O'Byrne's Ferry Covered Bridge at Poker Flat  


THE ARTERY of California's Mother Lode Region is State Highway 49, known as the Golden Chain Highway. Over this route and the adjoining side roads one passes through nine of California's 58 counties: Mariposa, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Yuba, Nevada, and ending in Sierra County at the tiny community of Sattley - all in the Sierra Nevada gold belt.

Along this line of travel one finds many historical landmarks worthy of being preserved, reminders of the scenes of the turbulent Gold Rush Days of 1849. One of these historic landmarks has recently been sacrificed to the demands of progress and change. It is the beautiful old covered bridge which spanned the Stanislaus River at O'Byrne's Ferry. The river is the dividing line between Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, and the old Mountain Pass Road, which crossed over the bridge, connected Copperopolis and Yosemite Junction.

The story of O'Byrne's Ferry Bridge is primarily concerned with the loss of this old landmark, one of the few remaining covered bridges in California. Historically concerned groups became aware of the danger to the old covered bridge with the construction of the Tri-Dam Project, a water storage development on the middle fork and the main stream of the Stanislaus River. This project was proposed and undertaken by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts.

It involved expenditures of over $ 52,000,000 plus the interest over a period of forty-five years that will amount to an additional $31,000,000. The project was a problem of both politics and economics which was shared by the two irrigation districts. It took leaders, men with foresight, faith and daring, to persuade the voters of the district that the Tri-Dam Project was feasible. After fourteen years of exploration and planning, construction was started in 1955.

The Tri-Dam plan involved the building of three dams, Donnell and Beardsley on the upper reaches of the middle fork of the Stanislaus River and Tulloch on the main stream below the confluence of the north, middle, and south forks. It was construction

However, the most reliable account was published by Judge J. A. Smith, President of the Calaveras County Historical Society, In Las Calaveras, January, 1954. He believes that the site of the bridge was originally called Byrne's Ferry, for the ferry at that point on the Stanislaus River was conducted by P. O. Byrne and in the course of time the spelling was changed to O'Byrne's. There are still documents on record showing his signature as O'Byrne but he also did business as Byrne and Company.

It was in the fall of 1852 that P. O. Byrne began the construction of a chain cable suspension bridge with a plank floor across the river which was supposed to be eight feet above the high water level. It was completed in the spring of 1853 and was opened to the public as a toll bridge. It soon became a very important crossing as it was on the principal road between Sonora and Stockton. This bridge was used several years before the discovery of rich deposits of copper ore at Copperopolis by Thomas McCarty and W. K. Reed in 1860. However, the suspension bridge had a short life. Weakened by the weight of several days of heavy rain, one of the chains supporting the bridge gave way, and the span fell into the river while a six-oxen team and two men were crossing. The oxen and wagon were swept down the river, but the two men escaped. The bridge was repaired and again put into use the following summer. As a toll bridge it served the traveler until the great flood and high water of 1862 when almost all the bridges on the rivers along the Sierra foothills were swept away.

Carlo DeFerrari of Sonora, who has done a great deal of study on the history of the O'Byrne's Bridge, is doubtful that the old suspension bridge was ever restored. He is convinced that a ferry served the public at this site until the Union Bridge was built in 1862-63.

The suspension bridge was finally replaced in 1862 with a new covered cantilever bridge and built twelve feet higher than the old bridge. It was a Howe truss type of bridge reinforced by an auxiliary arch. These arches, each made of four three by sixteen inch timbers bolted together, buckled laterally in spite of the iron plates placed at the weak angles soon after the construction of the bridge. They gave the structure the appearance of being on the verge of collapse. It is said this was due to an error by the workmen in tightening the bolts in the arches rather than loosening them for the winter season.


This picture gives an excellent illustration of the warping of one of the arch type trusses, In order to prevent further bending, a thick iron plate was bolted to each side of the bend.. Inspections the years, by qualified engineers, failed to reveal, any weakness. 

Another story about the warped arches is told by Carlo DeFerrari. He claims a dispute between the engineers over the need for the arches to support the truss work, resulted in uneven tensions and, when the supporting braces were removed, on completion of the bridge, it settled several inches, causing the arches to buckle. At first, the engineers thought the bridge unsafe and would have to be rebuilt, but after testing it carefully, they came to the conclusion that the bridge was safe. The posted load limit on the bridge during its last years was five tons, but many loads that exceeded this limit passed over it. Some engineers predicted it would carry twenty tons easily. The difficulty experienced in dynamiting the bridge timbers free from the abutment foundations, when it was dismantled, would indicate that the old bridge was still sturdy after ninety-six years, in spite of its buck- led arches.

