. The express generally closes at 2 P.M., even if the boat does not arrive till nearly noon, and as the boat has no regular day of arriving here, your readers may judge of the inconvenience we, who reside a few miles out, constantly labor under, if we wish to transact any business with the steamer.
This monopoly business is a great evil, and God send that another line may be put on to bring the C.S.N. Company to a proper appreciation of how people ought to be treated. The line, as it is now managed down this way, goes in only for the benefit of Banning & Co. They seem to eschew every other place, and work principally for him and his. On the last trip of the steamer to this place a boat or lighter was on board for Anaheim Landing. The captain did not leave it there coming down, on the plea that the sea was too rough; but the Anaheim people (some of them, at least) say she did not stop because the boat was needed to get off some freight in San Diego. They left the boat on the up trip, as also the freight brought from San Francisco, and refused to take on some empty barrels at this place belonging to Langenberger & Co., though the barrels were rolled to the water’s edge. The clerk said the boat did not stop at Anaheim on the up trip, when he knew she had to land there. What his motive was in thus refusing to take freight when there was plenty of room and plenty of time is unaccountable. If Capt. Bogert does run regularly, and things don’t take a turn for the better, the merchants of San Diego will undoubtedly do all their business through DeBlois & Co’s sailing vessels, unless they are bigger flunkies than I take them to be.
May 28, 1869
The Orizaba duly arrived, and brought her usual quota of passengers as well as 100 tons of freight. She did not land passengers and freight at Horton’s wharf, as many expected, but anchored in the channel and put the freight into Culverwell’s scows, as usual. No one seems to know whether she will come up to “Horton’s Addition” next trip or not, but the probability is that she will not. I learn that a petition, numerously signed, went to your city, some weeks since, praying the Directors of the steamers to land freight as heretofore, that is, at Culverwell’s. Merchants and others have been finding fault for a long time at the present method of discharging freight into the lighters, alleging that
goods were received formerly much quicker when the steamer put the goods ashore in their boats, and not a cent of wharfage to pay. Now that Mr. Horton has his new and very substantial wharf completed, and a steamer of large size can lay alongside and discharge expeditiously. Many people out of pure spite and envy wish the steamers to continue discharging in their former behind the age way. To be sure it is a little nearer from Old Diego to Culverwell’s, than it is to Horton’s; and Mr. Culverwell has secured the esteem of everybody by his courtesy and spirit of accommodation. He has also worked hard and spent a good deal of money in erecting a wharf, storehouse, etc., but all that should not weigh as anything against the fact that Mr. Horton has built a splendid wharf at a great expense 1600 or 1800 feet long, right in the heart of New San Diego. He has a railroad track the whole length of it, and in less than half an hour after a steamer ties to the wharf, consignees will be receiving their freight. As some of the big bugs are expected on the next steamer, I hope the matter will be decided fairly and impartially, as I like both gentlemen, and I hope neither will be injured.
June 23, 1869
The John L. Stephens, as usual, discharged freight and passengers into small boats and scows, instead of landing them at Horton’s Wharf. If they persist in doing so, an opposition steamer will be put on as sure as fate. The traders and business men of “Horton’s Extension” as well as those doing business to the south and east of Newtown, including the frontier of Baja California, are determined to have freight landed at Horton’s Wharf by some steamer, and if this company won’t do it, try some other way.
Sept. 27, 1869
A great want of this community is an opposition line of steamers. The thing is bound to come sooner or later, and, from present appearances, very soon. The last act of the steamer Senator was enough to make every business man in New San Diego down on the company. On the arrival of the Senator, late last Friday, instead of anchoring as usual in front of Culverwell’s wharf, she steamed past and tied up at Horton’s.
Of course the consignees of merchandise in that vicinity expected to receive their freight immediately, but were told by the captain that his orders were to land all his freight at Culverwell’s, except one lot of 50 or 60 tons for a new firm at Horton’s Addition. The Senator did not leave Horton’s wharf till late Saturday afternoon, but did actually put all the freight, or the bulk of it, destined for the merchants and others residing or doing business near the wharf into Culverwell’s lighters, which had to be towed back to Culverwell’s wharf. The consequence was, no one received any freight, except a few trifling packages, till the third day. The captain had to obey orders, but what kind of a company would give such orders?