Kimball Place & the “Noisy Carrier”: Charles Proctor Kimball

Kimball Place is a two-part street that opens at both the north and south side of Sacramento Street just west of Leavenworth. Like Leroy Place up Sacramento neither side passes through to another street, but this may not have always been the case as Langley’s 1858 Street Directory lists the street – though misspelled Kimble – as opening at the north side of California. That said, today Kimball Place’s south end is a green grotto of sorts where a redwood tree, planted years ago by a man that still lives on the street, pokes up from a miniature forest between buildings.

Looking down the south half of Kimball Place which was originally part of Kimball Street. When Dashiell Hammett was writing The Glass Key and editing The Maltese Falcon for book release, he lived in the yellow building at left [address].
Looking down the south half of Kimball Place from Sacramento Street. In 1929, while Dashiell Hammett was writing The Glass Key and editing The Maltese Falcon for book release, he lived in the yellow building at left, 1155 Leavenworth Street.
Charles Proctor Kimball was born in Bangor, Me. on July 11, 1821 and at the cusp of 28 years traveled with his father and brothers aboard the schooner Boston around South America to arrive in San Francisco July 1849. After failed attempts at gold mining along the Yuba River, the Kimballs settled in S.F. and built a small house at the NW corner of Mason and Jackson streets, which at the time was up at the western edge of town. While first trying to work a coffee and lunch stand on Broadway that didn’t work out, Kimball eventually found success working as a public crier for Washington Bartlett’sDaily Journal of Commerce. Kimball was extra loud when he got into it, and became known as “the noisy carrier.” Soon after, with his new connections, he established an express line using steamships from San Francisco to Sacramento and Marysville, moving “Parcels, Bundles, Merchandise, Orders, etc.” The Placer Times in Sacramento raved: “We must congratulate the public upon the establishment of Kimball & Co’s Express… Mr. Kimball attends personally to the transaction of business and the transmission of parcels with a punctuality and fidelity which is worthy of the patronage of this community, and we have no hesitancy in saying that he will receive it.”^

On Feb. 13, 1850, in front of Alcalde John W. Geary‘s office on Portsmouth Square, an auction took place for building lots. Seven of these lots were located on Sacramento, Leavenworth and Kimball streets.% It was right around this time that Kimball announced his company had established a “city letter delivery and parcel post” for San Francisco with delivery as far as the East Coast, and boxes of deposit were placed at convenient locations about the city.# As if Kimball wasn’t busy enough, he pitched Bartlett the idea of his canvassing San Francisco to compile a directory. Bartlett agreed to print it up, and in June 1850 Kimball ran ads in the Alta alerting the public that he’d soon be calling. Printed on Sept. 1, 1850, it was the first directory of the city of San Francisco, and while carried through with passionate dedication, the process plagued Kimball with terrible headaches and other losses.~ On October 15, 1850, after digesting their copy of The San Francisco City Directory, the Marysville Daily Herald wrote: “The book is gotten up in very good style, and apparently with considerable care and attention. San Francisco has grown so extended, that a guide of this kind cannot but be extremely useful, both to citizens and strangers.”

Charles P. Kimball
Charles P. Kimball

At the beginning of 1851 Kimball opened up a book and stationery store called Noisy Carrier’s Publishing Hall located on Central Wharf, the commercial heart of the city, which became known as Long Wharf,> and later Commercial Street. Kimball’s store sold “a great variety of useful, interesting and thrilling works, well calculated to while away a passing hour, and form grand antidotes during periods of rest from the labors of the day.”+ Kimball dealt with wholesale and mail order as well and by April was looking for agents to expand business to Stockton, Sacramento, Oregon, etc: “Good wages will be guaranteed them. There is no doubt many in our employ at this time who will clear from $300 to $500 per month this year. It will be necessary for them to have from $20 to $50 in order to secure a good outfit.”++ At this time Kimball also started publishing his own writing outlet, a weekly called the Uncle Sam, which was more pulp literature than true news: “the Uncle Sam issued today… contains the first part of the story titled the Power of Woman’s Love, a thrilling tale of Boston; the Contraband Museum of Paris; the Twin Sentinels; Milanetta, a Spanish tale; Discovery of Two Murderers; An Old Maid’s Diary; Deacon Snowball’s Sermon, new series, No 16, text from De Posse Whittier; An Old Story Told in a New Way etc., etc., together with Jokes, and a variety of other fun-provoking matter without stint.”–