The new bridge was erected by, the Union Bridge Company, a corporation with headquarters at Sonora. In some references it is called the Union Bridge. Joe Pardies profitably operated the toll bridge for many years, and he was succeeded as operator by his nephew, Peter Camou. The building used by the toll-keeper was on the Calaveras side of the river, and.. the ruins of this building remained when the site was flooded.

Apparently the bridge was damaged by use as well as by the storms and needed major repairs in the eighties. The Calaveras Citizen, March 24, 1884, carried a notice to the public that the "Union Bridge at O'Byrne's Ferry had been thoroughly repaired and is now ready for the traveling public."

 The bridge continued as a toll bridge until 1902 when it was purchased from the Union Bridge Company by the counties of Calaveras and Tuolumne for $4,000 and was immediately declared a free bridge.

 Fred Burnham, a cattleman in the region, maintained that he was largely responsible for the bridge being purchased by the counties. He stated that for fifteen years or more he had driven his cattle across the bridge at a cost of $25 or $30 for the herd on his annual summer trips to the mountains for better feed. At that time Peter Camou operated the toll bridge and offered to sell it to anyone for $4,000. Burnham recalls, however, that the approaches were of rough boards and needed repair. They clapped up and down as the cattle passed over them and were dangerous for the horses. Because he was dissatisfied with the condition of the bridge and because he disliked paying the $ 30 toll fee, Burnham circulated a petition for the bridge to be purchased by the two counties and to be made a free bridge. However, little consideration was given to the petition by the Calaveras County supervisors at that time, but the following year, 1902, was an election year. When Burnham again presented his petition, everyone was interested -especially the candidates - and the Calaveras and Tuolumne counties each provided $2000 to purchase the bridge and to free it from toll.

The mining camp that developed at this point on the Stanislaus River at one time may have been called Poker Flat. It was not until later, with the construction of the bridge, that the location became known as O'Byrne's Ferry. It has been asserted by some writers that the name of Poker Flat was derived from gambling activities within the camp and also served as the locale for Bret Harte's story, "Outcasts of Poker Flat." Only a few old stone foundations re- main as evidence that a mining town ever existed here, and it is very doubtful that Bret Harte had this location in mind when he wrote his famous short story. The environment does not fit the wintry scene described by Harte where Mr. Oakhurst, Uncle Billy, the Duchess, and Mother Shipton were marooned by a heavy snowstorm. If the author had any geographical location in mind, he would more likely have been referring to the mining camp of Poker Flat in Northern California. .

This lonely but picturesque road from Copperopolis to Sonora was undoubtedly frequented by many of the early bad men, and this old bridge may have been their means of escape from the sheriff. It was near hear, at Funk Hill, where "Black Bart" staged his last hold-up and for which he was captured, prosecuted in San Andreas, and sent to San Quentin for five years.

It is claimed that only two miles from here Tiburcio Vasquez, who was said to be "All Bad", camped until he was prepared for a holdup of the stage running between Chinese Camp and Copperopolis. His haul amounted to $600 in coin and gold dust, taken from the box of the Wells Fargo and Company Express. Wells Fargo immediately posted a reward for his arrest and conviction. According to the story, a posse was formed at Poker Flat and cross- ed the old bridge in pursuit of the bandit. He escaped only to be captured later in San Jose, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged at San Quentin, January 12,1875.

There is another interesting story of a stage wreck on the Old Mountain Pass Road in the vicinity pf the old bridge. It was during this era that the town of Milton developed at the end of the Stockton-Copperopolis Railroad. Here passengers bound for Copperopolis and Sonora boarded one of the "Shine Sonora Stages." On the night in question the driver, Ed Birney, took over the run. He had so many passengers that some of the men even climbed aboard on top of the baggage. After leaving Copperopolis with a change of six fresh horses, Birney was heading down the hill to the Calaveras County approach to the old covered bridge at a rapid rate. While rounding a sharp bend the top-heavy load skidded from the road and turned upside down. The frightened animals broke out of their harness and ran away. The passengers on top flew in all directions. Pandemonium reigned supreme as the passengers inside the stage struggled to escape. Fortunately, no one was injured although some received scratches and minor cuts. After removing one of the kerosene lamps from the stage coach to light their way, the long trek back to "Copper" by foot got under way. The following day the passengers were divided and finished their journey in two coaches.


