The Mercantile Library was in 1864 very strong and seemed destined to eternal life, but it became burdened with debt and sought to extricate itself by an outrageous expedient. The legislature passed an act especially permitting a huge lottery, and for three days in 1870 the town was given over to gambling, unabashed and unashamed. The result seemed a triumph. Half a million dollars was realized, but it was a violation of decency that sounded the knell of the institution, and it was later absorbed by the plodding Mechanics’ Institute, which had always been most judiciously managed. Its investments in real estate that it used have made it wealthy.
A gala day of 1870 was the spectacular removal of Blossom Rock. The early-day navigation was imperiled by a small rock northwest of Angel Island, covered at low tide by but five feet of water. It was called Blossom, from having caused the loss of an English ship of that name. The Government closed a bargain with Engineer Von Schmidt, who three years before had excavated from the solid rock at Hunter’s Point a dry dock that had gained wide renown. Von Schmidt guaranteed twenty-four feet of water at a cost of seventy-five thousand dollars, no payment to be made unless he succeeded. He built a cofferdam, sunk a shaft, planted twenty-three tons of powder in the tunnels he ran, and on May 25th, after notice duly served, which sent the bulk of the population to view-commanding hills, he pushed an electric button that fired the mine, throwing water and debris one hundred and fifty feet in the air. Blossom Rock was no more, deep water was secured, and Von Schmidt cashed his check.
On my trip from Humboldt County to San Francisco in 1861 I made the acquaintance of Andrew S. Hallidie, an English engineer who had constructed a wire bridge over the Klamath River. In 1872 he came to my printing office to order a prospectus announcing the formation of a small company to construct a new type of street-car, to be propelled by wire cable running in a conduit in the street and reached by a grip through a slot. It was suggested by the suffering of horses striving to haul cars up our steep hills and it utilized methods successfully used in transporting ores from the mines. On August 2, 1873, the first cable-car made a successful trial trip of seven blocks over Clay Street hill, from Kearny to Leavenworth. Later it was extended four blocks to the west. From this beginning the cable-roads spread over most of the city and around the world. With the development of the electric trolley they were largely displaced except on steep grades, where they still perform an important function. Mr. Hallidie was a public-spirited citizen and an influential regent of the University of California.