Second Pine Street crossing named for civic leader
LAST BRIDGE STORY we talked about Andrew S. Hallidie and his 1862 suspension bridge across Deer Creek at Pine. Today’s story is about the second major crossing and the man for whom it was named. In 1903, a single arch, triple hinged bridge was built north and south across Deer Creek to replace the aging and inadequate suspension bridge. It was called the Gault Bridge. Who was Gault? Here is a brief biographical sketch taken from the 1895 Nevada County Mining Review:
ALEX GAULT: “Alexander Gault followed Horace Greeley’s advice, ‘go West, young man,’ and came to California in 1859 … Mr. Gault was born in Ireland in 1829 and arrived in New York in 1849, and in 1859 came to California, settling in Nevada City. Being a first-class baker he soon found employment and worked at his trade until 1866, when he opened a bakery for himself … Mr. Gault has long been identified with the prosperity of Nevada City and is one of its most highly respected citizens. He has served as a member of the board of city trustees for several years and is at present a member of the board … His bakery on Broad Street … enjoys a large share of public patronage.”
The narrow one-way traffic lane of the Hallidie suspension bridge across Deer Creek was of great concern to the Nevada City Board of Trustees. The bridge towers and the roadway were made of wood with maintenance becoming expensive as the structure aged.
In the first decade of the 20th century, the automobile or “horseless carriage,” was beginning to be seen in ever increasing numbers on the streets and byways of America. Nevada City prided itself as being “municipally up to date” in all manner of civic improvements. Though still sound, the trustees decided a wider crossing of Deer Creek was a necessity.
In 1903, the American Bridge Co. contracted to build a new two-lane steel bridge on the exact site of the suspension bridge. In fact, the steel bridge’s abutments were placed directly on top of the original one-lane, 1862 quarry-cut stone foundations. It served until 1996 when it, too, became obsolete and dangerous.
The new steel bridge was decked with wooden planks topped with asphalt and was perfectly adequate for the 1903 traffic load.
Shortly after its completion Alex Gault died at age 74. Gault had served as a city trustee since first elected in May 1888. He had been chairman of the board or mayor several times. His death came one day after his term expired and 15 years to the month from when he first took office.
From The Daily Morning Union for May 24, 1903:
“Shortly before 11 o’clock yesterday morning the slender thread by which the spirit of Alex Gault was kept within its earthly tenement was severed, and the soul of one of Nevada county’s best citizens went to meet its Maker … when the sad news of his death was announced … a pall of sadness was cast over the community.” Wow, what a great, flowery bunch of journalistic prose! Flags throughout the area flew at half staff and as an additional honor, the trustees named the new steel bridge for Gault.
His namesake bridge served the community well for some 93 years until ever increasingly heavy vehicle traffic took its toll on the structure’s stability. It, like the suspension bridge it replaced, had outlived its usefulness. By 1996, traffic had been reduced to one vehicle in each direction on the bridge at one time.
A new bridge plan was formulated that called for a replacement whose appearance was identical to the Gault. Structurally, however, the new bridge would be some hundred times stronger. We’ll take a look next time.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor and an author of local history. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 216, Nevada City, CA 95959.
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