 The Stanislaus River looking upstream. This view of the south abutment of' the old bridge illustrates the material and method used in anchoring this arch-truss type structure to its moorings. Built with available native rock and cemented together with a lime and sand mortar, it is amazing that. the bridge foundation withstood the onslaught of numerous H\,o<!s to which it has been exposed. During the Hood of 1955, the river at Hood stage reached to within three feet of the deck.

The scene in the background, 3000 feet upstream, includes the now partially complete, NEW O'Byme's Ferry Bridge. It may be noted that since the gates at the dam have been closed water in the reservoir is rapidly rising and the river at this stage is approximately ten feet higher than its normal level. The elevation between the new and the old bridge is (9ughly one hundred feet.

 In continuing the story of the last days of the old covered bridge, it might be well to remember that the Tulloch Reservoir, which covers the old bridge site, is the most important storage reservoir of the Tri-Dam Project. The name Tulloch was adopted from an old pioneer rancher in the area, Charles Tulloch. He had developed an earlier water system that furnished water for the old flour mill in Knights Ferry as well as the residents, This system was purchased by the Oak dale Irrigation District and the name transferred to the new reservoir. It is located some forty-five miles down-stream and some 4400 feet below Donnells Dam. This reservoir will provide final stabilization for the flow of the water in the Stanislaus River, as excess water will be held here after it has been released from the two upper dams. Tulloch Reservoir, when it is filled to capacity, backs the water up the river canyon for seven miles and forms a large lake that covers the O'Byrne's Bridge site to a depth of eighty feet. When, therefore, the flood gates were closed early in 1957 ~and the reservoir began to fill, it became necessary to plan for the disposal of the old bridge. The bridge was the property of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, but according to the contract with the Irrigation Districts, if it had not been disposed of by the time the reservoir had started to fill, it would become the property of the districts.

 As the zero hour approached, the directors of the two districts studied the possibility of burning the bridge where it stood or of cutting it free from its moorings and floating it down-stream to one of the many draws in the reservoir area where it could be anchored until the water went down in the fall of 1958 and a final decision could be made as to its usefulness.

When it was learned by the public in general that the bridge had to be removed, many communities became concerned with its disposition. Historical groups discussed the possibilities of saving the old landmark. Archie Steve not of Sonora, spokesman for the Calaveras and Tuolumne County Historical Societies and the Copperopolis Community Club, assisted by the Native Sons of the Golden West and many other state-wide groups, planned a campaign to save the bridge. They started what was known as a "DOLLAR" campaign to cover the cost of preserving it as a future landmark. The cost of such a project at that time was estimated to be about $9,000. A plan was developed to move the bridge down-stream to a lagoon created by the reservoir where it could span an inlet and once again become a Mecca for tourists. Stevenot stated that he would ask the United States Navy Seabees with the aid of pontoons to float the bridge, as a training project, to its new location. The California State Park Commission endorsed the proposal as being worthy of consideration. A Tuolumne County rancher agreed to donate the property upon which the bridge could be located, provided these plans were successful. However, as we will learn later, such plans failed to materialize.

During the months of October and November, 1957, stories with the following headlines were featured in newspapers of Central California:

"RISING TULLOCH WATER TO FLOAT HISTORIC SPAN" "O'BYRNE'S COVERED BRIDGE COULD BECOME A SHRINE" "HISTORIC SPAN MOVE AWAITS GOOD WEATHER" "WILL O'BYRNE'S BRIDGE FLOAT IS QUESTION?"

"COUNTIES O.K. SALE OF OLD LODE BRIDGE" 

"DECISION DUE ON O'BYRNE'S FERRY BRIDGE FATE" ! "TWO LODE COUNTIES CLEAR WAY FOR BRIDGE REMOVAL" "

"OLD O'BYRNE'S FERRY COVERED BRIDGE AUCTIONED FOR $250" "LODE RESIDENTS SEEK NAVY AID TO SAVE BRIDGE" "DRIVE STARTS TO SAVE OLD BRIDGE" "O'BYRNE'S FERRY BRIDGE CLOSED TO TRAFFIC" "DEATH OF A BRIDGE"

The unwavering efforts of those who had worked so hard to find some method of saving this old structure were of no avail. Time and the rising waters of the reservoir, had refused to wait for man to make up his mind. With the water level rapidly reaching the deck of the bridge, time had run out for any further delay with regard to its disposal. The Calaveras and Tuolumne County super- visors decided to sell the doomed bridge at a public auction to be held on October 21, 1957, at the bridge site.

