Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Coast Guard Station, San Francisco
at Goat Island, Camp Decature, Camp Yerba Buena Island, Post
and Depot Yerba Buena Island Quartermaster Depot Yerba Buena
Island, Engineer Depot Yerba Buena Island, Naval Training Station
San Francisco, Yerba Buena Island Military Reservation)
This 116 acre island,
nicknamed Goat Island, situated in San Francisco Bay, about two
and a quarter miles northeast of the city, was originally intended
for the installation of artillery batteries in defense of the
bay. Established in 1868, it served however as a regular Army
camp until 1880, when the island and the improvements built on
it by the Army were transferred to the Navy Department. It is
now Coast Guard Station San Francisco
by Justin Ruhge
The Army established its presence on Yerba
Buena Island in February 1867. The Island was set-aside for military
purposes by presidential proclamation, which removed it from
private ownership without compensation to its owners. Located
between San Francisco and Oakland, the Island was 198 acres in
area and 343 feet above sea level at its apex. It was covered
with trees and brush. Springs of excellent water abounded on
the eastern and western sides in the midst of a fertile valley.
Special Order No. 252 of the Commanding
General at San Francisco on December 19, 1866 directed the Commanding
Officer of Alcatraz Island to send a detachment of one sergeant
and ten privates under Major Mansfield from his command to establish
a post at Yerba Buena Island.
In 1868, an Army detachment of 125 men
was sent to the Island. Their mission was to establish a regular
artillery post and depot on the island. The post was built on
the eastern side of the island at the edge of a cove. The buildings
were erected in the standard army layout around a square, which
was used as a parade ground. A large two-wing barracks adequate
for two companies, a mess hall, laundresses quarters, commanding
officer's quarters, two officers' quarters, a hospital, a guard
house, a bakery, a Sutler's store, an engineer's store house,
a wharf, and a boat house were erected in 1868. The post had
a capacity for 150 soldiers and 4 officers. From 1871 to 1879,
the 4th Artillery occupied the post. During 1875, a major fire
devastated the original barracks. Most of the men disliked their
duty on the Island. Late in the 1870s, plans were made to place
one of the Endicott batteries on the Island. A site was selected
and drawings prepared but these plans were not used when it was
decided that this location would add little to the new coast
In 1879, General Mc Dowell, Commander
of the Pacific Department, decided to transfer the command back
to the Presidio of San Francisco. From 1872 to 1892, the post
was officially listed as an Army Quartermaster Depot.
Over a decade passed before the government
once again returned in 1891. At that time the Army installed
a Torpedo Mine Station under the Army Coast Artillery Corps command.
The Torpedo Station, built in 1891 on the northeast point of
the Island, included a Torpedo Assembly building, a storehouse,
a wharf and officer's quarters. Today, the officer's quarters,
storehouse and wharf are gone but the Torpedo Assembly building
still stands under the eastern approach of the Oakland Bay Bridge.
During 1892, Yerba Buena Island and the Torpedo Station were
turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps retained
jurisdiction until the Navy arrived on the Island in 1898. The
Army and the Navy were joint tenants on the Island until the
Army departed in 1960.
In 1872, while the artillery detachment
was still on the island, the Secretary of War issued a permit
authorizing the Department of the Treasury to install a lighthouse
on Yerba Buena Island. A lighthouse, a lighthouse keeper's residence,
and appropriate support buildings were built on the south point
of the island in 1875. The lighthouse, relatively small in size
but twenty feet tall in stature, was erected at a point sixty
feet above shoreline, giving it an overall rise of eighty feet
above the water. Brought to the Island from Yaquina Bay in Oregon,
it was accompanied by a steam powered fog whistle and a chain-driven
fog bell from Point Concepcion. Visible for twelve miles, it
was a light of the fifth order and the weakest lighthouse in
use by the U.S. government.
Since there were no schools on the Island,
the three daughters of the lighthouse keeper attended school
in San Francisco. Daily, they made the trip across the San Francisco
Bay in their sloop.
In 1996, the lighthouse and the lighthouse
keeper residence remained in place and were still in use. Transportation
to and from the island has greatly improved over the years. The
residence was occupied by a Vice Admiral of the U. S. Coast Guard
Cartograph of the Army Post
and Depot, Yerba Buena Island, 1871. Letter Definitions Are:
A-Commanding Officer's Quarters, B and C- Officer's Quarters,
D-Hospital, E-Guard House, F-Engineer Store House, G-Wharf, H-
Boat House, I-Bakery, J-Sutler Store, K- South Barracks, L-North
Barracks, M-Sinks, N- Mess Hall, O-Laundress Quarters, P-Parade
Grounds. Source: Historical Study of Yerba Buena Island, Treasure
Island, and Their Buildings by Mare Island Naval Shipyard, BRAC
Environmental Division, 1995.
