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Maps can be important in understanding history

By Stephanie Manning and Susan Cerny
Saturday March 17, 2001

Berkeley Observed 

Looking back, seeing ahead 


The 1852 U.S. Coastal Survey Map is one of the very earliest maps of Berkeley.  

It shows the original Berkeley shoreline before it was developed.  

The natural shape of the creeks as they make their way to the Bay are clearly visible. Two of the ancient shell mounds built by the native people who once populated the shoreline, are also shown: one at Temescal Creek in Emeryville and the other at Strawberry Creek in Berkeley.  

The map also shows that the foot of Strawberry Creek once ended in a medium-sized marsh and that Codornices Creek ended in a very large one.  

Location of the creeks may not be completely accurate. There are several parcels outlined and some buildings. Only one road is shown, extending from Strawberry Creek north along the foot of the hills. 

Old maps can often explain present conditions. Today, the marshy mouth of Strawberry Creek is located between Fourth and Seventh streets, University Avenue and Addison Street. A memoir by retired teacher Wilhemina Bolsted Ciarciarulo of life in Berkeley in the 1880s, describes how school children walked along plank boardwalks to cross the pond that appeared here during the rainy season.  

She reported, that sometimes they even fell into the pond. 

After the 1906 earthquake the pond disappeared and never returned. If you buy property here today you would be told it is in a flood hazard zone, and this map explains why.  

A second map by the U.S. Coast Survey from 1856 shows the marshy area at the foot of Strawberry Creek already half the size as it was in 1852.  

It also shows Berkeley’s first wharf, and Jacob’s Landing has been built.  

The updated 1856 map also shows roads and delineates parcels of land, which the 1852 map did not.  

Survey maps were important tools as land was subdivided and sold.  

Early maps give us the opportunity to see how the topography was modified as it was used and developed. By working backward one can piece this together.  

The 1852 map is located at UC Berkeley, in the Berkeley Map Room in the Earth Sciences Library. The Bancroft Library on the campus is another source for early California maps.  

Susan Cerny and Stephanie Manning wrote this column in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association