Early sections of San Francisco were built upon ships abandoned by prospectors during the California Gold Rush. Many were intentionally run aground to become bars and hotels. Now, hundreds of wooden ships lay beneath the city streets and a portion of their subway goes through the hull of one.

San Francisco’s Foundation is Built on Old Ships from the Mid-1800s

In 1994, construction workers in San Francisco’s financial district began digging to build a new light-rail tunnel beneath the city when they hit something. It was a massive ship named “the Rome.”

The ship was so large that the crew had to tunnel through the ship’s hull to construct the tunnel. Now, the J, K, L, M, N, and T trains all ride through the hull of this ship every day.

But why was there a ship buried beneath the city, and how did it get there? To understand that, we have to travel back in time nearly 200 years.

The origins of San Francisco’s ships

When the gold rush began in 1848, thousands of people sailed into California, hoping to strike it rich. The ships that sailed there were often just enough to get the cre… Continue Reading (2 minute read)

10 thoughts on “Early sections of San Francisco were built upon ships abandoned by prospectors during the California Gold Rush. Many were intentionally run aground to become bars and hotels. Now, hundreds of wooden ships lay beneath the city streets and a portion of their subway goes through the hull of one.”

  1. MMaxs

    Wonder what things we’ll build upon in the future

  2. KillerApeTheory

    If you walk around the North Beach part of San Francisco there are signs showing where the original water line was. A lot of the land fill was also created after the 1906 earthquake when the rubble from the quake was pushed into the bay. Also why you shouldn’t buy a house in the Marina neighbourhood because it is all built on landfill and is generally much more unstable during an earthquake than other parts of the city, as shown in the ‘89 earthquake.

  3. Ken-Popcorn

    When they were doing the Big Dig in Boston, and tunneling as far down as 140 feet, they regularly came upon the hulls of wooden ships. Most were of no significance because back in the day it was common to fill ships that were no longer useable, with rocks, and sink them as landfill. The problem was that there was no way of telling which hull was which, so each time they hit one they had to stop digging until the archeologists checked it out.

  4. Jackferg12

    When it said subway I was like “what subway? We don’t have a subway here.” Then I realized it’s talking about BART.

  5. LUVsluttywomen

    This is pretty neat, kinda like how NY is built upon the ruins of old NY.

  6. 3Dartwork

    Article could have shown the one thing I wanted to see and didn’t bother – the view of the subway going through a ship.

  7. NotVerySmarts

    Gambling used to be illegal on land in Mississippi, so only riverboats or ocean liners could have gambling. So a bunch of casinos built casinos out in the ocean right off the beach in towns like Biloxi, and they made the transition from land to sea into their parking lot. After Hurricane Katrina everything got destroyed, and I think during the rebuild they realized that gambling was gonna happen anyway, so they might as well have it in a safer place on land.

  8. djlewt

    What an interesting way to say “built on a garbage dump” and yeah there’s also been major problems because of it, the bedrock is WAY down and cheap ass developers have tried to “cheat” and as a result there’s buildings that’ve sunk by over a foot in less than 20 years. This is like double what they’re supposed to be allowed to sink ever, happening fairly quickly.

  9. Spork_Facepunch

    This was super interesting, thanks!

  10. Fakezaga

    I live in Halifax, NS and they similarly sunk wrecks along the waterfront and filled them full of dirt and garbage to fill in about a block of land. You can tell because the whole town is on a steep slope and then at Lower Water Street it just levels off.

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