Sailing on the Alma
It’s not every day that you get to take a national historic landmark out for a spin. The scow schooner Alma was built in 1891 in San Francisco.
The flat-bottomed design of the Alma informs us of the major environmental impact that the gold rush had on California’s waterways. The preferred method of searching for gold was hydraulic mining, which between 1850 and 1880 moved millions of tons of earth and sediment into the the Sacramento River and surrounding waterways. The effect was decreasing the depth of the river system by half. Shipping and commerce was extremely affected, because the ships and vessels that would originally move up and down these rivers transporting goods up and down California.
Despite the environmental impact, the best highways to transport goods were still waterways. Over 400 of these vessels were constructed for transportation of goods from Northern California and the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area. These were the tractors of the day, and it was not unusual to see up to 30 feet of hay or timber stacked on board the ship.