Land ahoy! Ships used as landfill
San Francisco’s Presidio has protected the entrance to San Francisco Bay since the early Spanish first established a fort there, and the coastal parts of the Presidio are largely unchanged, with the exception of the construction of seacoast fortifications and the Golden Gate Bridge. Other parts of the Fan Francisco peninsula, however, have been greatly altered by landfill efforts, which included the intentional scuttling of ships.
Filling the water between docks and piers to expand waterfront property was a common practice during the sea-faring days of the colonial and early federal periods of the United States and elsewhere around the world. In late 2015, workers preparing a site for a new development in the historic town of Alexandria, Virginia stumbled upon the well-preserved remains of what turned out to be a late 18th-century boat. Given that the boat had been completely stripped of cargo and metal fixtures, archaeologists determined the boat was sunk intentionally as part of a landfill effort to expand the waterfront town. Boston’s Beacon Hill originally was much higher and the city’s waterfront reached near the hill’s northern edge before the hill was cut down to help fill in parts of the harbor. For San Francisco, a map now illustrates where ships were buried under what is now the commercial downtown of the city.
By Greg Miller
June 2, 2017