A Spectacular Gateway
Famed explorer John Charles Frémont, the leader of several U.S. Army Topographical Corps mapping expeditions across the West, gave the Golden Gate its name in 1846. Some say he was comparing San Francisco Bay to the harbor at Constantinople, known as the Golden Horn.
This three-mile long opening into San Francisco Bay between the headlands of two peninsulas is an ancient river mouth, the gateway to the Pacific Ocean for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers systems. Now spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge, the strait was probably seen by Sir Francis Drake in 1579, but the first documented discovery belongs to the members of a land expedition led by Spanish explorer Jose de Ortega in 1769. Six years later, Juan Manuel Ayala and Jose Canizares explored the San Francisco Bay by ship, which led to the establishment of the presidio and Mission de los Dolores there in 1776. The Spaniards called the entrance to the bay La Boca del Puerto de San Francisco (The Mouth of the Port of St. Francis).
During the California Gold Rush, San Francisco was an important commercial port— as it remains today—and the Golden Gate was major port of entry and departure for prospectors arriving or leaving by sea. John Frémont, whose large estate in Mariposa County produced great riches in gold, built a home “in the shadow of the Golden Gate” for his family in the mid-1850s, where they lived until they moved east at the outbreak of the Civil War. Known popularly as The Pathfinder, Frémont ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1856, and served as a general in the Civil War. However, imprudent decisions led to personal misfortunes and he died, bankrupt, in 1890.