Troops on a Military
Exercise at Goat Island, 1878 (Detail). Courtesy of the Bancroft
Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.
Simultaneous to the installation of the lighthouse in 1875, a
wharf and warehouses were built around the Island point to the
northeast. This soon became the Lighthouse Supply and Buoy Depot
for the West Coast. The entire facility included one large storehouse,
two small storehouses, a paint shop, a machine shop, a wharf,
a dock, and two residences for the men who worked there. Supplies
needed for all twenty-eight lighthouses within the Lighthouse
Department 12 passed through the depot for storage, issue, and
some times just accountability/check-off. Buoys were brought
to the Island for refurbishment and storage on the wharf until
they were needed.
In 1879, when the army artillery detachment
moved back to the Presidio, the Island had been denuded of its
trees. A movement was started to replant the trees on the Island.
This culminated in California's first Arbor Day, March 5, 1887.
The elderly General Vallejo planted the first tree on the top
of the Island. Many other planting events which followed have
contributed to the luxuriant vegetation and beauty that the Island
now presents as the traveler passes the Island on the Oakland-Bay
In 1896, the Navy once again cast an admiring
eye at Yerba Buena Island for the possibility of establishing
the West Coast Training Center there. The State of California
passed an Act of the Legislature on March 9, 1897 granting the
military possession of Yerba Buena Island to the Navy. President
McKinley signed an executive order on April 12, 1898 that set
aside the majority of the Island for the sole use of the Navy.
The Army continued to occupy and operate the Torpedo Station
while the Navy occupied the remainder of the Island but for the
Lighthouse Reservation. The modern era of Yerba Buena Island
had begun. More will be said about the Island in a later section
of this book.
A detailed history of the Yerba Buena
Island and the later Treasure Island is presented in Historical
Study of Yerba Buena Island, Treasure Island and Their Buildings,
Prepared by Mare Island Naval Shipyard, BRAC Environmental Division,
Depot, Yerba Buena Island
by Colonel Herbert M.
Hart, USMC (Retired)
Although it always seemed
to be in the middle of things whenever schemes for the defense
of San Francisco were devised, Yerba Buena Island finished the
Civil War as nothing more than a paperwork fortress.
It was in 1861 that the first recommendation for garrisoning
the island was made, and by the Navy rather than the Army. Fearing
that a ship could sneak by Fort Point and Alcatraz in San Francisco's
fogs, the Mare Island Navy Yard commandant recommended "earthworks
be thrown up on Yerba Buena Island and a battery of guns planted
on Point Rincon to bring a cross fire on any vessel that got
past Alcatraz on the city side."
The Army engineers agreed. They included this plan in their recornmendations
in 1862, proposing a gun on the island would "command the
anchorage and protect the city.
When the final engineer plan was submitted a year later, spurred
on by rumors of a Confederate plan to invade the harbor, two
batteries were recommended for Yerba Buena Island. One would
be on the eastern shore mounting heavy guns, the other on the
southern shore for eight 32-pounder guns. "A temporary redoubt
or block house to protect the rear of the two batteries"
was proposed for the northern portion.
San Francisco businessmen provided $20,000 so that work could
start immediately there and at Rincon Point, and an official
request for $100,000 was dispatched to Washington. On August
11, 1863, orders directed the immediate preparations "for
constructing temporary quarters near the works about to be established
on Yerba Buena Island. The command will consist of one field
officer and four companies. It is desirable that work should
be done as rapidly as possible."
No sooner had this decision been made than a telegram was received
from Washington: "works on Rincon Point and Yerba Buena
Island will not be constructed at present," ordered General Henry W. Halleck, himself a veteran of the 1850's
in San Francisco.
The reason for the cancellation: both points "are of too
secondary importance to justify their construction while the
external lines are incomplete." And, besides that, by the
time a vessel came within reach of their guns, it could fire
on the anchorage and the city, and the defenses would be useless.
Rincon Point was dropped without much argument. Engineers had
noted that a battery there would have meant tearing down a dozen
buildings Any practice firing would have toppled a warehouse
and a hospital below the proposed earthworks.
But Yerba Buena Island was another matter. When General Irvin
McDowell took command in 1864, the deposed hero of the Army of
the Potomac reopened the battle. He mentioned Rincon Point again,
but was particularly positive regarding the island.
