Through the years: Deer Creek’s many bridges
LAST TIMELINES pictured the builder’s plaque on Nevada City’s 1903 Gault Bridge now demolished and has been replaced with the Pine Street Bridge. Alex Gault, for whom the bridge was named, was a former mayor, civic leader and longtime baker. Today’s so named Pine Street Bridge crossing of Deer Creek, completed in 1996, is the third major structure to span those waters since 1861, when a suspension bridge replaced a flood-damaged, creek level wooden structure downstream at present day Bridge Street. Let’s begin with the 1861 crossing.
Deer Creek in Nevada City is one of some 150 of creeks, canyons, flats, parks, etc. in California with ‘Deer’ in the title. Only ‘Bear’ outranks ‘Deer’ in animal place names. According to etymologist Erwin G. Gudde in his definitive “California Place Names,” our Deer Creek was “…named by Isaac Wister and a companion named Hunt in August 1849, when they abandoned a freshly killed deer because they feared hostile Indians. ‘Next day we reached camp before dark, and described to eager listeners our creek…(Wister).’ Hunt…struck one of the richest and most famous gold deposits, and named the place Deer Creek Dry Diggings.” The area, after other naming attempts, eventually became Nevada, followed by today’s urbane Nevada City.
In the 1850s, Deer Creek’s first bridges were pine and fir logs felled across its narrowest expanse. This location was aptly named Bridge Street. The “bridges” were washed out or severely damaged each winter as the creek flooded. By 1860, increased road traffic required a more permanent structure across the creek.
The following year a young bridge builder from San Francisco named Andrew S. Hallidie was commissioned to construct such a crossing. Hallidie proposed a suspension bridge to be built upstream utilizing wire rope and cable manufactured under his father’s patents.
In 1855, he had spanned the American River in El Dorado County with a 200-foot, wire-suspenison viaduct. Now he would build a 320 feet span with a roadway width of 14-feet, 9-inches,” including a narrow sidewalk on either side of the roadway. At the time of its completion it was the largest suspension bridge in California.
The span was completed in June 1862, at a cost of slightly more than $12,000. Two months later a faulty cable anchor at the south end of the loaded hay wagon and oxen into Deer Creek killing both men and all of the oxen. The cable did not break, it was determined that it was contractor error that caused the accident and no fault of Hallidie’s engineering or cable.
Nevertheless, and at no cost to Nevada City, Hallidie rebuilt the bridge which continued to serve all traffic including the “newfangled automobile” until 1903, when it was deemed obsolete and unable to carry the heavier loads of the day. A sign posted at either end of the bridge cautioned: “A fine of $25 will be levied for crossing the bridge faster than a walk.” After 41 years of service the Hallidie bridge gave way to a more modern, single arch structure.
Hallidie’s greatest and longest lasting achievement was realized in San Francisco on Aug. 1, 1873 when the world’s first street cable car loaded with passengers climbed the Clay Street hill into history. More than 130 years later Hallidie’s “little cable cars [still] climb halfway to the stars” to the continuing delight of both residents and visitors alike.
San Francisco’s cable cars, along with the magnificent Golden Gate and Bay Bridges .are two of the city’s utilitarian legends. The cable cars, though mobile, have the distinction of being designated National Historic Landmarks. Another California transportation legend also still on active duty and designated a National Historic Landmark is the S.S. Delta Queen, formerly a mainstay with her running mate the S.S. Delta King on the Sacramento River, now carries tourists on the mighty Mississippi River. Both are steel hulled and were built in 1926. The King now serves as a floating hotel on the Sacramento waterfront.
The father of the cable car died on April 24, 1900. Hallidie had served as a regent of the University of California from 1866 until his death. He was also a San Francisco civic leader.
NEXT TIME we’ll look at the Gault Bridge, which served twice as long as its Hallidie predecessor. We’ll also meet that bridge’s namesake and talk about what led to the Gault’s demise.
BOB WYCKOFF is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor and author of local history. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or POBox 216, Nevada City CA 95959
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