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The "Goat Island Grab"
One hundred years ago, when Californians became convinced that the Pacific Railroad would soon be accomplished, various towns fronting on San Francisco Bay competed for the prize of western terminus. Among places favorably mentioned was Goat Island (Yerba Buena) in San Francisco Bay. The island served as a military base and would-be fortress.
Leland Stanford's letter of February 5, 1867, stating that the Central Pacific Railroad Company "should at once extend our line to Goat Island and announce the fact" was almost certainly anticipated. There was a pamphlet published in the same month, titled "The Future of Vallejo." Its concern was in telling anyone who would listen that the Pacific Railroad terminus should be established at Vallejo rather than at San Francisco (via San Jose), and definitely not at Oakland! If this booklet had been planned to stir up emotions in "the city," it couldn't have been better done. It told that the Western Pacific (CPRR extension) preferred the "Stockton and Goat Island Route," sixty miles longer than a line via Vallejo.
On March 28, 1868, the State Legislature passed an act granting to the C.P.R.R. 150 acres of tide lands immediately north of Goat Island for the company's western terminus, and the right to construct a connecting bridge from the Contra Costa shore, subject to the expenditure of $ 100,000 for improvements within four years.
As the railroad neared Promontory, renewed clamoring about the terminal fined the newspapers. The Oakland Daily Transcript on January 8 stated that Oakland must surely become the terminus because the property interests of the Western Pacific "lie on this side." That town was aglow with pride when the mayor, Dr. Samuel Merritt, received a telegram on February 22 from Leland Stanford assuring him that they had not changed their plans about their line to Oakland (in order to give the "best possible accommodations to the business of San Francisco"). This line was built, together with the famous Long Wharf.
In 1871 the Goat Island plan was again in the news. An Oakland paper predicted that the Long Wharf of the C.P.R.R. would soon be extended to Goat Island as "one vast pier of solid masonry," and later, an "immense suspension bridge" was to cross the gap to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
Early in 1872, the San Francisco papers were again full of stories concerning the "Goat Island Grab." The Chamber of Commerce printed a booklet; mass meetings were held; the supervisors spent $308.84 to send their resolution to Washington by telegraph protesting the cession of the island to "Stanford & Co." There was reason for speed: the House of Representatives was considering a bill on this matter.
On March 11, 1872, Stanford wrote San Francisco Supervisors that the Central Pacific worked in the best interests of the city and that "The occupancy of Goat Island simply means the transfer of the business of the Oakland wharves to the Island, and nearer and better facilities for the business of San Francisco. . . ."
Meanwhile, the 1868 tideland permit was about to expire. An extension of time, approved by the California legislature, was vetoed by Governor Booth.
The battle was renewed when the Alta California on April 1 printed a large map showing the railroad to Goat Island, along with five articles. All through April, newspapers on both sides of the bay carried stories of agitation on San Francisco. The Transcript of April 24 reported that the Central Pacific plan had an excellent chance in Washington, where it was hoped to "force the Goat Island cession bill to a final and favorable vote for the railway magnates." This was certain to lead to depressed spirits in "the metropolis of the sandy peninsula," said the Oakland paper.
On May 22, 1872, the Transcript reported that the bill, which had passed the House on March 13, had been "killed for the present session of Congress. . . ." Goat Island as a rail terminal was destined to be heard from again, even into the present century, and even for the orange-colored cars of Borax Smith's "Key Route." TED WURN
Thanks to librarians in the California Room, Oakland Public Library, for making available materials necessary for the accomplishment of this research.
This is Number Nine of twelve Keepsakes issued during 1969 to its members by The Book Club of California in commemoration of the centennial of the transcontinental railroad. The series has been edited by David F. Myrick and designed and printed by Lawton and Alfred Kennedy. The map is reproduced through the courtesy of the California State Library, the letter through the courtesy of Stanford University. Ted Wurm is the author of The Crookedest Railroad in the World and other books.
Courtesy The Book Club of California.