While these arrangements were being made for the disposal of the bridge, the irrigation districts were clearing the reservoir area. Men and equipment were at work on both banks of the Stanislaus River above and below the old bridge cutting down trees and brush, bulldozing the earth, and in general clearing the area that was eventually to become the bed of the reservoir. Months went by and the site of the old historic bridge gradually changed from one of beauty to one of desolation. Soon large piles of brush and trees were accumulated and burned. Surveyors were moving throughout the area and at various points along what was to be the perimeter of the reservoir they left large white painted marks and signs that took on the appearance of ancient hieroglyphics, as seen from the road coming down by Table Mountain.

Plans were made by the Irrigation Districts to replace the old covered bridge with a new concrete structure of twenty tons capacity at a point about a half mile upstream. Work on this bridge, which cost $460,000, was started on January 14, 1957. Details involving right-of-way and methods of financing the project had been worked out. The two counties were to pay about $20,000 each towards construction costs and would acquire this modern new bridge at approximately one-tenth of the actual cost.. The new bridge when completed was to be 620 feet long, 120 feet above the base piers, and 100 feet higher than the level of the old bridge.

All during this period of preparation the old bridge remained intact and open to traffic. Many people who had learned about the proposed removal of the bridge, some for the first time, made a last visit and a last crossing over this historic old landmark. Press head- lines quoted earlier in this story had aroused public interest.

On the morning of October 21, 1957, at about 10:00 o'clock, several hundred interested spectators and prospective buyers moved into the bridge area. Soon the auctioneer, accompanied by the supervisors of the two counties involved, along with the crowd, adjourned to the center of the old span. With appropriate remarks from the supervisor from Tuolumne County, the auction got under

 

The search for GOLD, Here we see the northeast corner of the old bridge, where we find  the,' employee’s of the new owners making a feverish search , for a 3 by 3 foot steel box of gold coins and other items which is believed to have been placed there when the bridge was constructed. At this phase of the digging, the large slab of rock on which the worker is resting his hand is believed to be the cover over the box of gold It is indeed a tense moment  as the water is rising rapidly. The searchers are needed for essential work on the bridge. One hour later the workers were able to place a steel cable around one end of the rock and with the aid of a power winch to lift it from its resting place.

dynamiting, and digging with pick and shovel, for a reported three by three foot steel box containing gold coins and other items. The rock and mortar abutment at the north end of the bridge gave strong indication of the presence of metal on the metal detectors. Digging began in earnest since the water was rising very rapidly. An effort was made to dig up the pier, and dynamite it as well, Picks, shovels, and crow bars were also brought into play by men who worked in relays. However, they failed to uncover any treasure The rising reservoir soon covered the bridge site under eighty feet of water and the story of a buried treasure became only a legend.

Meanwhile, Hubbs and Mitchell, assisted by their sons and other employees, began exerting every effort to release the bridge from the grip of its moorings in order to float it to a nearby cove, where tentative plans had been made to use . it as a boat dock. In order to make \ it more buoyant, the deck planking was removed with the aid of crow bars and a truck equipped with a winch and cable that lifted the planking from their supports. Having removed the planking, the major part of the task still remained – releasing the bridge from it’s abutments. It was soon discovered that this was no easy task and that the bridge supports were embedded with such security in the abutments that they would have withstood great pressure from the waters of the flooding river.

On Saturday morning, November 9, 1957, a dynamite charge was placed at the south pier and exploded. It became evident that the charge was not of sufficient force, since it failed to blast the rock loose from the bridge supports. A second charge was set off but this, too, failed to loosen the structure. It was then decided to cut the two bottom stringers at a point about ten feet from the south abutment. This in itself was a task, since the stringers were made of four laminated planks measuring eighteen inches wide by eighteen inches thick. This operation also failed in its purpose, since the bridge was now held intact by two cross braces. A truck with a winch and cable was now used in an effort to pry loose the supports. After breaking three steel cables, the bridge was finally jerked loose from its moorings and settled gently into the water, with its ends still resting on the piers. Darkness then overtook the workers and further operations were postponed until the following morning. In the meantime the north pier, as a result of a smoldering fire, which was started while steel supports were being cut with a torch, burned loose, and the old bridge finally started to drift slowly down stream.

