1905ironbridge

A CITY OF BRIDGES

Should you find yourself in 1876 Santa Rosa, don’t expect too much. The pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square wasn’t yet built; neither was the McDonald mansion. It was a frontier village of no particular interest except for one thing – it had the only iron bridge in the West.

I don’t usually give away the ending of an article, but bridges aren’t the most riveting topic for most, and I fear Gentle Reader might otherwise drift off to other entertainments. So here’s my Executive Summary:

Santa Rosa’s current downtown plan calls for demolishing the city hall complex and restoring Santa Rosa Creek to a natural condition. With the creek exposed the roadway will have to be rebuilt as a bridge. It would be appropriate to model its appearance after the “Iron Bridge,” Santa Rosa’s first famous landmark and early tourist attraction.

When the Iron Bridge was built the local newspaper commented that Santa Rosa was “a city of bridges.” Today there are dozens of places where city streets cross over our many creeks. If the city is serious about creek restoration, it could re-embrace that old slogan and draw better attention to the more important bridges that stretch above them.

The Iron Bridge in 1879, over a completely dry creek bed. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library
The Iron Bridge in 1879, over a completely dry creek bed. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library

Until the first train entered town in 1871 and stopped at today’s Railroad Square, travel to Petaluma and points south could be iffy during bad winters.

The first bridge over Santa Rosa Creek was built in 1859, after a year of twisting arms at the Board of Supervisors – they didn’t want to spend any money on “improvement” until the county was completely debt-free (oh, how things have changed).

Up to that point, there were fords on the creek where the banks were worn down enough for a wagon or stagecoach to cross the usually shallow waterway. Even after that first bridge was built, attorney T. J. Butts recalled some avoided using it:

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said: “We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

The Santa Rosa newspaper assured readers the wooden bridge was high enough “the water can never actually rise to the bridge.” They were wrong. Two years later in 1861, a big storm took out the middle pilings causing a dangerous sag, while approaches on both sides were washed away. The same thing happened again in 1864.

A replacement was built in 1865 and the Sonoma Democrat promised it would be a “bridge that will withstand the floods, and be an ornament to the place rather than an ‘eye sore,’ such as was the old one.” But wooden bridge II had its own problems and by 1868 it was also unsafe, the deck having holes and planks worn thin.

Each round of repairs cost nearly as much as (and in one case, possibly more than) the cost of building a new bridge. And after Santa Rosa was officially incorporated in 1868 the question of who owned the bridge was first raised; neither the town nor the county wanted to pay for expensive maintenance and repairs. A judge finally decreed that it belonged to the town in 1875, after the Petaluma road was reborn as “Santa Rosa Avenue” and new additions on the other side of the creek were unofficially dubbed “South Santa Rosa.” (I swear, if there’s ever a version of Trivial Pursuit Santa Rosa, I’m gonna slap a paywall on pages like this and really clean up.)

By then the bridge was in such rough shape only pedestrians were allowed, the horse-drawn traffic going over the new (1872) bridge on Third street just west of the railroad tracks. While Santa Rosa was hand-wringing over what to do about repairs, into town came Mr. R. Higgins, a salesman with impeccable timing.

Higgins was from the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The company mass manufactured arch bridge parts that were shipped by rail and assembled on site.* Thousands of their wrought iron bridges were erected in the late 19th-early 20th century, but by 1875 none had been yet built west of the Rockies. The Santa Rosa bridge was to be their West Coast showpiece.

This caused the little town’s poobahs to flip with joy; Santa Rosa would at last have a tourist attraction (of sorts). And while they would still pay full $4,000 price for the iron bridge they would save a fortune by not having to rebuild the damn thing every few years – “it was as imperishable as time itself.”

A City of Bridges: Portion of 1876 Santa Rosa map
A City of Bridges: Portion of 1876 Santa Rosa map

Even better, “before the season is over Santa Rosa will be entitled to the name of the city of bridges,” gushed the Democrat newspaper. Counting this bridge, the Third st. bridge, the railroad bridge and the one about to be constructed at E street, Santa Rosa would have four bridges within a nine block area. So yeah, no matter where you were in 1876 Santa Rosa a bridge over the creek was only a few steps away.

The sections of the bridge arrived a few weeks later, but assembly was soon halted because of a serious accident. After the first arch was raised and temporarily held in position by guy ropes, the second arch was being hoisted into place when a guy rope knot failed. The first arch tipped over onto the one being raised, and that arch fell into the creek. Higgins – who was supervising the workers – jumped into the creek to avoid being hit and struck his head, knocking him unconscious. Damage to the iron arches was repaired by a blacksmith and Higgins walked with a limp from a badly sprained ankle when work resumed about three weeks later.

