Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Walking in Samuel Nower's Footsteps

My husband and I just returned from a great trip to San Francisco.  We enjoyed the food, the sights, and the relief from our 90+ degree South Carolina weather. San Francisco has so much to offer, however, one of the highlights of my trip was our visit to Fort Point which sits on the point where San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean meet, tucked below the steel girders of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I doubt that this little fort is one of the big attractions to most tourists, outside of history buffs, but it was at the top my list of "must sees" right up there with Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz long before we ever purchased plane tickets or booked the hotel room.  Why the big fascination with Fort Point?  Well, that little red brick building, built long before the famous bridge, is where my great, great grandfather, Samuel Jackson Nower, was stationed during his Civil War service! 

Samuel registered for the draft in 1863 as a miner living in St. Helena, Sonoma County, California.  He enlisted on November 15, 1864 and was stationed at Fort Point.  His stay there was just short of a year as he was mustered out on October 24, 1865.  During his time at the fort, he fell from a ladder, breaking his hip, while painting barrack walls which earned him a military pension later in his life. 

We decided to walk to Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge from our hotel on a beautiful blue skied, but windy, day.  The concierge seemed a little mystified as to why we would want to go there instead of the Golden Gate Park that she deemed a better place to spend time.  In her opinion, the art and science museums along with the outdoor band music which the park offered would be a much better choice, but I was not going to be persuaded.  We didn't fly all that way to hear music or see artwork so she showed us a route on our map that would take about an hour and a half to walk.  And a beautiful, but cold and windy, walk along the bay it was!  Worth every bit of time and strength against what seemed like hurricane force winds that it took!

Once we reached Fort Point, we were so excited to see that it was open to the public.  I had been told much earlier in the year that it wasn't always open so to see the park ranger standing next to the open gates, motioning for us to enter, was beyond all my expectations.  I had been prepared to be satisfied looking at the outside, snapping pictures of the walls and peering through a closed gate.

The fort is very small and I cannot describe the feeling I experienced knowing that I was walking on the same ground and seeing the same walls, rooms, and scenery that my great great grandfather walked on and saw almost 150 years ago!  I saw the area where he must have stood straight and tall while drilling with his fellow soldiers.  I stood in the rooms where the privates, of which he was one, slept.  I imagined him on a ladder painting the walls that still had remnants of what looked to be whitewash.  I looked into the larger room that served as his mess hall.  I felt the cold and strong wind which he must have felt as he looked upon San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean just as I did that beautiful Sunday afternoon.  At the end of our visit, I walked out of the gates of Fort Point understanding a bit of Samuel's life so much more than the documents and dates that make up my research of him allow.   I am so so thankful that I was able to experience this small part of San Francisco's charm and beauty.  Even if I hadn't walked on the Golden Gate, strolled along Fisherman's Wharf, eaten sour dough bread (more than once!) at Boudin Bakery, visited Alcatraz, or experienced any of the other wonderful things that San Francisco is known for, I would have returned to South Carolina a very happy person!

Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge

This is me standing in the private's quarters next to one of the beds that was used during the Civil War.  I could just imagine Samuel painting those walls!

The inside of the fort showing the three levels.  The private's quarters and mess hall were on the third floor.  The ground area was the place where the soldiers would gather to march and drill.

On the top level of the fort, the wind was so ferocious that it left me wondering did Samuel fall or did the wind blow him off his ladder!

the Pacific Ocean as seen from the top level 

The lighthouse is on the top level.  The girders of the Golden Gate Bridge are just above the fort.  Of course, Samuel never saw, or even imagined, those huge structures or the bridge itself!

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