San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

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Quick Overview

This is the audio only described version of the park's brochure for San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The park is a gateway into the vibrant history of the seafaring past of San Francisco. There are ships, a visitor center, a museum, a small boat shop, and a research center. All are open to the public.  The brochure includes color photos and descriptions of each of the historic vessels, the Aquatic Park Historic District with the backdrop of San Francisco, the research collections and a map of the park. The front of the brochure features the ship Balclutha, a square rigger that rounded Cape Horn 17 times.

Photo: The front of the Balclutha with the mast facing towards you. The hull is painted black, white and grey. The sails are not up. The fully rigged shipped has a complexity of ropes attached to all sections of the masts. The ship is docked at Hyde Street Pier with San Francisco Bay visible in the background. 

Source:  National Park Service /Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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TEXT: Site Highlights

At San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park you will experience the sights, sounds, and textures of the city’s seafaring past. You will get to know what life was like for the people who made their living at sea. From the wooden decks of Balclutha, a square-rigger that rounded Cape Horn 17 times, duck into the cramped cabins where sailors sheltered during months at sea. In the hold of the coastal schooner C. A. Thayer walk along the curving sides where freshly cleaned fish, layered with salt, were stacked to the ceiling.

Along Hyde Street Pier, park staff and volunteers mend lines, varnish brightwork, and tend puffing steam engines. Rangers lead a variety of programs, even high aloft in Balclutha’s rigging. The Age of Sail environmental living program bunks school children overnight on historic vessels. At the small-boat shop craftspeople shape and bend–on steam softened planks to repair historic boats and build replicas.

In the visitor center, exhibits and hands-on activities tell you about the Gold Rush, shipwrecks, communications at sea, and more. An interactive exhibit shows New York to San Francisco ocean routes. The spectacular lens from the Farallon lighthouse introduces the West Coast navigation story. The Aquatic Park Bathhouse building, designed in Streamline Moderne style, has Federal Arts Project murals from the nineteen-thirties. African American artist Sargent Johnson carved the stone facade.

If you’re interested in pursuing maritime history in detail, Landmark Building E houses collections of artifacts, documents, vessel plans, photographs, motion picture film, books, periodicals, and oral histories.

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IMAGE: The Visitor Center

A man stands in front of one of the visitor center's exhibits with the overhead title "Going to Sea" and an illustration of five men pulling on a rope. The exhibit has various artifacts in a case. The man watches a video.

Photo caption: The visitor center’s exhibits and artifacts tell stories of seafarers on the West Coast.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: The Aquatic Park Lagoon

Spanning a large section of the front page of the brochure, this photo shows the Aquatic Park Lagoon from the Municipal Pier. It includes the ships of San Francisco Maritime and the Museum building as well as small boats, with a backdrop of the City of San Francisco, including Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid building.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: Aquatic Park Historic District

From above, the Aquatic Park Historic District including the Streamline Moderne style Museum bathhouse building completed in 1939, a San Francisco cable car at the cable car turnaround, the Aquatic Park lagoon, gardens and walkways are shown. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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TEXT: San Francisco and the Sea

While native peoples paddled the bay in reed canoes, European explorers charted the coastline. In 1776 the Spanish settled at the site of present-day San Francisco. Soon afterward ships came in search of seal and sea otter furs. In the eighteen twenties whalers arrived, and Boston merchant ships began trading for California cowhides.

In 1849, after the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foot-hills, the world rushed in. That year over 750 ships arrived in San Francisco. Some fortune-seekers came on sleek, American-built clipper ships, but most sailed in on just about anything that could float. They often abandoned their vessels in the shallows. (Remains of such vessels lie today beneath the city’s financial district.) “It is a city of ships, piers, and tides,” wrote Chilean journalist Benjamin Vicuña Mac-Kenna in 1852. “Large ships with railings a good distance from the beach served as residences, stores, and restaurants . . . .” 

The Gold Rush brought merchants, laborers, and craftspeople from around the world. By the eighteen seventies California’s burgeoning grain trade lured big European sailing ships like Balclutha. Fleets of schooners like C.A. Thayer arrived with Douglas fir from Puget Sound. Flat-bottomed scow schooners like Alma sailed up the Delta into California’s Central Valley. They delivered plows and seed, sewing machines and cloth, coal and oil. And they returned stacked with jute bags of hard white wheat, well suited for long-distance shipping. On San Francisco’s docks the bags were hand-loaded into the holds of sailing ships bound for Europe. 

After the grain trade diminished and railroads reached the lumber mills and valleys, many sailing vessels were abandoned or scrapped. The lucky ones were refitted for other careers. Balclutha and C.A. Thayer went on to supply Alaska fisheries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. American intercoastal steamer traffic exploded after the Panama Canal opened in 1914. West Coast shipyards opened to meet the demands of World Wars I and II. 

For a time, a dazzling array of vessels crowded the San Francisco waterfront: great sailing ships, coastal passenger steamers, military craft, and local working boats. One by one, these ships became obsolete but nonetheless treasured for their beauty and for the stories they told. In 1988 Congress established San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to protect and preserve America’s maritime past.


