Meagher's Ropewalk

I discovered online information about Tubbs Rope Walk in San Francisco during the 2020 Coronavirus shelter-in-place. I knew nothing of ropemaking or ropewalks and was surprised to learn of a 1000-foot-long building for making rope in early San Francisco. When shelter-in-place eased, I visited the Tubbs Cordage Factory site in Dogpatch. This page is about another ropewalk, a small family-run cordage factory operating in Noe Valley from ca. 1878 to 1910 on the steep hill just below the Italian Hospital.

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I had previously looked at Sanborn insurance maps of my Upper Noe neighborhood many times, but before 2022 I did not notice a ropewalk formerly in my neighborhood (two blocks from my house!). Left: the block 28th/Sanchez/Valley/Noe from 1886 Sanborn (V. 5 sheet 128L, N at top). Three houses have water tanks and two have windmills. Many lots on the very steep block of Valley remain unbuilt. Some of the houses shown still stand in 2022. Right: detail showing the rope walk (N at right, rotated to match orientation of later versions shown below). The block is the standard Horner's Addition size 560'x228', so the ropewalk is about 200' long, stretching from Valley to 28th. There's a related building at 427 28th.

1878 Langley contains the earliest city directory entry I have found for the rope factory: "Meagher James, ropemaker, r Twenty-eighth, nr Sanchez" (predating the use of house numbers in the largely rural area). It also lists "Meagher Michael, ropemaker, dwl W s Mission, nr Twenty-seventh". I'm unable to connect ropemaker Michael "Fat Mike" Meagher directly to James or to the rope factory (he might be James' brother or cousin), but Daily Alta California 07/18/1890 has a great article about him; he "bears a very unenviable reputation among the neighbors". The 1878 directory does not list the Meagher business in the "Cordage Manufacturers" section.


The 1880 Census lists rope maker James Meagher and his family on 28th. Irish immigrants James (40) and wife Bridget have seven children, two born in Ireland and five in California. Sons James (16) and Joseph (11) already work for their father as ropemakers. James, Joseph, and Daniel will later run the factory after their father dies. "Allen" (daughter) is probably a misentry for "Ellen". The census record does not give house numbers, but presumably the family of nine lives in the small house shown above as 427 28th.

1890 Langley lists James Meagher at 427 28th and 1895 Langley lists him at 426 Valley, a new dwelling on the Valley St. side of the rope factory. 1896 Crocker-Langley lists "Meagher James, 427, 28th" under Cordage Manufacturers, and his eldest son James has moved to nearby Day St. James dies ca. 1897, so 1898 Crocker-Langley lists Bridget Meagher as widow. His sons James, Joseph, and Daniel take over the rope factory, adopting the name James Meagher's Sons by 1900.


The San Francisco Chronicle 01/31/1898 reports a fire at the rope factory; "on account of the hilly nature of the streets it was found impossible to get the water up to the burning factory in time to save it", so the fire destroyed the factory, the Meagher house at 427 28th, and the adjacent house to the west. Neighborhood boys hired to pick oakum started the fire. The story notes that neighbors are unhappy about tons of flammable material at the site.

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Left: 1900 Sanborn (V. 6 sheet 660, N at top) shows considerable development on the block. Right: detail (N at right). The rope walk parcels are now labeled Rope Factory, including the dwellings at 326 Valley (renumbered ca. 1888 from 426) and 327 28th (second story added, renumbered from 427), a substantial 2-story mechanical/storage building at center replacing the 1-story 1886 building, a 25' brick chimney, and a 10' water tank.

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The 1900 Census shows Joseph Meagher (30) at 326 Valley with his wife and two children. Another page shows a full house (9 people) at 327 28th: Daniel Meagher (22) and his two sisters, plus his brother James (31) with his wife and four children.

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Left: 1905 Sanborn (V. 6 sheet 660, N at top), little changed from 1900 except the rope factory. The edges of the volume were burned in the 1906 fire. Right: rope factory detail (N at right) showing additional buildings, notably expansion of the dwelling at 327 28th and small additions at the center as 326 1/2 Valley.


The 1910 Census shows 18 Meagher family members living at the family compound: James/wife/5 sons at 327 1/2 28th, Daniel/wife/4 kids at 327 28th, and Joseph/wife/3 kids at 326 Valley.

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A large fire destroyed the rope factory in 1910, as reported in the Call 06/01/1910 and the Chronicle 06/01/1910. The fire destroyed the houses at 327 28th (Daniel), 327 1/2 28th (James), and 329 28th (neighbor), and damaged several nearby houses on 28th. The houses on Valley survived. The following year, 1911 Crocker-Langley lists Daniel at 355 28th (renumbered from 323), James in a new house at 361 28th, and the business relocated to San Bruno Avenue.

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Left: 1914 Sanborn (V. 7 sheet 774, N at top), four years after the fire. Right: detail of lots formerly occupied by the rope factory (N at right). 326 and 330 Valley survived the fire, as did 323 28th. But the rope factory is gone, the empty parcel and the dwelling previously at 327 are replaced with new dwellings (renumbered 359 and 361), and 329 is gone.

In 1917, Daniel Meagher was robbed (of $3!) in a saloon at Sanchez/Day, as described in Chronicle 07/26/1917.

The Meagher family enclave did not disperse when their business relocated. 1920 Crocker-Langley shows Joseph and family still at 326 Valley, Daniel and family still at 355 28th, and James and family still at 361 28th. The company entry reads "MEAGHER Jas Sons (D C J E and J J) cordage, plaster fiber sanitary rags 1625 San Bruno Av".


This Google Maps rendering of the block shows the year each building was built per current S.F. Assessor data. Most city building records were lost in the 1906 earthquake/fire, so the Assessor uses "1900" as a generic date meaning "pre-1906". The block has 20 pre-quake homes. The Meagher rope factory parcels are now 356 Valley, 360 Valley, 355/357 28th, and 361 28th.