On May 4, 1851 everything on Long Wharf was destroyed in San Francisco’s sixth great fire that broke out the previous night from a paint shop on the west side of Portsmouth Square. It was S.F.’s largest conflagration yet and lasted ten hours, burning three-fourths of the city for over $7,000,000 in damages.= As the city rebuilt, Kimball revamped Noisy Carrier’s, and on July 12, 1851 the Marysville Herald barked their support of his efforts: “a more meritorious, indefatigable and go-ahead fellow then this same ‘Noise Carrier’ we do not know.In 1852, as business at Noisy Carrier’s moved steadily on, two major events happened in Kimball’s personal life. First, his brother James died,^ and second, on Oct. 17, 1852, Kimball married Isabella Dunn.&

Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley, wood engraving, 15 x 23 cm.
Embarcadero Center circa 1850. An image of Long Wharf published by Noisy Carrier’s. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley, wood engraving, 15 x 23 cm.

In January 1853, Charles met newswriter J. Anthony at a spirit rapping, held by a medium. Anthony wrote this of Kimball: “At this gathering I met the only literary gentleman with whose person in San Francisco I am familiar – the Noisy Carrier, who was remarkably quiet. He being a man of letters, I naturally sought his opinion of the rappings, and had he not, without the slightest circumlocution, periphrases, hesitation or reservation, pronounced in good Saxon the whole business to be a complete humbug, we should have ventured to suggest it to him as a fine subject for the master spirits of Uncle Sam, who reveal their genius in Brobdigragium type, which, without hyperbole, and biped binocular may run and read.”+++

At Noisy Carrier’s one could find periodicals from all over the world, pulp novels, cheap libraries of classics, magazines, stationery, books published by the Noisy Carrier, etc., but as 1853 rolled on and the post-Gold Rush depression started digging deeper, just as Charles and Isabella had their first child, James Stephen, Noisy Carrier’s started to suffer from competition, especially from Burgess, Gilbert & Still at 126 Commercial Street, just across Sansome.@ Kimball first greatly reduced his prices, but by year’s end was flirting with the complete sale of Noisy Carrier’s,< as well as leasing the house at Mason and Jackson.^^ The only thing Kimball wasn’t willing to sell was the Uncle Sam. But none of these sales became necessary when Kimball was approached by investors, and on Jan. 1, 1855 Noisy Carrier’s incorporated as the Noisy Carrier’s Book and Stationery Company with Kimball acting as its president. The other trustees were Thomas N. Hibben and G.B. Haywood, plus D.E. Appleton acting as secretary, and an agent to New York named Capt. Charles Galacar.

For the next few years business picked up for the Noisy Carrier Co. In 1856 it moved to a new store that fronted on both Long Wharf and Battery Street (see image below). In 1857, the California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, a receptor of review books from Noisy Carrier’s, dropped by and had this to say: “Can it be possible you have been any time in California, and not know the Noisy Carrier? Very few persons have any conception of the immense trade that is done by this same Noisy Carrier, and yet he is one of the most peaceable and agreeable men you ever met; all the noise he makes is in unpacking and packing his cases of books and papers he receives and sends away… we learned… this same quiet and peaceable man had sold, the past season, nearly 50,000 volumes of books, including school-books, periodicals, etc., and upwards of 280,000 newspapers and magazines, besides an untold amount of blank books, stationery, etc. We learn that he received by the last steamer 12,000 papers and magazines, and this is but an average by every steamer… he is so busy on these occasions that he has been obliged to put up a small engine to wind his twine for doing up his parcels… About 1500 books, papers and other periodicals are distributed from this house, after the arrival of each steamer, and twelve clerks are at work night and day. The postage, too, of some $500 quarterly, is an item that tells, also. And this trade makes the Noisy Carrier.”— At its busiest, as well as throughout the Bay Area, Noisy Carrier’s was distributing up and down the West Coast from Oregon to Los Angeles.