"I wish some of the same enlightened judgment in this matter
which gave us such a number of heavy guns for our Eastern works
may do the same for the harbors of the Pacific coast, where they
are more needed than on the Atlantic," he summarized his
feelings. Remembering that previous recommendations had been
vetoed by boards in Washington, he asked for permission to start
at once and "require them to be carried with as much dispatch,
consequently as little reference back to Washington as possible."
It was not until three years after the war that McDowell's plan
was approved. A company of engineers were sent to the island
and a post began to take shape on a low plateau near the eastern
edge, the only area level enough for a camp. In the peacetime
era, progress was slow. Two years later the camp still was "in
an unfinished condition," the surgeon reported.
After an uneventful career as a "sometimes Army post"
the island was turned over to a most appropriate occupant. Considering
that its use had first been suggested by the Navy, it was to
this service that ownership was passed and the Army days ended.
By the 1870's
Camp Yerba Buena Island had been completed as is shown in this
view by pioneer San Francisco photographer Edward J. Muybridge.
Photograph matches ground plan exactly. Lighthouse was on point
beyond camp. Although the parade ground appears level, actually
there was a 30 foot difference in elevation between its center
and officers' row. Muybridge titled this stereo view "Military
Post at Goat Island," name given island in 1841 when a half
dozen of the quadrupeds were placed here and quickly multiplied
Called both a "post
and depot" when this ground plan was made, Yerba Buena had
facilities for four officers and 150 men. Barracks were two buildings
connected by walkway, each 95 by 30 by 16 feet, "built of
rough boards, set upright and battened . . . ventilated by the
ridge, each lighted by 10 windows and warmed by coal-stoves,"
the surgeon reported in 1870. "They are furnished with iron
bedsteads, and give 750 cubic feet of air space per man of average
occupancy, considerably more than the 600 cubic feet considered
by Army to be minimum for health of soldiers. Each barracks had
first sergeant's room and washroom partitioned from main dormitory.
Except for the officers' quarters, all traces of these buildings
have disappeared; a few pilings remain to show location of wharf
at which government boat stopped every other day in 1870's. (Redrawn
from plate in National Archives.)
This page was
reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West,
published in 1965
US Army Corps
of Enginers History (1995)
Sacramento District, US Army Corps of
By Executive Order, dated November 6,
1850, the land known as Yerba Buena Island was set aside for
public purposes. Then, a following Executive Order, dated July
1, 1864, set it aside for military purposes. In 1869, Frank Pixley
quitclaimed all interest in the island and tidelands. In 1896,
by Letter of Transfer from the War Department, 99.09 acres of
hard land was acquired to establish a naval training station.
In 1887, through cession from the State of California, 172.70
acres of tide and submerged land was acquired by the United States.
This acquisition included a reverter clause which stipulates
that the attached land can revert back to the State if no longer
used for military purposes. In 1938, the War Department transferred
2.69 acres of land to the Navy for control of the area where
the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (SFOBB) is located. In 1948
the Department of the Army (DA) transferred 7.03 acres to increase
operational efficiency for postwar activities. In 1949, the U.S.
Coast Guard transferred 1.19 acres of hard land to modify and
straighten a boundary line. In 1951, DA transferred 2.07 acres
of hard and 70.90 acres of tide and submerged lands. In 1966,
by Letter of Transfer/Exchange, 5.49 acres of hard land was acquired
from the Coast Guard for housing. According to acquisition summary
records, a total of 361.61 acres of hard, tide, and submerged
lands were acquired for the site;
The site is an island located between San Francisco and Oakland,
in San Francisco County, California. It is also referred to as
Naval Station, Treasure Island. Virtually all of the land is
currently used by the Navy and the Coast Guard. The site consists
of housing areas, administration buildings, gas station, paint
shops, small arms magazines, transformer house and various other
structures. Most of the improvements are currently used by the
Navy or Coast Guard. There is an agreement between the United
States and the State of California relating to the San Francisco-Oakland
Bay Bridge (SFOBB) crossing at Yerba Buena Island. Approximately
13.29 acres (5.57 acres hard land and 7.72 acres airborne) of
Navy property is being used for the bridge.
In 1966, by Letter of Transfer/Exchange the Coast Guard acquired
8.207 acres of land. In 1974, the Coast Guard acquired an additional
2.71 acres by Letter of Transfer, for a total disposal of 10.917
acres of land. The Department of the Navy controls the remaining
350.243 acres of land.
Yerba Buena Island
Military Reservation, Harbor Defenses of San Francisco