Milpitas, Santa Clara Co., Cal., June 11th 1863
Dear Memorial and Rock:--
Having just returned from a trip to San Francisco, I will give you a few notes on what I saw there. I found it the same bustling, noisy, rushing city as ever, and not having been there for some six months, I could not but note the improvements which had been brought about in that short space of time. Many splendid buildings had been erected including one or two first class hotels, fine, large, elegant, stone buildings. Then through all the principal streets, tracks are laid, and every few minutes the handsome and commodious street omnibus cars, go whirling past each drawn by two or four dashing roadsters. Six cents is the charge for a ride from one extreme of the city to the other. The citizens find these street railroads a great convenience, and they are well patronized accordingly.
Sunday morning the "merry church bells were pealing forth in chorus loud and clear," and they very forcibly reminded me of the bright Sunday morning long ago, when we sailed from Old Plymouth bound for this land of much promise. The sound of those well remembered bells, just ringing for church are lingering still in my ears; the last farewell sound of home. "When you are among Romans you must do as Romans do" is an ancient maxim, and acting upon that suggestion, I spent that Sunday after the manner of San Franciscans generally. That is to say I did as I saw the majority do, following the biggest crowd, I went to one of the big churches. It was the Unitarian church on Stockton street, a fine large stone building, with the "stars and stripes" waving from a flag staff over the roof.
In deep humility I removed my humble hat from my sinful head, as I entered the sacred edifice. The polite and gentlemanly, in attendance was merciful to a sinner from the country, and escorted me to a good comfortable seat. The inside of the church was roomy, cool, and well ventilated - and the pews were commodious, being made to contain six gentlemen, or three ladies. There were about a thousand people present; a grand collection of fashionable society. Gents in full broadcloth, white chokers, and hair combed erect. Ladies in rustling silks, peaked roofed bonnets, with big bouquets of large roses in the gable ends, and surrounded with an atmosphere of hoops, flounces, crinolin, ribbons, laces, feathers, and cologne. The pulpit, represented a sort of alcove, with big pillars on either side, with altar in front, and both alcove and altar trimmed with crimson velvet, big tassels, and patent lamps, while from the central part of the building hung two large stylish chandeliers. Opposite the altar, was the "singer seats," or orchestra, with a big organ in the back ground and a big clock in front.
As I entered, the lordly organ was sounding grandly forth in the performance of a grand overture. The music rose and fell in fine cadences; now grandly swelling, and again melting away. Then in the midst of a neat little enclosure in front of the organ, formed by means of gay, well arranged curtains rose a fine looking lady fashionably dressed in the full sail style and sky-scraper rig of the present day and gave us an opera. Her rich melodious voice rang, clear and sweet; now trilling clear, and high and anon warbling soft and low. I had never heard such fine singing in the churches out in the country. I was delighted. When she finished, no one stamped or applauded, as they do at Maguire's Opera House. It was probably sacred opera. The silence was, unbroken save by an old gentleman sneezing most furiously, which I considered as in extremely bad taste, for such singing as that was not to be sneezed at.
Then behind the altar arose the Rev. Thomas Starr King, dressed in a flowing black robe, like Rev Mr. Briggs used to wear - and in his full, distinct voice, read a chapter from the Bible. Then he "lined off" a hymn, in two line instalments. The big organ gave a few preliminary groans from its laboring bowels, then it grandly pealed forth in lordly strains again. This time one other lady, and two gentlemen joined in the opera. This was followed by a most impressive and eloquent prayer. The gentlemen bowed their heads; the ladies bowed their sky-scrapers with big cabbage roses in the fronticepiece. Then Starr King arose and gave out the number of the hymn to be sung. It was performed by the opera troupe in the same fine style, with solo and chorus. Starr King then gave out his text, but I couldn't hear what it was, as just at that time some enterprising Celestial, let off a bunch of fire crackers in the street near by. The text was something about "faith in God," and from it, he preached a well delivered and most eloquent sermon. I had never heard this celebrated preacher before, and was much impressed with both his style and his sermon. The sermon was short, and at the conclusion of it the old ancient custom was indulged in, of "passing round the plate." After a short overture on the organ the opera troupe joined again in solo and chorus, which the audience enjoyed standing. There with arms outstretched after the style of Paul preaching at Athens, Rev. T. Starr King gave us the benediction, and all passed again to the stern realities of the outer world.
As a faithful chronicler I must tell you what San Francisco people do Sunday afternoon. Still following the biggest crowd, I took the Mission railroad cars which left every fifteen minutes, during the day. The train was so crowded that I had to take passage on the hurricane deck which was also full. The iron horse snorted, puffed, and champed his iron bits, and in a few minutes we were whirled through among the green oaks, sandy lawns, and pretty cottages of the suburbs, three miles at a charge of only a "bit" to the "Willows" near The Mission.
"The Willows”, as the name indicates is simply a willow grove in a flat ravine, covering some eight or ten acres of ground. The undergrowth has all been cleared out, trees trimmed up, walks laid out, rustic arbors and seats arranged, flowers set out, swings erected, and various amusements projected, such as bowling alleys, shooting galleries, flying horses, &c. A large hotel at the side of the grove furnished refreshments and accommodations for man or beast, and near by a large pavilion was erected in which a theatrical minstrel troupe were performing. The "two bits" fee of admission to the grounds, also entitled one to go in to the pavilion - so in I went accordingly, as all the crowd did.
