Contained in the Rock’s Stunning Historical past

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz IslandOn the 8:20 a.m. boat to Alcatraz, nobody gawks on the spectacular views of San Francisco alongside the shore of the bay. It’s chilly and overcast, as is typical for late spring. The conversations are acquainted and collegial—this ferry is restricted to individuals who work on the island, together with Nationwide Park Service rangers, volunteers, and upkeep personnel. The 22-acre rocky island of Alcatraz is lower than two miles north of downtown San Francisco, so the journey lasts solely about 10 minutes. For the reason that most safety Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed in 1963, after just below three a long time of operation, the jail’s picturesque location and former superstar inmates have generated reams of tourism-industry copy, impressed quite a few Hollywood movies, spawned city legends, and made Alcatraz Island considered one of America’s hottest Nationwide Park Service websites. But few know in regards to the island’s pre-prison historical past.


Alcatraz MapThe primary European to go to Alcatraz is assumed to have been the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, who sailed his ship San Carlos into San Francisco Bay in August 1775 and named considered one of its islands Isla de los Alcatraces, “Island of the Pelicans” or “Unusual Birds.” Within the mid-nineteenth century, the island turned house to Fort Alcatraz, one of many first U.S. army fortifications constructed on the West Coast. It was additionally the location of the West Coast’s first lighthouse.


San Francisco Bay was shaped solely 10,000 years in the past, as sea ranges rose following the final Ice Age. Since then, the inhospitable Alcatraz Island has supplied little to entice people away from the temperate local weather and abundance of pure sources on the mainland surrounding the bay. Apart from an obsidian software that archaeologists are practically sure got here to Alcatraz in imported soil, they haven’t discovered any artifacts courting from earlier than Europeans first arrived within the late eighteenth century. An American military officer as soon as described the island as “fully with out sources inside itself and the soil is scarcely perceptible, being rocky and precipitous on all sides.” In 1847, Alcatraz’s first surveyor, W. H. Warner, wrote, “This Island is mainly composed of irregularly stratified sandstone coated with a skinny coating of guano. The stone is stuffed with seams in all instructions which render it unfit for any constructing functions and possibly troublesome to quarry.”

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