Maritime history at San Francisco’s Hyde St. pier

The Hyde street pier at Hyde street and Jefferson, like many other San Francisco treasures, reveals itself slowly as you walk it and its surroundings. On a weekday at least, parking is not all too difficult, we managed to find a spot half a block away, close to the cable car turn around at the end of the Hyde street line.

The pier was a ferry pier, and now boasts boat-building and wood shops, a National Parks’ visitor center and a maritime museum across Jefferson street. As you walk past the shops, you can take a look at old machinery like the Steam Donkey engine:

Steam Donkey Engine

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And this green engine, or at least what looks like one to us, and enjoy the craftmanship:

Green engine (unknown)

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To the left, the square rigger SS Balclutha is moored, permanently retired from the many booze runs it performed in the 19th century, may Neptune keep its wonderful soul, a ship after my own heart:

SS Balclutha 1886 square rigger

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Over to the right is the Hercules, a 1907 tug, perhaps not as glamorous as the Balclutha but served its communities just as well:

Hercules 1907 tug

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And then we come to the ferry Eureka… 1890. One hundred twenty years old. Steam powered by a single cylinder steam engine built in San Francisco by Fulton iron works producing 1500 horsepower, it could ferry 2300 passengers and 120 automobiles, and did so until 1957. It is the last walking beam-engined ship still in existence as a floating vessel in the United States.

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You can purchase tickets to get on board these ships, $5 per adult, free for supervised children under 16. Well worth it, as the Eureka has vintage automobiles that appear to be from the 1920s, below the passengers deck. You can’t help but wonder what it felt like to cross the Bay on the Eureka, looking out towards San Francisco, sometime in the 1920s perhaps, before the Golden Gate and Bay bridges even existed, and the City itself looked closer to the natural landscape.


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