When it comes to covered bridges, California can brag with the best of them. “What!?” you cry. You thought only New England claimed ownership of those marvelous portals to the past? Not true!
What California may lack in quantity, it certainly makes-up for in quality. Californians can flaunt the uniqueness of their covered bridges: the tallest; the only one with three distinct roof lines; the only covered bridge installed backwards and the longest covered bridge.
Just a few miles southeast of Eureka in Humboldt County, off Hwy. 101 on Elk Rd., are Berta’s Ranch and Zane’s Ranch covered bridges. Built in 1936 over the Elk River, Berta’s Ranch is the most westerly covered bridge in the United States and the oldest covered bridge in the county. Almost an exact twin, the Zane’s Ranch bridge, built a quarter-mile up-river, is the second most westerly covered bridge in the country. Both bridges are 52-feet long and built of native redwood which was inexpensive and plentiful at the time.
For many years, Zane’s Ranch bridge had the distinction of being the last covered bridge built in the state. Then in 1967, the Jacoby Creek bridge was built. Located just six-miles north of Eureka, the bridge leads into the plush Brookwood housing development. Built primarily for aesthetic reasons, the 68-foot Jacoby Creek is a gentle reminder of by-gone days. To reach Jacoby Creek, take the Samoa Blvd./ Arcata exit off Hwy. 101. Turn left and drive 1.3 miles to the bridge.
Eight miles east of Chico in Butte County, Honey Run Covered Bridge is the only covered bridge in the nation with three distinctive roof lines. Severely damaged by a truck in 1965, the county decided to tear the bridge down. It was rescued when the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association held a pancake breakfast and raised $7,000 for repairs. The annual pancake breakfast is still held the first Sunday in June. Honey Run and Butte Creek offer an idyllic setting for picnicking, sunbathing and fishing.
There are several stories concerning how the Honey Run got its name–including one about a bee’s nest in a nearby ridge. The most humorous story involves a young couple who, while strolling near the bridge were confronted by a bear. The young man was heard to shout, “Run, Honey! Run!” And thus, the name.
Not far from Honey Run is a most recent and charming addition to California’s covered bridges, the little known Oregon City Covered Bridge (aka Castleberry Covered Bridge). Built in 1984, Oregon City can claim it as the newest covered bridge in California. The 50-foot, barn-red bridge welcomes visitors to Oregon City, CA, State Historical Landmark #807. Travelers to Oregon City are rewarded with panoramic views of the vast Central Valley as they wend their way up and over Table Mountain.
Built in 1860 with hand-hewn local timber by Thomas Freeman and originally called Freeman’s Crossing, the Oregon Creek is the oldest covered bridge and possibly the oldest bridge of any type in California. Oregon Creek also boldly boasts it is the only covered bridge in the United States installed backwards. Washed away by a flood in 1883 when a dam burst upstream, a team of oxen towed it back to a convenient crossing. But the flood had turned it around and since no way was found to turn it back around, it was reinstalled backwards. Oregon Creek is north of Nevada City in Yuba County at the confluence of Oregon Creek and the Middle Yuba River, off scenic Hwy. 49. This bridge is now somewhat dilapidated, a target for graffiti and closed to traffic, but you can still walk across it and enjoy a picnic or swimming on the other side.
Eight miles away off Pleasant Valley Rd., north of Grass Valley, the controversy continues concerning the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, “the longest single-span covered bridge in existence.” Portal to portal it measures 233 feet, but the clear span — the distance between piers — is 208 feet. An official measuring in 1938 concluded that Bridgeport was two-feet shorter than the Old Blondheim Bridge in New York. The Bridgeport Covered Bridge does have the longest roof line. Constructed in 1862, the shake-covered arch spans the South Yuba River and was part of the Virginia Turnpike Company toll road connecting the Nevada County mines with the Comstock Mines. It is State Historical Landmark #390.
At 355 feet, Knights Ferry is the longest covered bridge in California; the ninth longest in the nation; and the longest authentic covered bridge west of the Mississippi. The bridge replaced a ferry service established in 1848 by Dr. William Knight. Built in 1864, the bridge crosses the river at the site of the ruins of the old Locke grist mill. Not far from the bridge, Native American Indians ground their corn in mortar holes in the rocks.
Weakened by an overweight truck, the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 1981. Restored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it has been incorporated into the Knights Ferry Recreation Area on the Stanislaus River. You may want to pack a picnic and spend the afternoon sunbathing on a large river rock; camping facilities are nearby.
The 130-foot Wawona Covered Bridge in Yosemite National Park, is the only covered bridge in the National Park System. At an elevation of 4,000 feet, the Wawona Covered Bridge is also the highest covered bridge in the nation. Built in 1878, the bridge crosses the south fork of the Merced River and leads to an 1880s pioneer village. Dignitaries and stars said to have visited the bridge, include: Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Lily Langtry.
Bridges were covered to protect the wooden timbers from the elements. For this reason, Santa Cruz County covered an existing bridge — now the Felton Covered Bridge. Thirty-four-feet high to the peak of the roof makes the Felton Covered Bridge the tallest in the United States. One explanation for the extraordinary height is that it had to be tall enough to accommodate a fully loaded lumber wagon. Built in 1892 from local timber, it was the last of the Redwood spans. Damaged in a storm, the bridge was completely renovated in the late 1980s and its centennial was celebrated in 1992. In 1973 the bridge was designated as California Historical Landmark #583. The 186-foot bridge crosses the San Lorenzo River just east of Felton. Sitting in the back of Covered Bridge Park, it’s easy to miss. But children and adults will enjoy climbing around this important piece of history.
Off Hwy. 9 northeast of Santa Cruz , in a privately owned Masonic Park, is Paradise-Masonic Covered Bridge. The bridge was built in 1872 to serve a gunpowder works. The large white covered bridge is unique in several ways: the five-foot overhanging portals distinguish it from all other covered bridges in the state; it has the only remaining examples of once-popular diamond-shaped windows; and no steel tie rods (metal tension rod that supplements wooden posts and diagonals) were used in its construction. The park is closed to the public, but special arrangements to see the bridge can be made through Paradise-Masonic Park.
California may not have the longest bridge, but it does have the shortest. At 36 feet, Roaring Camp Covered Bridge is the shortest in the United States. The Roaring Camp Covered Bridge is a 1969 reconstruction of a 100 year old design. Located in Santa Cruz County at the entrance to Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad, the bridge crosses a small mill pond and stream.
The award for best kept covered bridge secret goes to the village of Aptos. Built in 1974, the 100-foot Aptos Redwood Village Covered Bridge originally was not covered. Situated on Soquel Drive at the entrance to Redwood Village, an early 1900s motor-court, the bridge was “capped” to add charm to the village. Originally open to traffic, the bridge has been used for antique shows and even an occasional wedding. Aptos is located seven-miles south of Santa Cruz.
If you aren’t already a covered bridge enthusiast, you need only cross through one portal to fall in love. You can learn more about covered bridges in The Covered Bridges of California by Sylvanus Morley (1938); Covered Bridges of the West by Kramer A. Adams (1963); or Historic Highway Bridges of California, by contacting California Dept. of Transportation (916) 445-3520.