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SF Construction Crews Unearth Boat From Gold Rush Era

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Crews dig out a Gold Rush-era boat found buried at a construction site in San Francisco. (CBS)

Crews dig out a Gold Rush-era boat found buried at a construction site in San Francisco. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Construction crews in downtown San Francisco have unearthed the intact remains of a small boat that a local historian said offers a glimpse of what life was like during the city’s Gold Rush days.

This week, archaeologists on hands and knees have been carefully uncovering a flat-bottomed boat known as a lighter used to ferry cargo between ship and shore in shallow water.

“It’s actually pretty unusual,” said Lynn Cullivan, management assistant at the San Francisco Maritime National Museum. “Normally you see pieces of larger vessels.”

Instead the entire outline of a 23-foot boat that in its day would have seemed anything but remarkable emerged on ground that will become the foundation of condominium towers at 201 Folsom Street.

“This in its day was simply a workboat. It’s something nobody was interested in. It was so common they didn’t even save it, they just buried it,” Cullivan said.

Indeed many of the hundreds of ships, boats and other vessels that dotted the shoreline at Yerba Buena Cove in 1850 became the initial landfill that today is South Beach, Rincon Hill and the San Francisco Financial District as prospectors abandoned them for the mountains.

Sunken ships get unburied with some regularity when building downtown, even at elevated intersections that might seem too far inland, such as Main and Folsom.

Cullivan said this particular find is a reminder just how much both the shoreline and the people who populate it have changed since the world rushed to San Francisco and Northern California in search of gold.

“We look back on it and we see a really interesting artifact from a different age. It had oar locks on it, and people basically took one of these things and row it out to a ship, rowed it back to the shore, and that doesn’t happen anymore. That’s not part of our lifestyle.”

Although intact surrounded by mud and muck, the unnamed lighter is probably not terribly sturdy. Cullivan said the museum is sending a curator to assess whether it can be removed from the site.

“After that, we’ll see if we can figure out a way to treat it and save it,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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