The Sad Truth of Happy Valley

(Sixth in a series of stories supplementing the upcoming public television documentary)

In 1849, with the influx of the fortune seekers arrived in San Francisco hoping to strike it rich. The area along what is now Mission Street from First Street to Third.  It had once been a part of the sand swept route between Mission Dolores and San Francisco in its infancy.

This desolate wind-swept valley had become a tent city for thousands of fortune seekers.  It was called Happy Valley because it god lots of sun, provided a natural shelter from winds, and had access to clean, spring water.  But by 1850 Happy Valley was more Death Valley, with people dying from diseases and contaminated water from hastily built wells.

Happy Valley, showing Howard between 2nd and 4th Streets, c. 1850Photo: San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park


As miners struck gold they used their new-found wealth to build homes.  In the early 1850s, while the sand hills were leveled to fill the tidelands.  The hill area around Folsom Street became a chic neighborhood. Quickly, small houses crowded in the flatlands for working-class families.

Water was sold by the barrel, and it was expensive.  The wealthier residents built wells in their homes to access spring water.  But the working class were either forced to buy the barrels or to dig makeshift wells that became contaminated, serving as the source of disease and death for many.

With the rise in illness and the rising price of water San Francisco sought a way to bring water to its growing population.  Eventually they turned to the Sierras, finding the Hetch Hetchy valley to be the ideal source.  In 1934, the first water ran from the Wilderness to San Francisco, forever changing the future of the City by the Bay.

Coming Spring 2018
Water From The Wilderness: From Hetch Hetchy To San Francisco Bay
Produced by Jim Yager Media


Follow us on Social Media