1857 Coast Survey_Presidio detail

The Gazetteer of Lost San Francisco: Cannon Hill

A guide to the lost place names and geographies of San Francisco.

Today’s entry of lost place names and geographies is Cannon Hill, a hill of about 370 feet that is located at the southeast corner of today’s Presidio. Cannon Hill is the location of the original survey point that outlined the United States claim to the military reservation known as the Presidio. The starting point of the American survey of the military reservation was described as “a point on the crest of a high hill, southeast of the presidio” that was marked by a stake on April 3, 1850 in the presence of Captain E. D. Keyes, Captain Henry Halleck, and D. A. Merrifield (Eldredge, Beginnings of San Francisco, ii, 727-728).

Captain Keyes, a solider in charge of protecting government reservation lands in San Francisco, clashed regularly with squatters who settled on government land, particularly on former government land at Rincon Point. In one clash in early March 1850, Keyes ordered 20 armed U.S. soldiers to remove squatters from government land at the Rincon Point. When the squatters refused Keyes ordered the soldiers to tear down their tenements and disperse them. According to the Daily Alta California, Keyes was ordered to appear before civil authorities to explain the situation. In the same article, the newspaper recognizes that it is Keyes’s duty “to protect the government reserves, wherever they are clearly defined, from all occupations… (“The Squatters at Rincon Point,” Daily Alta California, March 1, 1850) [emphasis added].”

Detail of U.S. Survey map.
1857 U.S. Coast Survey Map showing Cannon Hill with an elevation of about 379 feet. A footpath following the line of Pacific street intersects with the hill.
Wackenreuder map
1861 Wackenreuder Map showing location of Cannon Hill. Image from the David Rumsey Map Collection.
1869 Coast Survey_Cannon Hill mod
1869 U.S. Coast Survey Map showing Cannon Hill with neighborhood development encroaching around Lower Pacific Heights. Image from the David Rumsey Map Collection.
1895 Topo Map
1895 USGS Topographic Map of San Francisco showing Cannon Hill and perimeter of the Presidio Reservation.

It could very well have been this armed clash with squatters at Rincon Point in March 1850, and the apparent scolding he received, that prompted Keyes to review the Presidio survey line and take measures to clearly demarcate government lands from nearby non-government lands, so as to avoid other future clashes with squatters. In May of that same year, Keyes removed the original survey stake and replaced it with a cannon (most likely non-working), and then he “ran a line northerly to the Bay, parallel to the line of Larkin Street, and put up a fence on that line.” This fence line became the border between the Presidio and the residential neighborhoods of Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, and the Marina that developed later on. The cannon, a not so subtle warning to potential squatters, was located on what is now the northeast corner of Pacific and Lyon streets (Eldredge, Beginnings, 729).

“The Mountain Lake Water Company,” Daily Alta California, January 25, 1852. Newspaper clipping referencing Cannon Hill.

While the name Cannon Hill does not appear on any maps encountered by the author, the name is used several times in at least one newspaper article from 1852. When the Mountain Lake Water Company was debating delivery routes by which to introduce water into the city, one of the possible routes discussed was via a pumping station and reservoir atop “Cannon Hill.” The article illustrates that the name Cannon Hill endured for a last a couple years after Keyes installed a cannon at that location.


“California, San Francisco Sheet.” United States Geological Survey. Edition of 1895 [c1892], [topographic map]. Accessed from the US Geological Survey TopoView discovery website.

“City of San Francisco and Its Environs.” U.S. Coast Survey. 1967 [c1857], [map].

“City and County of San Francisco, Compiled from Official Surveys…” Drawn by V. Wackenreuder; published by Henry G. Langley. 1861 [map]. Accessed from the David Rusmey Map Collection.

Daily Alta California.

Eldredge, Zoeth S. The beginnings of San Francisco. 2 v. San Francisco: Zoeth S. Eldredge, 1912.

“San Francisco Peninsula.” U.S. Coast Survey. 1869 [map]. Accessed from the David Rumsey Map Collection.


12/21/15: Citation corrected.

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