The Kimballs purchased Rancho de la Nación in 1868 and, shortly after surveying the land, they put their attention on the waterfront.
They were ecstatic to find the bay had a depth of 12 feet at a distance of 1,400 feet from shore, a depth of 18 feet at a distance of 1,750 feet from shore and a depth of 23 feet at 1,950 feet from shore. The community could easily prosper with such a deep port and it wasn’t long before waterfront improvements were making news.
November 1870 the San Diego Union, reported “...they are building one of the finest wharf installations we have yet seen, out to deep water, and have already completed 112 feet of the structure. The wharf is being constructed in the most substantial manner and of the very best material. It is 24 feet wide and will be 1,800 feet long. A railing will be along each side, the entire length.”
By the time the California Southern Railroad came to town it became necessary to build a new wharf, begun in 1881.
They quickly extended it in early 1883 and by 1886 it was the busiest wharf on San Diego Bay, passenger and commercial ships landing and discharging their cargo as quickly as possible to make way for others.
The list of ships that came into National City are in the hundreds, daily newspaper accounts described in frantic terms the need for increased wharf facilities: “The wharf is running a night shift, and one hundred extra laborers are employed besides a double force of mechanics. …At times three or four vessels have been compelled to lie in the stream at National for nearly a week — all the berths are occupied. …The wharf and R.R. shops are running double-handed and to their full capacity.” And, “The wharf is crowded with business, it being necessary to work men night and day shifts and still they are unable to keep up with the work.” Four U.S. Customs House inspectors employed at the wharf were also understaffed.
The waterfront, from all accounts, was breathtaking, the reported numbers of wildlife, birds and fish almost impossible to believe for us today, but true accounts they are. The citizens claimed the bayfront as their own for pleasurable activities as well as commercial ones. Private yachting was a major sport at this time and, in 1889, the young men of National City organized a boat club with races being a common event both to Coronado and San Diego. A social note in the National Record paints a lovely picture, “On Saturday, the club members took their girls for a sail, and the evening ended delightful and romantic with the round moon up and an old-fashioned punch in the floor dance on the end of the wharf.”
This year the city of National City celebrated its 125th anniversary, highlighting its waterfront with its beautiful facilities for boaters, parks and railroad museum along the bay.