Advertisement from 1856 in Daily Alta California showing where the Noisy Carrier's new storefront was located, with fronts on both Long Wharf and Battery. Today, Le Méridien hotel with Bar 333 and Bistro stands in this spot.
Advertisement from 1856 in the Wide West illustrating the Noisy Carrier’s new location, an L-shaped building that fronted on both Long Wharf and Battery. Today, Le Méridien hotel with Bar 333 and Bistro stands in this spot.

But while business picked up for a while, having various heads involved took its toll on Noisy Carrier’s, and on April 5, 1858, Thomas N. Hibben withdrew from the company. Noisy Carrier’s then disposed of their newspaper business, deciding to solely focus on the “book, stationery and cheap publication business.”== In February 1859 Noisy Carrier’s had a close out sale and Kimball downsized, moving back to the original 77 Long Wharf location. Kimball’s disenchantment with the business at this point is reflected by his advertising. The once long and witty ads of the Noisy Carrier are now relatively mute, for example in the Alta on Oct. 29, 1859: “ALBUMS – At NOISY CARRIER’S, 77 Long Wharf.” In November: “SAN FRANCISCO ANNALS – At NOISY CARRIER’S, 77 Long Wharf.” Soon after, Kimball closed up shop, sold the Long Wharf property and moved to Hayes Valley, at the time “a peaceful country village far from town.”~ This was just as Thomas C. Hayes opened Hayes Park Pavilion at Hayes and Laguna streets. Kimball opened a grocery and hardware store a block away at Hayes and Octavia, where he sold the Alta. At this point, he and Isabella had four children: James S., John S., Proctor W., and Rebecca.

Tragedy struck the Kimballs in Hayes Valley however, as James S. and John S. disappear from history at this time. In her eloquent essay about Kimball in the California Historical Society Quarterly circa 1939, reprinted into a limited booklet a year later, Dolores Waldorf Bryant writes that “the sorrow of Charles and Isabella Kimball over the death of James Stephen, their first born who died in 1857 at the age of five, remained as fresh through the rest of their lives as it was the morning of his release from what was probably spinal meningitis. They kept his memory so green that Rebecca, born two months after his death, could not mention his name in her old age without wiping her eyes in a burst of sincere grief.”** While this passage helps us understand the Kimball home at this time, there appears to be some inconsistency with fact, for a census dated July 9, 1860 has four children in the Kimball household: James S. (7), John S. (5), Proctor W. (3) and Rebecca (2). While James probably died soon after this 1860 census, his younger brother John, whom Bryant does not record, appears to have died as well. Therefore Charles and Isabella were left with Proctor and Rebecca, who would both survive their parents.

1 Kimball Place
1 Kimball Place

A few weeks after the census, on July 24, 1860, the Alta ran a short piece about the history of city directories. It culminated with mention of Kimball’s effort from 1850: “‘The List of the Principal Traders in London, A.D. 1732,’ was the first City Directory ever published. The pioneer City Directory of America, was that for New York, A.D. 1786. It contained 821 names only – the entire population being 23,600. The last New York City Directory – published in May, 1860 – embraces 150,303 names, being about one-sixth of the entire population. The pioneer City Directory of San Francisco was that compiled by the ‘Noisy Carrier’ in 1850, (now exceedingly rare.) It contained 3,208 names. The Directory just issued contains 26,000 names!”

In 1868, Kimball capped off his writing career with the publication of a story poem titled The San Francisco Fairy: A Tale of Early Times. Published by Kimball, with help from D.E. Appleton, the book was, in Kimball’s own words, a tale “founded upon the well-known tradition, prevalent among the old inhabitants, that where the Golden Gate now is was once dammed up by rock or rocks, and the whole Valley was a great inland sea with its entrance to the Ocean down near Monterey.”=== It’s a work of myth-inspired fantasy, basically. The tongue-in-cheek humor and whimsy of Kimball’s writing always helped him balance the darker moments of life. It was about enjoyment of the act, not big ideas or literary aspirations. As Bryant points out, when the Society of California Pioneers asked Kimball to write his autobiography in 1891, his response was as if Noisy Carrier’s had never even existed. For in that one page he wrote for the Society,- his only reflection is on that one event from his life that he personally felt was of some historical import: his involvement with Washington Bartlett in 1850 and the first City Directory of San Francisco.