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TEXT: The Park's Historic Vessels

The park's historic vessels are moored at Hyde Street Pier starting at nine o'clock, counter clockwise on the left: the ferry Eureka, the ship Balclutha, the tugboat Eppleton Hall, and the schooner C.A. Thayer as well as visitors on the pier. The backdrop is the skyline of San Francisco. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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TEXT: on Deck

For a taste of the sailor’s life, board Balclutha and other vessels at Hyde Street Pier.

Photo: A park ranger on the wooden deck of the ship Balclutha, tells stories about sailor's lives to surrounding visitors. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: Historic Engine Plate

This historic metal engine plate is colored green with gold lettering that says "Hull Number 59, Marine Engine Number 180, built by Fulton Engineering and Ship Building Works, San Francisco, California, 1902."

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: Centennial Figurehead

A restored, carved figurehead, or statue, from the ship Centennial. The figurehead is a carved woman in a floor-length dress with many folds is painted white. She is attached to a wooden mast and is standing on top of the curled bottom of the mast.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: Hyde Street Pier

School children aboard Balclutha surround a ranger whose hands are on the ship's massive wheel. Park rangers lead programs for visitors of all ages.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: Hyde Street Pier was built in 1922 for automobile ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito. The ferry route was part of U S 101 until the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937.

Today the pier and a number of the historic vessels moored here are open to visitors. Five vessels, Alma, Balclutha, Eureka, Hercules, and C.A. Thayer, are designated National Historic Landmarks. The pier also has a variety of maritime structures and exhibits. Welcome aboard!


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IMAGE: Alma

This 59-foot scow schooner was built in 1891 in San Francisco, California. There are two masts and the name Alma is on the back sail.  All three sails are full. A number of people are on the deck. The ship is sailing on San Francisco Bay. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: The last San Francisco Bay scow schooner still afloat, Alma is the park’s sailing ambassador, welcomed by port cities around the bay. Flat-bottomed scows like this carried bulk cargoes, hay, grain, and fertilizer, between Delta farm communities and San Francisco.

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IMAGE: Balclutha

The Balclutha is a three-masted, square-rigged, 256-foot ship built in 1886 in Glasgow, Scotland. The ship is shown docked at Hyde Street Pier. The sails are not up. The hull is painted black on top, then white, grey and red. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: Walk up this ship’s gangway and back into the eighteen hundreds. This square-rigger was built in Scotland to haul California wheat to Europe. Crew­ lived on board for months at a time during the treacherous voyage around Cape Horn. Compare the sailors’ bunks in the forecastle to the Captain’s quarters aft. Like the rest of the park’s fleet, Balclutha survived be­cause it kept working after other vessels of its class were scuttled.

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IMAGE: C.A. Thayer

The C.A. Thayer is a three-masted, 156-foot schooner built in 1895 in Fairhaven, California. The ship is docked at Hyde Street Pier with San Francisco Bay in the background. Only the front sail is mounted and the hull is primarily black with a red stripe at the bottom. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: This schooner is representative of hundreds that sailed the Pacific Coast. In Puget Sound ports eight-man crews piled the deck high with Douglas fir, the raw material for California’s cities in the early nineteen hundreds. Thayer later carried small boats and fishing crews to Alaska for salmon and cod.

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IMAGE: Eppleton Hall

The Eppleton Hall, a 100.5-foot steel tug boat was built in 1914 in South Shields, England. The boat is docked at Hyde Street Pier with the Ferry Eureka and the ship Balclutha shown behind.  From top to bottom in stripes of various widths, the smokestack is painted black, blue and white and the hull is painted black, white, green and grey. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: This sturdy little tugboat from England crossed the Atlantic under its own power in 1969. “Eppie” recalls the earliest days of steam navigation on the bay.

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IMAGE: Eureka

The Eureka is a 299.5-foot side-wheel ferry originally built in 1890 as the Ukiah in Tiburon, California and refitted in 1922 as the Eureka. The Eureka is shown docked at Hyde Street Pier with the Hyde Street Pier sign to the left. The ferry is painted white on the top two-thirds and black the lower third. Its smokestack is to the rear of the ship.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford  

Text: Originally built to ferry trains across the bay, this vessel was rebuilt in 1922 to serve passengers and automobiles. Don’t miss the classic autos and trucks displayed on the lower deck.

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IMAGE: Hercules

The 139-foot steam-powered tug boat Hercules was built in 1907 in Camden, New Jersey. The ship is shown docked at Hyde Street Pier. The structure above the hull is painted red with white trim. The hull is black with a thin yellow strip close to the top.  

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: Imagine a slow trip down the coast, towing a huge log raft and fishing off the stern for your dinner. This workhorse towed big ships out to sea, pushed railroad car barges across the bay, and towed huge lock structures to build the Panama Canal.

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IMAGE: Small Craft

Some of the park's small craft are moored on the east side of Hyde Street Pier with Municipal Pier and San Francisco Bay in the background. A classic wooden boat is in the foreground. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: The park’s boat shop restores these often unheralded, everyday craft used for work and pleasure on the bay: feluccas, Montereys, and yachts.