When the framework of the bridge partially sank into the water, the crest of the arches made the upper portion top heavy and it rolled over. At about 9:45 a. m. November 10, 1957, the historic old O'Byrne's Ferry Covered Bridge gave up its piers. Again, with the use of cable and winch, it was jerked downstream from the area and anchored offshore while workers proceeded with the task of cleaning up the debris. Intense interest had been built up at the last moment to preserve the old bridge. The new owners were deluged with mail and telephone calls to save it. More than a thousand tourists and interested parties visited the area on Sunday, October 24th. Many of them pulled out nails and, in some instances, took up whole planks from the sidings, for souvenirs. Others came just for a last look. Because of this mass interest the Owners offered to give the bridge to the three interested Mother Lode organizations, provided they did the moving and relocation. At this late hour, however, the necessary funds could not be raised nor adequate moving equipment obtained. Regretfully, the offer had to be declined.

All hope having been abandoned, the bridge was disposed of as originally planned. Day by day the old structure was dismantled. Huge bolts, nuts and washers were loosened and removed, long steel bars from which the bridge was suspended from the arch were taken out and the salvaged lumber was piled on the bank. This entire operation was accomplished with the use of a small boat and an improvised raft. The salvage material was disposed of through sales to interested parties who planned to use it in the construction of buildings in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. Some of the timbers were used by the South San Joaquin and Oakdale Irrigation Districts in the construction of another bridge. Some of the remaining timbers have been used in the development of recreational areas around the reservoir. Their use and their relation to the old bridge will help to keep alive the memories of the old community of Poker Flat and the famous old O'Byrne's Ferry Covered Bridge.

 It can truly be said that this event was not only just THE DEATH OF AN OLD COVERED BRIDGE, but represents the END OF AN ERA in California's colorful transportation history.

From early January to August of 1958, visits to the Tulloch Reservoir revealed that it was filled to its capacity. How- ever, before the end of the irrigation season in October it became obvious the water in the reservoir would reach the minimum pool elevation of 431 feet at which the old covered bridge site would just became exposed to view.

It was an unexpected surprise to visitors to the reservoir to be able to again view the site of the old bridge. By December 9, 1958, the water from the reservoir had entirely disappeared and the water in the Stanislaus River was again flowing sluggishly just above the old bridge site and mud-covered rocks, trees and stumps dotted the area. This dreary scene was disconcerting to those who had made plans to develop recreational facilities at the junction of the new road and the old Mountain Pass Road on the Calaveras County side of the reservoir. However, this extremely low water level was not anticipated very often because private enterprise had taken steps to construct recreational facilities by leveling the land, providing picnic tables and temporary rest rooms, and constructing a small boat barge only along the high water contour.

When the reservoir is full it provides one of the most interesting fishing, boating, and water skiing recreational areas in the foothill

The framework of the Old O'Byrne'. Ferry Bridge in an inverted position, floats downstream in the Tulloch Reservoir, Only a few short hours remain and then - total dismantling bring. the end of an era, INSET: Since the covering has been removed, nothing remain. of the historic old bridge but the skeleton, The whole scene i, now different and only Table Mountain remain. unchanged in the background to remind the old timer. of the once familiar setting for the old bridge,

The old and the new. The above pictures show the final resting place of nine of the main timbers from the old bridge. Construction of the Blac'k Creek Lodge was the Grst of several recreational areas to be constructed at Tulloch Reservoir. region. Plans are being made by both Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties to develop these recreational resources.

The State Fish and Wildlife Conservation Board has acquired some forty-five acres of the Mary L. O'Donnell Estate, along the Tuolumne County side of the reservoir immediately above the Tulloch dam, for a public park. The proposed plans include the construction of four boat ramps, picnic and auto parking areas, sanitary facilities, and an access road at a cost of about $100,000.

The old bridge is providing a part of these recreational facilities being developed around the reservoir, since nine of the large main beams from the old bridge have been used in the construction of the porch at the Black Creek Lodge on Black Creek, a spur of the reservoir. This resort was opened by Clifton Mitchell, part owner of the old bridge, on August 13, 1960. At the present, restaurant facilities are available and future plans call for a store motel, trailer court, and camping facilities.