When roadwork and improvements reached Hayes Valley and Kimball’s health started to decline, he sold the Hayes Valley store and property and moved to 2912 Howard Street, near 25th Street, where he built a home and retired. Kimball was a member of the Society of California Pioneers, Yerba Buena Lodge of Odd Fellows, and the Home Council of Chosen Friends. He died on April 28, 1894 at 72 years of age. His funeral took place at Bethany Congregational Church (Bartlett and 25th), of which he was a member, and he was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Isabella died on Nov. 19, 1895 at the age of 68 years and 23 days and was buried next to Charles at Laurel Hill.

77 Long Wharf, today.
77 Long Wharf, today.


* This is a different Washington Bartlett than the one that was first alcalde of Yerba Buena, what S.F. was once called. This Washington Bartlett would rise to political prominence later in the century, becoming both mayor of San Francisco and governor of California.

^ Weekly Alta California, Oct. 11, 1849; Placer Times, Oct. 6, 1849. Kimball and his packages traveled via the steamer Sacramento and the schooner James L. Day. His S.F. office was at Collins & Cronise, one door north of Miner’s Bank, and in Sacramento at Dr. Crane’s Front Street office next to “the Printing office.”

% Daily Alta California, Feb. 11, 1850. It appears some of these lots were put up for auction in January, but didn’t sell. While there is a chance that Kimball Street was originally named for another Kimball like Captain Nathan Kimball for instance who led a company in the 2nd Indiana Infantry during the Mexican-American War and fought at the Battle of Buena Vista, given Charles Kimball’s popularity toward the end of 1849 and the fact we know so many other instances of side streets named for those in the community at the time, it seems highly unlikely. See Joice, Codman, Priest, Leroy, Dore, Burgoyne, Salmon, Pratt, etc. While there were surely smaller streets named for non-California-related national military leaders, esp. Mexican-American War era (Pike Street, now Waverly Street, for instance was probably named for Albert Pike), these were generally streets of the original pre-Gold Rush plan of the city by Jasper O’Farrell from 1847 which stopped at Taylor Street. In other words, as lot sales expanded to the western part of the Central District in 1849 and 1850 using William Eddy’s expansion of  O’Farrell’s plan, lots which encompassed the Clay Street Hill and beyond, random streets were formed in real-time to actually work with the geography. Unlike other more planned out cities, San Francisco expanded on-the-fly (it took New York City 180 years to gain population as S.F. did in its first ten years, for instance), and because of this, so did its street names.

# Daily Alta, Feb. 21, 1850.

~ Dolores Waldorf Bryant, Charles P. Kimball: San Francisco’s “Noisy Carrier” (San Francisco: 1940), p. 3.

> Kimball’s original storefront was located where the Bently Reserve stands today. It would have been where the north side of the building is, in the alley, midway between Sansome and Battery streets. Today Long Wharf’s ghost is the west-east walkway that starts across from Commercial Street at Sansome and passes through the middle of the Embarcadero Center buildings to Justin Herman Plaza.

+ Sacramento Daily Union, March 19, 1851.

++ Daily Alta, April 26, 1851.

Ibid., Jan. 10, 1852.

= Marysville Daily Herald, May 6, 1851.

^ Daily Alta, March 26, 1852.

& Ibid., Oct. 19, 1852.

+++ Ibid., Jan. 9, 1853.

@ Ibid., Feb. 5, 1853.

< Ibid., Oct. 25, 1853.

^^ Ibid., Oct. 23, 1853.

California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, July 31, 1857.

== Daily Alta, May 13, 1858.

~ Charles P. Kimball: San Francisco’s “Noisy Carrier”, p. 5.

** Ibid.

=== Chas. P. Kimball, The San Francisco Fairy: A Tale of Early Times (San Francisco: C.P. Kimball), p. 1.

– “Biographies of the Society of California Pioneers,” MSS, II, 23.

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