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IMAGE and TEXT: Research and Collections

Photo: A visitor is seated at a table with an open box and papers in the reading room in the park's Research Center.  Behind her are book stacks. A framed stained glass window of a ship at sea with an orange sky behind it hangs from the ceiling. A ship's flag from the ship Marioneth hangs against the back wall of the second floor behind an open staircase.

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

Text: Artifacts, scrapbooks, sailors’ crafts, and shipboard machinery—all tell stories about the men and women who created and used them. Read a sailor’s personal journal. Listen to sea chanteys (songs), or an oral history describing a 1906 voyage on the park’s lumber schooner C.A. Thayer.

If you are interested in maritime history, the park’s museum collection and Maritime Research Center are the nation’s premier resource for understanding the maritime heritage of the Pacific Coast.

The park’s extensive collection of artifacts, books, oral histories, photographs, vessel plans, documents, and other archival materials is located in Building E at Fort Mason Center and is available to the public. The research center is open by appointment 1 pm to 4 pm Monday through Friday. Call 415-561-7030 to schedule an appointment. For more information visit www.nps.gov/safr/learn/historyculture/collections.htm.

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IMAGE: Fishing Crew

A salmon fishing crew of 19 stand and sit close together aboard the deck of the Star of Alaska in the nineteen tewnties in this historic black and white photo. Rough seas are in the background below them. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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IMAGE: Steamship Brochure

A colorful brochure from the Oceanic Steamship Company, dates back from the eighteen eighties. The edges are torn and on the left section, which shows a round map with the route between San Francisco, Honolulu, New Zealand and Australia. The words "Oceanic Steam Ship" are on top. In the middle section, a steamship on the sea sailing towards the viewer in full sail. Below it are the words "Honolulu, New Zealand and Australia." On the right section, an extensive timetable with tariffs from San Francisco is shown. 

Source: National Park Service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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TEXT: Planning Your Visit

Text: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is served by public transit: call 415-673-MUNI (6864) or visit www.sfmuni.com. Paid parking is nearby. The park is open daily, year-round. The visitor center, pier, and museum are closed Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1.

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TEXT: Visitor Center

Located in a historic brick warehouse, home of the Argonaut Hotel, the visitor center offers orientation information to help you plan your visit. “The Waterfront” exhibit takes you back in time along old San Francisco’s working waterfront. Open 9:30 am to 5 pm daily; check for seasonal hours. No admission fee.  Phone number is 415-447-5000.

Photo: Two people look up at the large the Farallon lighthouse lens inside the Visitor Center. 

Source: National Park Service  / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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OVERVIEW: Accessibility

Text: We strive to make our facilities, programs, and services accessible to all. For information, check at the visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

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TEXT: Hyde Street Pier

The pier has historic steam and sailing vessels as well as other maritime exhibits and interpretive demonstrations. Admission fee to board vessels; no fee for pier.

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TEXT: Maritime Museum in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building

The museum has changing exhibits on West Coast maritime history. The bathhouse was built in 1939 as a joint project of the City of San Francisco and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Spectacular WPA murals cover the lobby walls. Open 10 am to 4 pm daily. There is no admission fee. 415-561-7100.

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TEXT: Aquatic Park Historic District

Stroll through the gardens, along the waterfront, or out on Municipal Pier. Watch the cable cars turn around. Visit one of the city’s few urban beaches. Spot boats and birds in the bay—and even swimmers in the cove.

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TEXT: Firearms

Text: For firearms regulations, please check the park website or ask at the visitor center.

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OVERVIEW: More Information

Text: San Francisco Maritime  National Historical Park; Fort Mason Center, Building E; San Francisco, CA 94123; 415-447-5000; www.nps.gov/safr. Follow us on Facebook

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is one of over 400 parks in the National Park System. Visit www.nps.gov.


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IMAGE: Scrimshawed Whale's Tooth

An illustration of  a spouting whale is drawn on a scrimshawed whale's tooth. The scrimshaw is inscribed with the name D.G. Coffin and says A 90 bbl whale.  BBL stands for barrel of whale oil. 

Photo caption: Visitor center exhibits include this scrimshawed whale's tooth.

Source: National Park service / Tim Campbell and Steve Danford

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Park Map

The map of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park shows the various sections of the park. From left to right is the Maritime Research Center located in Lower Fort Mason in Building E on the third floor, then the Bay Trail which leads to the Sea Scout base, then the Maritime Museum Building on Aquatic Park Cove, the Maritime Store, the entrance to Hyde Street Pier and the ships and the small boat shop. The Visitor Center is located in the Argonaut Hotel. Finally at Pier 45 are the World War Two USS Pampanito submarine and Jeremiah O'Brien ship. There is a small beach on the Aquatic Park Cove in front of the Museum Building. Restrooms and information are available at the Maritime Research Center, the Museum Building, the Visitor Center and on Hyde Street Pier. 

Source: National Park Service

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