Tulloch Reservoir as viewed from top of  Table Mountain, looking; southeast. Small power boats may be seen towing water skiers. This reservoir will soon be developed into a large recreation area.

Thus some parts of the old bridge still remain to remind visitors of the history of the ninety-six-year-old span.

In concluding this story of the history of the old covered bridge and the events that occurred during its last days, It seems appropriate to quote from an editorial in the Stock-OIl Record of Friday, .June 14, 1957, which tends to place the whole story in its proper perspective and makes clear that the passing of the old bridge was not in vain:

"THE MAGNIFICENT STORY OF TRI-DAM"

"Among all the achievements of man, none evokes the thrills and the pride of those gigantic projects which in one way or another harness powerful forces of nature. For this reason, the dedication tomorrow of the Tri-Dam Project on i the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River is an occasion for celebration in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties. As engineering and construction jobs, the three dams are marvels even in this state where huge water barriers are : rather commonplace. 

"We would like to be sure that future generations who are served by these multiple- purpose dams and reservoirs are made aware of the marvels Views of the Tulloch Dam of political and economic initiative which have enabled the pouring of so much concrete and the moving of so much earth and rock. In our estimation, these are marvels which surpass those of the men who worked with slide rule or heavy machinery.

"The idea of damming the Stanislaus had to begin with engineers, but very soon be- came a problem of politics and economics shared by the South San Joaquin and Oakdale Irrigation Districts. It took leaders with faith and daring vision to persuade the voters of the districts that the project was feasible, that the contract with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to buy the electrical II power really would payoff the Ii i $ 52,000,000 undertaking and , I the $ 31 ,000,000 in interest charges over a period of forty five years.

"When the outlook was discouraging because of high interest rates, when Congress failed to go to the aid of the districts, there was justification for giving up on the dream of years. But the leaders, the engineers, and the advisers of the irrigation districts continued to press forward with courageous improvisations. As planning reached its final stages, the best hope of the district boards was to construct two dams and to defer the third. But here 

fortune smiled, and the combination of a surprisingly low interest rate on bonds and a contract favorable to the builder enabled construction of all three dams.

"We hope that somehow this story of the farmer's dream, of the teamwork of a utility corporation and two public agencies, of the human ingenuity, confidence, and courage which is intrinsic but unseen in the structures of Donnell, Beardsley, and Tulloch Dams will be retold every year and to every generation. It is a truly magnificent story."

Thus the sacrifice of the historic old span has played a small part in the Tri-Dam Project that will bring power, revenue, and irrigation water, to the farmers of the South San Joaquin and Oak- dale Irrigation Districts and a considerable degree of flood protection to the lands along the river and the upper San Joaquin Delta.


Work started "n this. the new bridge on Monday, January 14, 1957, "hen the Tri-Dam Board of Director. awarded a $458,355 contract to the Thomas Construction Company of Fresno, California for the construction of a two lane bridge. Work was started with the drilling for the piers on that date and the bridge was completed and open to traffic on November 10, 1957. The new bridge is located about 3000 feet upstream from the old bridge
.


New O'Brynes Bridge

Length = 620 feet 
Height, supported by 8 piers = 120 feet
Width, double driveway, concrete and steel = 20 feet
Load Capacity = 20 tons
Cost of Construction  = $458,355.00

OTHER GOLD COUNTRY COVERED BRIDGES

  • BRIDGEPOR T - Crosses the South Fork of the Yuba River on the road from Smartsville through French Corral to North San Juan. Built in 1862 by David Wood.

  • KNIGHT'S FERRY - Crosses the Stanislaus River at Knight's Ferry a few miles downstream from the old O'Byrne's Bridge. Built in 1862. Washed away and rebuilt eight feet higher.

  • OREGON CREEK - Just above the confluence of Oregon Creek with the Middle Fork of the Yuba River, near San Juan. Built in 1862.

"TULLOCH" - HISTORY OF THE NAME
By RUSSELL E. HARTLEY
CHIEF ENGINEER OF THE OAKDALE IRRIGATION DISTRICT

The name "Tulloch", as given to the Tulloch Reservoir Project of Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts, was in memory of one of the early day families who came to California during the mining era and played a prominent part in the history of the town of Knight's Ferry and vicinity.

According to historical records, one David Tulloch and family emigrated to California during the early 1850's and settled in Knights Ferry which was then the center of extensive placer gold mining operations along the Stanislaus River.

