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San Francisco earthquake and fire collection, 1906.
MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 13 Folders 7-9
Collection Overview


San Francisco earthquake and fire collection, 1906


Cornwall, James T.


Hiller, J. R. (J. Roy)


This material relating to the San Francisco earthquake and fire is from the local history collection of Santa Barbara bibliophile, Clifton F. Smith. A noted botanist, Smith was also an avid book collector with a particular interest in the history of his native town. Although there is no accompanying attribution for the collection, the following description has been developed from internal evidence.
Letters: Two original letters with typescripts and 17 additional typescripts dated between April 18 and May 14, 1906. Of the twelve correspondents represented, only one (J.R. Hiller) can be positively identified. The majority of the letters were sent to residents in Santa Barbara, notably the George F. Trenwith family (daughters Blanche and Adella). Written to reassure family and friends, the letters are often dramatic first-person accounts of the days after the earthquake struck when the city was in flames and many of its residents were homeless.
Orisa, writing to her daughter, Charlotte, from Jefferson Square Park where she is camped out, says "I cannot describe the horror of it all. Butcher Town is reported under water. The ground opened and swallowed the whole district. The streets are scattered with the dead, nearly all wasted to a crisp."
J.R. (Roy) Hiller writes to his father, J.N. of Santa Barbara, about efforts made to save his business, the Bosch Lamp Company at 585 Mission Street. "When we got back to the store again the fire was raging in the Grand Operahouse, and the large buildings opposite there. We carried water to the roof to try and protect our block, as we thought the rooming house fire at First and Mission would not spread much. There came another stiff shake about 8 o'clock, and we all took to the middle of the street again. The fire was on both sides of us and as the soldiers were on all sides we decided to move the safe into the street and save what books we could."
From across the bay in Berkeley, Laura tells of her departure from the city: "We have lost both home and business by fire, and must begin over again. Florence and Walter came for us, walked over from the Hotel, and when we left home with night robes and a few old waists, we intended to remain only a few days at the Colonial and then return, so were not prepared with apparel to remain away permanently. I miss my nice old gold thimble that helped me with my many stitches; my good fountain pen that helped me enjoy writing to my dear friend; my new spring silk shirtwaist suit and my nice Easter bonnet."
The earthquake effects extended far beyond San Francisco. Two sisters write from San Jose about the damage there. Laura writes: "We were almost frightened to death and Jamie won't hardly go into the house. It moved this house about six inches on the back end. My sideboard went over and smashed, and you never saw such a pantry: sour cream and milk all over; all my dishes broken." Her sister, Dell, writes later: "Father's chimneys went down. Father got out of bed and was thrown down, but I think is all right now. Anna is here. They lost everything at the Hotel, but she feels rich because they are alive. It is hard to realize that such damage has been done until you go out of doors. This town is under Military rule, and I think it a wise thing. There are thousands being fed at different places established for that purpose. ... Last night there was a cold rain which was bad for those living out of doors. There seem to be a good many homeless children. There is one baby in town that was picked up on the street in the city and no one knows who it belongs to."
Photographs: Seven original photographs of the San Francisco fire (5 taken on Apr. 18; 2 on Apr. 20). The photographer was James T. Cornwall who was raised in Santa Barbara but was a resident of San Francisco at that time. According to the Santa Barbara Independent "Mr. Cornwall made a number of snap shots during the progress of the fire and the same will be on exhibition in the window of The Independent office as soon as they can be printed." The photographs are 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. and show views of the fire from Golden Gate Avenue (the Prager Building), and ca. Market Street (City Hall, Call Building).
Newspaper clippings: Xerox copies of photographs published in the San Jose Mercury on April 23-25, 1906. Included are views of earthquake and fire damage in San Francisco and San Jose.


1906 (issued)


Folder 7: Transcriptions of letters. -- Folder 8: Original letters and photographs. -- Folder 9: Newspaper clippings.


San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906 -- Personal narratives
San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906 -- Photographs
Earthquakes -- California -- San Jose -- Personal narratives
San Francisco (Calif.) -- History
San Jose (Calif.) -- History
Earthquakes -- California -- San Francisco -- Personal narratives
Fires -- California -- San Francisco -- Personal narratives


Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.

Physical Description:

35 items : ill.




MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 13 Folders 7-9



Copyright Note:

Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.