Gold Rush village found under San Fran parking lot

19th c. doll found under San Fran parking lotArchaeologists excavating the parking lot near the corner of First and Minna streets in downtown San Francisco, part of the future site of the ambitious new Transbay Transit Center, have discovered a large number of artifacts dating to 1848 and shortly thereafter.

The area was a working class enclave of shopkeepers’ homes between sand dunes. The variety of the pieces is testimony to how many people traveled to San Francisco from all over the country after the 1848 gold strike at Sutter’s Mill to make their fortunes.

“This working class came from all over. Eleven feet down, there was tableware manufactured in Philadelphia and coins not minted as money that also came from Philadelphia,” lead archeologist Heather Price said. “And from the ground surface all the way to 12 feet below, we found fancy serving platters … and many, many liquor bottles.”

19th c. plate depicting bear-baiting Twelve feet down, Price said, they found pieces of a tent that roaming miners might have used on their way up to Gold Country.

“The supercool stuff was 12 feet deep,” she said. “We got down to just immediately after the Gold Rush, like 1850 and maybe even late 1840s.”

At that time, the shoreline of San Francisco Bay was about 1½ blocks away. Then the 1906 earthquake and fire pulverized the homes, and the sand was leveled for industrial development.

The artifacts will be preserved, catalogued and stored at a lab for the foreseeable future. The new Transbay Transit Terminal Project, an enormous development covering more than 22 city blocks, plans to install new high speed rail lines around a Grand Central Station-like 1 million-square-foot hub called the Transbay Transit Center. Once the center is built — it’s scheduled to open in 2017 — the artifacts may go on permanent display there.

William Self Associates has done many of the required preliminary excavations to ensure the new construction doesn’t completely annihilate historical sites. They’ll be conserving the artifacts and planning the exhibit in the Transit Center as well as any additional museums within the TTT area.

San Francisco harbor bristling with merchant ships, 1850-1851