Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Mystery of the Columbia

12/1/16 - Update - location found! Jump to the bottom for more...

As soon as I saw this photo in a San Diego antique store, my curiosity was piqued. It was a bit pricey, but after some preliminary checking, it seemed to have a bit of mystery to its story, and that made it worth the money. The seller had it labeled as "1890s Ferry", and while the paper it's printed on would certainly support a late 1890s - early 1910s date, it is build more like a typical California-style sternwheel riverboat than an side-wheel ferry (pilot house at only one end, and the raised bow are definitely not ferry features).

The name on the bow, while faded, is clearly Columbia. The signboards on the pilothouse are not readable, even in a high-resolution scan. But other than the clues in the photo, I pretty much came up empty with my resources, so started with some crowdsourcing.

First, a big tip o' the hat in appreciation to Dale Flick, Carl Jones and David Dewey over at's forum for checking their resources for me!

It was Kevin Shawver, a member of the San Francisco Maritime and Coastal History Club group on Facebook who was able to come up with the location, and it's not San Francisco: rather, the photo was taken at the head of the navigation channel of the San Joaquin River in Stockton, California. The railing in the foreground is along El Dorado Street, and the building on the right is the New Line Transportation Company, with "San Francisco" being an advertised destination. Kevin even posted a photo of the similar sternwheeler Captain Weber moored in the same spot (that link may not work if you're not already logged into Facebook).

However...still no one has been able to find any information on the boat itself. Columbia was a very common name...and that, to me, only makes the mystery more intriguing!

Curious about what the location looks like today, I pulled up the scene on Google Maps. Kevin also pointed out that Weber Point and the park adjacent to it was built on land reclaimed around 1950 when the channel was dredged to accommodate larger ships.

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