SAN FRANCISCO DIGGIN'S

1965-1978

Digging in downtown San Francisco was a bottle digger's, coin and relic hunters dream come true in the mid 1960s through the late 1970s. The Great Bottle Rush in San Francisco got it's start in the Golden Gateway Redevelopment project which today is home for the Embarcadero Center. But, that was only one phase of many demolition and excavations to take place within the Yerba Buena cove extending from as far as Sacramento and Drumm Streets (Justin Herman Plaza) on and north to the foot of North Point and Kearney Streets in the Fisherman's Wharf area. The major excavations started in the areas of Drumm, Sacramento and Clay, Davis, Sansome, Front and Battery Streets.

THE GOLDSHIP "NIANTIC"

One historic dig site that I was fortunate to have gotten on and I will never forget, though it was the last of the great "digs" during the month of May, 1978 is of the

goldship Niantic, buried fifteen to twenty feet below street level at the intersection of

Clay and Sansome Streets just below the Transamerica pyramid in the financial district. The Niantic was one of the earliest gold ships to arrive in San Francisco in early days of the Sierra gold rush. She was left abandoned as the miners took off for the gold country in high hopes of making their fortune. As time went by, the Niantic was

beached and used as a jail, hotel, saloon and warehouse. The great fire of 1851 burned the Niantic to the water line. During the 1850s, virtually the entire financial district was filled, and scores of ships, including the charred remains of the Niantic were trapped. She was discovered in 1907 but left in the ground. It just happened that at the time of the Niantic's "rediscovery" in May of 1978, my brother being a backhoe operating engineer had close ties with many operators and foremen on various job sites. Therefore little favors were often exchanged. My brother and myself included were fortunate to have our friend on the Niantic job site save us a piece of the Niantic's wooden hull that was being loaded onto the debris trucks headed south for the land fill dumps at either Oyster or Sierra Point in South San Francisco. Gene and I were able to salvage a 13"x5" section of the Niantic's hull and a large section of copper sheeting, used to protect the hull from the wood boring toredo sea worms.

I managed to get a few champagne bottles that were packed in straw and still contained champagne though slightly diluted from sea water working it's way in past the wired corks.

There were plank nails and spikes by the bushels, of all sizes and types.

The iron ones were quite rusted and disintegrated, yet the brass ones were survivors. Along with these square nail spikes were found lead spikes, for what use I haven't figured out as yet. I would have to say that one of my best finds on one of those wee hours of the morning "sneaky by flash light digs" is a puce colored German or Dutch Hock wine in excellent condition.

The contents are still intact including the lead foil top depicting the Eagle of the city of Deventer, formerly Daventria in the Netherlands. The same Eagle is on the silver Six Stuiver coin from the end of the 17th century.

Special thanks to my friend Marco Klomp in the Netherlands for helpful information and the use of the Six Stuiver coin photo. Please visit Marco's Detecting web pageThis Six Stuiver coin is one of six found metal detecting by Marco on one of his beaches in the Netherlands.

Seal reads: GEROTHWOHL & COMP. As soon as I got the bottle home, I sealed the top with paraffin as an edge against having air shrinking the cork. Another nice artifact that would make your imagination run wild is a brass skeleton room key with a stamped numbered brass tag attached. It could have been used for one of the hotel rooms or storage rooms since the Niantic was at one time a warehouse.

Very shortly the archaeology department from the San Francisco Maritime Museum put a stop on the job and closed the site off to everyone other than their own people and volunteers.

Naturally, many of us bottle diggers volunteered. When the Niantic was rediscovered,

it was believed the bow to be facing east rather than west as depicted in historical documents.

After further excavation was done around the hull, it clearly showed that the stern was pointing east and the bow pointing west.

The Niantic was 120 feet in length and only a portion of the hull extended into the excavation lot. The remainder of the ship forward to the bow, was and is still entombed under the pocket park situated between the excavation pit and the Transamerica pyramid building. Simply to remove the hull could cause adjacent land--such as the intersection of Sansome and Clay, and the vest pocket park next to the Transamerica building--to collapse.

The Maritime Museum was fortunate to have found numerous artifacts at the site, including the ship's long windlass, used to raise the anchor; two pistols, one rifle and a derringer; 13 bottles of champagne, stone ware ink bottles, leather-bound books, bolts of fabric, cabin doors and hundred twenty eight years plus, old brass paper clips in the form of duck heads. The site had to cease archaeological surveying and return work back to the construction of the new Pacific Mutual Building. Unfortunately $630,000 for full recovery and $313,000 for partial recovery never materialized as planned and only a small portion of the Niantic made it to the Maritime Museum and other local Historic Preservation Museums. Please check out San Francisco History. An excellent historical site on buried ships in San Francisco's early day harbor. By Ron Filion.