This Mr. Tulloch, father of Charles T. Tulloch, was active in various business enterprises rather than just mining. Among these activities was the building of the first flour mill to be operated in Stanislaus County. This mill, which was located immediately be- low the existing Knight's Ferry covered bridge, was operated by water wheel power from a nearby river diversion dam. The mill operated under the name of Stanislaus Milling Company and functioned for some thirty years until the latter 1890's.

The son, Charles T. Tulloch, finally inherited the milling business and also became quite prominent in various developments about nights. Ferry. As the mining operations closed and the failing business became unprofitable due to competition, he acquired the so-called old "Knights Ferry Ditch". This ditch was used by I the early miners for diverting water from the Stanislaus River some six miles upstream near Six Mile Bar for placer mining and domestic purposes.

Charles T. Tulloch also being a man of vision, proceeded to exploit the old ditch with its valuable water rights (some extending back to 1853) by constructing a hydro-electric power plant of some 600 K. W. (D.C.) capacity adjacent to the old flour mill building. This plant furnished the first electric energy used in the City of Modesto and for copper mining operations at Copperopolis.

In 1902, Mr. Tulloch did considerable betterment work on the old Knights Ferry ditch in order to insure power production and furnish water to the growing agricultural development about the Knights Ferry area. The outstanding betterment work was the construction of a new diversion dam on the river at a location immediately above Six Mile Bar. This dam, which is now known as the "Old Tulloch Dam ", was some 3 00 feet in length and around eight feet in height and very substantially built of heavy rock fitted together with cement mortar. It is claimed that the cement used in laying up the rubble masonry was shipped from Holland by sailing vessels around Cape Horn to San Francisco and thence hauled by freight team to the dam site. This dam remains today practically intact as a tribute to its skillful and lasting construction.

Over the years, Mr. Tulloch was forced out of the power business by reason of competition with the big power companies. He thereupon, extended his ditch system down into the valley to the Oakdale, Valley Home, and Escalon areas and began selling water to the farmers. It was this "taste of irrigation water" which spark- ed the organization of the Oak dale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts in 1909 and which culminated in the Districts purchasing the entire Tulloch system together with his valuable water rights for the sum of $650,000.

While the Districts, in their plan of development, constructed J new diversion dam on the river known as the Goodwin Dam and abandoned the Old Tulloch Dam, much of Tulloch's ditch system is still in active use. Finally, when explorations were going on for the Tri-Dam Project and it had been determined that the most desirable dam site for the lower reservoir unit was located only some 800 feet upstream from the Old Tulloch Dam, the Districts' Boards of Directors decided that it would be altogether proper that this big dam should be named "Tulloch Dam" and the reservoir, thus formed, called the "Tulloch Reservoir" in lasting memory of the Tulloch family and particularly to Charles T. Tulloch who had contributed so much toward pioneering irrigation and power development in the area.

While Charles T. Tulloch died some twenty years ago and his three sons John, David, and Neal, who also contributed much toward the local development. have since passed away, still the name. "Tulloch" is permanently preserved and justly honored in the great dam and reservoir here on the Stanislaus River just above the old town of Knights ferry where their pioneer forefather first settled in California.

The pictures in this publication represents the dedicated efforts of R. P. Ricard, of Stockton, to record in pictorial form the whole story of the removal of the bridge, the building of the new bridge, and the construction of the Tulloch Dam. He made many trips to the area to photograph the progress of the rapidly changing scene. We have selected twenty-three of his most significant pictures to illustrate this story. his notes, records, and clippings have also been in-valuable in preparing the manuscript.

We must also give thanks to Carlo DePerrari of Sonora for reading the manuscript and to Paul Hunt, President of the Board of Directors of the Oakdale Irrigation District, for his cooperation in suggesting certain changes in the manuscript. We are especially grateful to Russell E. Hartley, Chief Engineer for the Oakdale Irrigation District, for reading and correcting the manuscript and for writing the delightful article on the history of the Tulloch name.

Errors in fact or form in the manuscript should be charged entirely to tile author.

-Coke Wood

Similar publications by the author on the Mother Lode Region may be obtained from the Old Timers Museum in Murphys.

"Calaveras, Land of Skulls" - "Ebbetts Pass"

"Night In Wingdam" - "Big Trees Bulletin" 

For further information on the history of O'Byrne's Ferry Bridge or Poker Flat or to inquire regarding present facilities, call Poker Flat Resort (209) 785-2286.