El Polín Spring

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()
When the Spanish established Mission Dolores and the Presidio (fort) in 1776, they relied on freshwater springs to supply their settlement. One of these, El Polín Spring, is the site of one of the Presidio's first non-military settlements and the home of the extended Briones family from 1810-1850. Archaeological excavations between 2003 and 2015 revealed the green Serpentine stone foundation of an adobe house belonging to Marcos Briones, early nineteenth century terra-cotta roof tiles, a kiln, and refuse deposits, as well as landform modification associated with the Briones family. Both colonial and Native American artifacts have been found at the site, the former represented by both imported and local ceramics, glass container fragments, and metal, and the latter represented by worked shell and stone. During and following the archaeological investigations at El Polín Spring, the Presidio Trust worked to restore the area's habitat, which soil studies had shown to vary between marshes, small streams, sand dunes, and hills. A series of small ponds and sunken spillways are now interspersed with wetlands, and the area is a hot spot for bird watching.

Photo El Polín Spring, recently restored by the Presidio Trust (image from National Park Service, Presidio)
Photo The boardwalk and picnic area around El Polín Spring (image from National Park Service, Presidio)
Photo Part of El Polín Spring's Colonial-era archaeological site, an excavated water storage basin from an early 19th century adobe home (image from Golden Gate Audubon Society)
Photo Restored ponds at the spring (image from Golden Gate Audubon Society)
Photo Watercourses at the spring, which make the area a hotspot for birdwatching (image from Golden Gate Audubon Society)
Photo Hummingbird bathing at El Polín Spring (image from Golden Gate Audubon Society)
Photo Sketch of Juana Briones by Robert Gebring, 1979 (image from the National Park Service, Presidio)
When the Spanish established Mission Dolores and the Presidio (fort) in 1776, they relied on freshwater springs to supply their settlement. One of these, El Polín Spring, is the site one of the Presidio's first non-military settlements, the home of the extended Briones family from 1810-1850. Archaeological excavations between 2003 and 2015 revealed the green Serpentine stone foundation of an adobe house belonging to Marcos Briones, early nineteenth century terra-cotta roof tiles, a kiln, and refuse deposits, as well as landform modification associated with the Briones family.

Both colonial and Native American artifacts have been found at the site, the former represented by both imported and local ceramics, glass container fragments, and metal, and the latter represented by worked shell and stone. The settlers appear to have remained in residence even after the Presidio became a Mexican fortification, until the United States Army took control of the fort in 1849-1850. The Spanish military appears to have helped the family construct the house, indicating that the Briones were intentionally stationed outside the compound, possibly to guard the spring or the nearby quarry.

During and following the archaeological investigations at El Polín Spring, the Presidio Trust worked to restore the area's habitat, which soil studies had shown to vary between marshes, small streams, sand dunes, and hills. A series of small ponds and sunken spillways are now interspersed with wetlands, and the area is a hotspot for birdwatching. Some of the species sighted at El Polín include Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, California Towhees, Black Phoebes, American Robins, White-crowned and Song Sparrows, Bushtits, Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds, Olive-sided and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Red-tailed Hawks, Violet-green Swallows, and a variety of finches.

Juana Briones

Aside from the site's significance in terms of understanding colonial life and colonists' relationships with Native Californians, the Briones house is tightly connected to the history of San Francisco itself. Marcos Briones had three daughters of European, African, and Native American descent: Juana, Maria de la Luz, and Guadalupe. Though all three played a part in the formation of the city, Juana Briones de Miranda (1802-1889) is the most historically prominent of the sisters. She was born in Villa Branciforte, which is now Santa Cruz, California, where her New Spanish (Mexican) mother and grandparents had settled with the De Anza Expedition in 1776. 

Her father, Marcos, was a retired soldier, and moved to the Presidio after the death of his wife in 1812. Ten-year-old Juana, who had learned herbal medicine traditions (curandera) of Mexico from her mother, learned still more from Native Californian neighbors. In 1820, she married a Presidio cavalryman, Apolinario Miranda, and had eleven children, eight of whom survived infancy. Due to her husband's drunken abuse, Juana took her children to a new household at a location now known as Telegraph Hill, assisted by the local bishop and the mayor. She raised cattle and grew vegetables, creating a home business selling milk, produce, and hides in the community of Yerba Buena (now San Francisco).

During her marriage, she had given medical aid to sailors, and after separation served as nurse and midwife to Native American, English, and Mexican patients, even traveling to Marin County in 1834 to manage a smallpox outbreak. When her nephew, Pablo Briones, became a Marin County doctor, he attributed much of his skill and knowledge base to his aunt Juana. Her international trade in hides required more land for her cattle, and she bought 4,400 acres in 1844, the Rancho la Purisima Concepcion in modern-day Los Altos and Palo Alto. In spite of land ownership changes when Mexican California became part of the United States in 1850, Juana Briones maintained not only her own land, but went before the Supreme Court to keep land her deceased husband had left in San Francisco, and won. Juana Briones died in 1889 and was buried in Menlo Park at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Sources

El Polín Spring. The Presidio Trust. Accessed December 11, 2016. http://www.presidio.gov/places/Pages/el-polin-spring.aspx.

The Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archaeology Project. Stanford University Research at the Presidio of San Francisco. May 01, 2003. Accessed December 11, 2016. http://web.stanford.edu/group/presidio/about.html.

Juana Briones. Presido of San Francisco, National Park Service. Accessed December 12, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/historyculture/juana-briones.htm.

Anderson, David. Birding Hotspot: El Polin Spring. Golden Gate Audubon Society. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://goldengateaudubon.org/blog-posts/birding-hotspot-el-polin-spring/.


Address
MacArthur Ave
San Francisco, CA 94129
Tags
  • Colonial History
  • Environmental History
  • Native American History
This location was created on 2016-04-09 by Sara Marian .   It was last updated on 2017-04-04 by Chris Middleton .

This entry has been viewed 115 times since January 2017

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