Check out the beginning of the Great Digs-1965-1978

GREAT SAN FRANCISCO DIGS

SAN FRANCISCO REVISITED-1997

Many years have passed since the big diggin's. "Quote"About two years ago the second Great Bottle Dig hit San Francisco just off Fourth and Brannan Streets. Back in the mid to late 1800s, this area was a bottle recycling plant. Not in the way we recycle glass today, but by cleaning and re-using. Here is an article taken from the San Jose Antique Bottle Collectors Association monthly newsletter THE LABEL. May 13th, 1999 "Quote"

The Great San Francisco Dig:

Many stories have been circulating about the fantastic San Francisco dig. It must have been a thrill of a lifetime for those lucky enough to take part.

Basically the digging started about mid-February and lasted about three weeks, before the new owners of the lot stopped the digging. The site was in the wharf area of an old industrial section of San Francisco. An old fire map listed it as a depository storage for the early Pacific Glass Works. A warehouse was later constructed on the property, which burned down last December. After the debris and rubbish was cleared away, an area about 100 feet by 200 feet was left. Eighty per cent of this area was covered by a thick layer of concrete. So not only did you need a shovel and a pick, but a heavy duty sledge hammer to break up the concrete. Some more enterprising folk brought in jack-hammers and later a back-hoe was brought in to help. (Not a great idea. Men entrenched in holes and machines digging side by side did not work well together.)

The digging operation continued around the clock with as many as thirty people digging at a time. By-standers and spectators also gathered around the digging site to watch the flurry of dirt and shovels and howls of glee when the hole produced a super find.

Many of the area's less fortunate were hired on the spot, to dig through the top layer of dirt and concrete. Actually every walk of life was represented from millionaires to local bums, to regular every day diggers. Even one T.V. personality, Dana Carvy from Saturday Night fame joined in the bottle rush.

Adding fuel to this frenzied digging was the quantity and quality of bottles being found. Some conservative estimates place the number of bottles found to be around eight thousand. Among the best was the extremely rare, cone shaped Bryant's Stomach Bitters. These tall eight sided bottles were manufactured for only one year, 1857. Two perfect specimens in emerald green were recovered. One of them will be auctioned off at the next Pacific Glass Auction. The estimated value is between 30 to 70 THOUSAND DOLLARS. (No wonder the dirt and fists were flying.)

Also found were two mint Cassins Bitters, pontiled pineapple bitters, Pacific Congress Waters in rare colors, inks, pontiled medicines and a few rare whiskeys. There were also many unknown and never cataloged bottles found.

Another great story emerging from the dig. One of the Cassins Bitters was bought on the digging spot by an observing collector. The lucky digger was able to convert his wind-fall into a brand new pick-up truck.

So many stories. I'm sure more will surface as the experience is lived and relived by those who participated in the greatest San Francisco dig known to date. Unquote.

TREASURE IS WHERE YOU FIND IT

Treasure hunting/metal detecting has been in my blood for as long as I have been digging and collecting Antique Bottles. About 43 years ago I was fortunate to have permission from an elderly lady whose spouse passed on, to hunt inside her old Victorian home in San Francisco in exchange for price quotes on antique furniture ie: Birdseye maple dresser, lion claw base oak dinner table, tilt mirror oak dressers and numerous straight back chairs and Victorian rockers. In appreciation she told me to take anything I find in the cellar. Oh yeah! Couldn't find any old bottles other than a 1920's Gordon's Gin bottle full of shellac. Found some framed antique pictures and antique plumbing tools and was about to head back upstairs when I glanced up to the rafters and saw a long dark object perched across a cross brace. Reached up and retrieved a bayonet in it's scabbard. Kept it with my other artifacts and few years ago did a Google research on it. Was surprised that I found an early version 1863 Springfield Rifle two rivet scabbard with bayonet. A lucky find!

Bottle Clubs in the Northern California area that are still going strong: SJABCA (San Jose, CA.), The Golden Gate Historical Bottle Society (Antioch,Ca.), The 49er Historical Bottle Association (Auburn, Ca.), The Northwestern Bottle Collectors Association (Santa Rosa, Ca.) and The Bidwell Bottle Club (Chico, Ca.). We all cherish the bottles we have dug at various sites

and the memories associated with the digs. There's a lot of hard digging and sore muscles when it comes to digging these treasures of the past, but the rewards are greatly fulfilled when you look around at what you have brought to life,

and has been buried and forgotten for years. Old bottles have their own way of telling us of the past. Just look at any old bottle sometime and let your imagination do the rest.

Happy Hunting! Warren Whited olbeachbum@hotmail.com


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