Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Coast Guard Station, San Francisco
(Military Post 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
 
 
 
 
 
 
Camp Yerba Buena Island
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 defense plans.
 
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 in 1996.
 
 
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 Bridge.
 
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, 1995.
 
 
Post and 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 like goats.
 
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.)
 
 
 
 BAK  Bakery  LAUN  Laundry
 BOAT H Boat House  MH  Mess Hall
GH  Guard House  OQ  Officer Quarters
 H Hospital  SH  Store House
 K  Kitchen  SUT  Sutler
 
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 Engineers
 
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
 
 
 
Other Online Histories
 
US Army Corps of Engineers Real Estate Maps
The Legend of Yerba Buena Island
Coast Guard Station, San Francisco
California Department of Transportation
National Park Service
Naval Training Station, Yerba Buena Island (1902)
Wikipedia
Extract, US Navy and Marine Corps Installations - Domestic (1985)
 
 
Updated 15 December 2015