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This week in history: Colusa helps rebuild San Francisco after earthquake

Home News This week in history: Colusa helps rebuild San Francisco after earthquake

This week, Saturday, April 18, at 5:12 AM, will mark 114 years since San Franciscans woke to what most assuredly felt like a nightmare. 

The ground shook with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake so powerful that it was felt in Los Angles and Oregon, approximately 270 miles along the San Andreas Fault. 

Although the earthquake only lasted one minute, it trigger the heavily populated city to burn for four days. Damages were estimated to be $350 million ($10 billion in today’s dollars) and it’s believed to have claimed at least 3,000 lives. 

The Fouts Springs station (outside of Stonyford) recorded a Modified Mercalli Intensity as a 2-3, which meant that, although felt, it would not likely cause damage. 

But what was felt by Colusa County residents was a tremendous sense of pity. 

“Colusa citizens who are arriving constantly say that no reports are exaggerated, that it would be impossible to paint the picture more horrible than it is, either as to the amount of distress or the havoc of the earthquake and fire” according to eyewitnesses who told the Colusa Daily Sun, three days after the earthquake.

Local newspapers called the community to action – asking for local families and bakeries to bake as much bread as they could, and to donate blankets, clothing, and merchandise of all kind. 

The provisions, including 1,000 loaves of bread, were loaded onto trains heading to San Francisco from Portland that had stopped at local depots, after a relief fund was created.

Shelter in Colusa County was also provided to many left homeless, and those fleeing the devastation that were original Colusa natives were welcomed home again. 

The Colusa Daily Sun quoted a Mr. J. J. O’Rourke who had fled after his home and place of business on Sansome Street were destroyed, saying “He is glad to be alive and with his family, able to get back to dear old Colusa.” 

Although Martial Law was not declared, the 2nd Infantry Regiment, Sacramento, Company B from Colusa were dispatched to San Francisco to provide assistance. 

After the immediate relief efforts were made, the city needed to be rebuilt. 

“What made San Francisco famous is nothing but heaps of smoldering bricks,” a reporter gave his observations to the Colusa Daily Sun. “Its magnificent buildings, its Market Street, its gay and happy throngs are no more. Its inhabitants are fleeing from it as though from a dread pestilence.”

The Ferry Building, The Emporium, The Spreckels Building, The Hall of Justice, The Shreve building and the entrance of the St. Francis Hotel had all built from stones cut from the Sites Stone Quarry (northwest of Williams). All of those buildings were still standing after the fateful day 114 years ago. More stones from the Sites Quarry were used in the buildings to supersede those that were destroyed. 

“It seems to me that the construction of the Ferry building should have been enough to proclaim Colusa County stone to the world; but of course the world is a pretty big place, and Colusa is naturally modest about the greatness of its resources,” noted Pat Gassaway Ash, local historian and author. ■

Note: Earthquake specifics from usgs.gov and Encyclopedia Britannica. 2nd Infantry Regiment came from militarymuseum.org. Newspapers were archived on cdnc.ucr.edu: The Sacramento Union, Colusa Daily Sun, and Williams Farmer. Many thanks to Pat Ash for permission to use information from her book regarding the Sites Quarry and construction. 

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