Carleton E. Watkins (American, 18291916)
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 15 7/8 x 20 11/16 in. (40.3 x 52.5 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.110)
When Watkins exhibited his mammoth prints in 1869, a critic remarked, "They justly deserve the encomiums passed upon them. For clearness, strength, and softness of tone, these picturesque views are unexcelled; and while they present truthful representations of the scene chosen, they are an earnest of the artistic skill of the photographer." The site of this photograph (known today as the Carquinez Strait) is a narrow, tidal body of water twenty miles inland from the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Part of a busy, deep-water shipping channel to Sacramento, the strait (and the surrounding shoreland) is still beloved for its extraordinary beauty and diversity of wildlife and flora. The Star Flour Mills (center) is featured by Robert Louis Stevenson in The Silverado Squatters (1883), his prescient travelogue about the California wine country of Napa Valley. Stevenson's account of his 1880 honeymoon discusses his journey from San Francisco to Calistoga and Mount Saint Helena, where he and his new wife and stepson lived for two months as "squatters" in the bunkhouse of an abandoned mining camp.