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California Steam Navigation Co.
Sacramento River Steamers Chrysopolis and Yosemite

"Side of wheel, head of steam: Spectacular as many of these early boats seemed, none was grander or more graceful than the side-wheeler Chrysopolis (Golden City) that inaugurated the 'Golden Age of River Palaces.' She went into service between San Francisco and Sacramento in 1860. Constructed in California at a cost of $250,000, she was touted as 'the most beautiful steamer in the all the world,' with elaborately Victorian gold and white cabins, glistening brass lamps and plate-glass mirrors. Artists decorated passageways with California-inspired murals. Throughout, her 1,000 passengers found red plush upholstery and marble-topped tables. Her paddle-wheels were 36 feet in diameter. Unquestionably, the Chrysopolis was the 'toast of the Sacramento River.' At night, all the windows of these water-palaces were illuminated and their chimneys 'vomit fire like volcanoes.' They seemed more like great houses than boats, wrote Ida Reyer. Not everyone was as enthralled with the boats. The forward hatch on the steamers was commonly known as the 'China hold' where all Chinese were required to travel. Ordinary folks were accommodated in large lower cabins with as many as 75 curtained berths. Men sat about smoking and playing poker. Many travelers found the air disgustingly thick with the stench of tobacco, and most common berths 'inhabited by bedbugs.' " (Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett, San Francisco Examiner, 4-22-2002)

"The Chrysopolis was the fastest and best-equipped steamer travelling the Sacramento River in the 1860's, setting a record of five hours and nineteen minutes for the run from Sacramento to San Francisco. There is an account given of a race on September 5, 1864 between the Chrysopolis and the Washoe, another riverboat, whose captain stoked the boilers of his ship to full power to try and break the other ship's reputation. The race ended when the Washoe's boiler room exploded, killing more than 50 people." (Everything University)

Sacramento Depot
CPRR Depot, Sacramento, California (detail of A. A. Hart Stereograph) showing Steamer Chrysopolis. Courtesy Dana Scanlon Collection.

See: "Sidewheel steamship Chrysopolis on Sacramento River, California [ca. 1860], oil painting on canvas, 50.5 x 82 cm. Sidewheel steamship Chrysopolis with twin smokestacks churns along river preceded by two sailboats; two simple houses on far shore; small mountain rises in distance. Chrysopolis (1050 tons, length 245 feet) was built in 1860; rebuilt in 1875 as ferry steamer Oakland which was lost by fire in 1940." (Robert B.Honeyman, Jr. Collection, California Digital Library)

Steamer Chrysopolis
Houseworth stereoview #295, detail.
"The Sacramento Steamer Chrysopolis.
Courtesy Scripophily.com

"By the 1860s river traffic was abustle. As many as 100 steamers, sailing barks, brigs and brigantines passed by Rio Vista in a given week, many stopping to load and unload freight and passengers. The Chrysopolis was the best outfitted steamer of the day, providing the ultimate in river travel. It set the speed record for the run from Sacramento to San Francisco: five hours and 19 minutes, New Year's Eve day 1861. But steam boilers combined with the racing mind set of the captains made river travel a safety question for the passengers of the day. On Sept. 5, 1864, the steamer Washoe arrived in Rio Vista at 8 p.m. It was trailing the speedy Chrysopolis. Upon casting off, the captain of the Washoe, intent on passing the rival Chrysopolis, signaled for all the steam the engine room could deliver. The steamer got as far as Steamboat Slough when the boiler blew, killing over 50 people. A year later, the steamer Yosemite pulled up to the Bruning Wharf for a 45-minute stop to unload and load freight and passengers. Among the new passengers was a group of Chinese laborers. Almost as soon as the steamer pulled away from the dock, the upper cabin, pilothouse and deck rose in flame. Bodies burned by scalding steam hurled through the air, landing in the river and on the wharf. Eighty passengers died instantly, about 40 more died in the ensuing hours. The burning wreck of a steamer heeled against the wharf. In a newspaper account a theory was put forth that the fault was due to water being low in the boilers and that the fault could not be due to defective iron as defective iron would have been noted in tests when the steamer was built. However, the court's finding was that the iron was defective and thus the steamer company was not to be at fault." (Reporter, Echo's of Solano's Past by Kristin Delaplane)


hazeltine_sacramento_d_sh.jpg, 167K
CPRR Sacramento Depot, showing Steamer Yosemite. Hazelton Stereoview detail. Courtesy Steve Heselton Collection.