The house was full and I should judge there were fully fifteen hundred people present; men, women, boys, and girls. The troupe performing was the one attached to Gilberts Melodeon in the city, and consisted of male and female performers; all of them first rate. They played & sang many very beautiful pieces, humorous songs, solos &c, and did some very excellent dancing. At 6 PM the performance was over, and all hands took the cars again for the city. Every Sunday this beautiful, and very popular summer resort is thronged with visitors, promenading the beautiful avenues and pleasure grounds, beneath the shady groves and among the flowers. It is in fact about the only suburban resort worth mentioning, but Mr. Editor you are not to suppose that I joined in such general dissipation because I liked it. Oh no! not at all - of course not - but simply as a faithful reporter, a la Ned Buntline.
"Biscacciants," celebrated in years past as a great opera singer and "prima donna," and whose delicious warblings justly entitled her to the name of "The American thrush" is now singing in San Francisco at a low "free and easy" called the "bella Union." She has dissipated considerably of late years, and her voice gradually failing, she also had descended the scale.
When I am in San Francisco I always make it a point to call at the Southern Packet office of N. Pierce & Co, where I greatly enjoy a chat with Capt. Pierce and his clerk JB Simmons Esq., both fellow Plyrmoutheans. We talk over old times at home, compare notes, read the "Memorial and Rock," and discuss the home news generally. Capt. Pierce is a fine looking, erect, straight forward gentleman, on whose brow time leaves but little trace. He resides with his wife and family in a delightful suburban residence. He is principal owner in a line of packets running down the Southern Coast to San Pedro, and other ports, and doing a lucrative business. Capt. Wm Morton also of Plymouth, is capt of one of the packets. I did not see him. JB Simmons is an extremely sober sided looking individual, the sorrows of his riper years, appearing to have overshadowed the joys of his youth, and settled upon him as a sort of chronic melancholy. But just talk with him a bit about Old Plymouth; draw him out a little, and just see how the natural geniality of his disposition will give a full expression to his physiognomy, and you will soon find him to be a downright good fellow.
The San Francisco police assembled at their drill room and drill every day with muskets as infantry, and in case of emergency will be found very effective. Week before last, two, a camp of instruction was organized at the (---) just across the Bay, under a call from the Governor. It was composed of the officers of the different military companies throughout the State and they were called together for ten days in order to instruct them in the arts of war, and learn them all the latest military tactics.
Exhibited in a show window on Montgomery st I saw the splendid sword about to be presented to Maj Gen Joe Hooker by his California friends. It is a most magnificent affair costing thousands of dollars and resplendent with gold and diamonds. I don't know why he should have such a splendid sword given him, before he has earned it. I was reading a few days ago about some one of our colonels being presented with a splendid set of silver cap service, by some of his admiring friends. Better have him do a little field service first. Oh if you have got any money to spend on such baubles, give it to the sanitary fund. Let the Col drink out of a tin pot, and let Hooker use a cheaper sword. We are sadly in need of colonels who can stand soldiers fare, and of iron men with good steel swords.
The San Francisco & San Jose railroad is slowly progressing - two shiploads of the iron and rolling stock have arrived, and the road it is said will be completed and the cars running as far as San Mateo - halfway to San Jose - by the first of August.
I was down in the Pajaro valley a few days ago and found the crops of grain generally looking very finely. Of course I was over on the "Bolsa Nuevo" rancho, and saw Mr. & Mrs. Lucas and found them well and happy, and she wearing the same merry smile as ever. The wild geese had all flown north. I asked Fred what they had to live on, now that the geese were all gone; Clams, replied he; clams, we’ve got plenty of clams; and can live on them till the geese come again. So the friends of Mrs. Lucas will be pleased to learn that she is all right as far as grub is concerned. But then if they will insist on eating nothing but roast goose and clam chowder, I'd like to know what they raise green peas, potatoes, and all that other garden “sass” for. To give to their neighbors probably.
A tributary slough of the Salinas river, called “Elk-horn” slough winds and ramifies itself around far inland and separates the Bolsa Nuevo in a measure from the rest of the county. This crooked slouth is not wide, or deep, but troublesome, as there being no bridge over it, it has to be crossed in boats and oftentimes the boat being left on the wrong side, when one wishes to cross, creates quite a bother. Your correspondent once attempted to swim across, in order to bring the boat over, but finding the mud at the edge of the water, soft, stinking, black, and of an illimitable depth, he gave it up in supreme disgust.
This slough abounds in many kinds of good fish, and is navigable for light draught steamers. All along the sloping hill sides on either hand are many big ranches and fine farms where dwell also many a rosy cheeked farmers daughter. Fine girls they are too, all of them, none of you "prinked up" city missess, ready to faint if a dog barks at them, but real substantial smart sensible girls. One of them, Miss Lizzie L - a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked lass, amused me considerably one day by shooting a small hawk which lit on a tree near her father’s house. She used a big double barreled shotgun. She handled the weapon as cool as a cucumber, and as scientifically as an old sportsman. Of course I didn't "let on" that she had done anything unusual, or that I was at all surprised to see a girl fire off a gun. Oh no, not a bit. I have heard and read of such a thing, but never saw it before.
As the heading of this letter indicates, like poor “Joe” in Dickens "Bleak House", I am about "moving on". These copper diggings are getting “played out;" they don't pay, and now I'm going where the “big diggings” are. My next letter will be dated from Washoe the far famed land of silver and gold, some four hundred miles from here, and that much nearer to your side of the continent. Everybody has gone, or is going, and I am going also, just merely to follow the crowd.