"Terrible Calamity: Explosion of the Steamer Washoe's Boilers - Supposed Killed, One Hundred - Wounded and Missing, Seventy Five - Several San Franciscans Among the Number - Attention Paid by the Sacramentans to the Wounded - The Cause of the Calamity - Scenes and Incidents - Etc., Etc." See: Mark Twain, The San Francisco Daily Morning Call, September 7, 1864;
"Captain Kidd's Statement" See: Mark Twain, The San Francisco Daily Morning Call, September 8, 1864

"Sacramentans felt the Chrissie, the 245-foot sidewheeler Chrysopolis built in San Francisco in 1860 for the then-staggering sum of $200,000, was the classiest boat on the river. On December 31, 1861 heading downstream from Sacramento, she set a new record of five hours and 19 minutes for the Sac-S.F. run. She could carry 1,000 passengers in comfort." (California Delta: Paddlewheel Steamboats)

"CHRYSOPOLIS (Means "Golden City") / OAKLAND
Type: Side-wheeler Size: 245 X 40 ft., 1,000 Passengers
Launched: 1860, San Francisco, for $200,000
Destroyed: 1940, scrapped out then burned.
Area: Sacramento to San Francisco, California Delta
Owner: North, John
Captain and pilots: Capt. Whitney, James
Comments: until 1930, was ferry boat between San Francisco and Oakland.
1861, Dec. 31, Ran Sacramento to San Francisco, CA, 117 miles: 5 hrs, 19 mins 22.03 mph avg." (California Delta: Riverboats)

Advertisement in the Pacific Railroad Gazetteer, 1870.
Advertisement in the Pacific Coast Railroad Gazetteer, 1870.

"One of the Delta's most beloved steamers was the sidewheeler Yosemite, which also was the major player in perhaps the area's largest maritime disaster involving riverboats. The 248-foot Yosemite was pulling away from the docks at Rio Vista on the evening of October 12, 1865 when her boilers let go, killing 45 persons. Barely a year earlier, just a few miles upriver from this fine town, a boiler on the steamer Washoe exploded, killing 16 and injuring 36." (Paddlewheel steamboats in the early days of the California Delta)

"The fateful explosion of the steamer Yosemite was at 6 p.m. Oct. 12. It was reported by the steamer's clerk that there had been 107 cabin passengers, 44 steerage passengers and 65 officers and crew. At the time of the explosion, 50 to 80 people were killed instantly. Several more were injured. The bodies of 13 white males were taken by the steamer Chrysopolis to San Francisco. The bodies of 33 remained on the pier to be tended to. ... The accident was all the more shocking as the Yosemite, built in 1863, was considered the finest riverboat in California. Coroner Albert Knorp held an inquest and testimony was taken. No criminal blame could be attached. On the morning after the accident, the deck hands, John Farron and John McDonald (a.k.a. John McGuire) were ordered by Capt. Poole to bring up the bodies from the cabin, which were usually occupied by the Chinese. The deck hands were soon discovered cutting off the pockets from the dead bodies and rifling them of their contents. This caused them to be arrested. There was found on one of the men $640 in coin, a gold watch, two gold chains, three silver watches, $25 or $30 worth of gold specimens and one gold breast pin. Another man was found with $80 in coin, several gold and silver specimens, gold rings, a Chinese wallet, which contained a silver watch with a gold chain, a gold specimen seal and one military poll tax receipt issued to Sin Yiu. The two were found guilty and sentence to San Quentin for five years. In all, the Chinese had $40,000 worth of coin and dust, and many assumed they had plans to return to China. Several Chinese left Sacramento to charge of the remains of their deceased countrymen. A short while later, an agent of the California Steam Navigation Co. came to Rio Vista to remunerate those who assisted in the explosion and the hotelkeepers who had supplied blankets and other necessities." (Reporter, Echo's of Solano's Past by Kristin Delaplane)

"The 'Oakland' was rebuilt in 1875 from the steamer 'Chrysopolis' and operated by Central Pacific, Southern Pacific.  She had a wood hull 265' x 41.5' x 16' and weighed 1,672 tons.  She operated a vertical beam engine 60" diameter x 144" stroke and was 1,225 hp.  She was destroyed by fire in 1941." (George Harlan, San Francisco Bay Ferryboats)

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