Dedication ceremony for the Santa Rosa Iron Bridge, March 11, 1876 (J. H. Downing, photographer). Image courtesy Healdsburg Museum
Dedication ceremony for the Santa Rosa Iron Bridge, March 11, 1876 (J. H. Downing, photographer). Image courtesy Healdsburg Museum

There was a grand turnout for the dedication ceremony in March, where “a test of its strength with such force as could be improvised for the occasion would be made.” The description in the Democrat suggested some weren’t sure the unusual-looking bridge was safe – and given their past history of funky bridges at that location, who could blame them.

The highlight of the festivities was Jim Clark racing a team of four horses over it. Clark, who was profiled here earlier, was a key player in Santa Rosa’s early history and much admired as a horseman. “The bridge having been cleared, Mr. Clark drove his team at full speed across the bridge, but it did not effect it in the slightest degree.”

A couple of weeks later, however, there was a sign on the bridge warning anyone riding faster than a walk would be fined $20 (equivalent to about $500 today). “It is a common habit to drive across at full speed to the detriment of the bridge,” the paper reported, so maybe they still weren’t certain it was safe.

That iron bridge served Santa Rosa for about thirty years but not much about it appeared in the papers – nobody cares about bridges when they do their job. But come late 1905, it was decided to replace it. That was during a brief window when Santa Rosa was fielding all sorts of ideas to improve the town, including turning part of the creek into a water park. Alas, the 1906 earthquake knocked down all those wonderful plans (for more, see “SANTA ROSA’S FORGOTTEN FUTURE“).

Perhaps weakened further by the quake, it was deemed “dangerous” in 1907. “The old span wobbles much when a team passes over, and for some time heavy loads have been taken to the other bridges.” As it was being torn down, the Press Democrat told a charming story about how circus elephants needed to ford the creek instead, then decided they liked being in the water so much they wouldn’t budge:

A little boy remarked to another yesterday that when the circus comes the elephants will not be able to cross. The other reminded him that they hadn’t crossed there last year, either. “They didn’t try it,” he said. “If they had, I guess the fellers would a’ had to buy new elephants, ’cause the bridge wasn’t strong enough, and they’d all been killed.” Last year the elephants forded the creek at Davis street, and the drivers had a “time” in getting them to leave their wallowing in the bed of the creek.

The City Council authorized construction of a new steel bridge with a concrete deck and the iron bridge was dismantled in August, 1907. By the end of the year the new bridge was open, but not before the driver of a large touring car with four passengers ignored the warning lanterns and almost pitched the auto into the creek.

The arches from the iron bridge were stored for a couple of years, then were repurposed to be the bridge over Pierson street. That bridge has subsequently been replaced, and the arches are presumably lost.

The steel bridge built in 1907, often called the iron bridge in error. Image: Sonoma County Library
The steel bridge built in 1907, often called the iron bridge in error. Image: Sonoma County Library

Snapping back to our modern day, Santa Rosa has grand plans to transform the downtown area, outlined in the current draft of the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan. (If you’re interested at all in this topic, I suggest downloading that PDF – I had a devil of a time finding it on the city’s website, and I don’t trust staff not to move it somewhere else.)

Top priority is adding thousands of housing units “to satisfy unmet demand,” in spite of the major obstacles to constructing tall, high density buildings in the downtown area – inadequate parking, earthquake risk (an active fault line blocks away) and lack of services (no place to buy an apple or an aspirin, as there are no grocery stores or pharmacies around there). The document also calls for the city hall complex to be moved and the site developed for housing, with the portion of Santa Rosa Creek now hidden in a culvert to be daylighted and restored.

When (if) that happens, the existing roadway must be changed from a graded surface street into a bridge – and that would give Santa Rosa a unique opportunity to acknowledge our past by making it a replica of the historic Iron Bridge.

Until it was hidden in its culvert about 55 years ago, this section of Santa Rosa Creek was the most popular stretch of the waterway, being easily accessible and close to Courthouse Square. Now so long buried it’s been completely forgotten; if the city really wants to draw attention to the very existence of the creek beneath, it needs to make a dramatic statement.

LonLasOgwen1(RIGHT: The replica Lôn Las Ogwen bridge in Wales. Photo: The Happy Pontist)

My proposal is NOT to construct an actual “bowstring” bridge but to artistically add fake arches to either side. Many communities have similarly made faux arches in honor of demolished old bridges, some versions even modernist (examples here and here) if that’s what the artistic set deems appropriate.

When it comes to all things concerning the creeks, the city document defers to the “Creeks Master Plan” (another difficult to find PDF you might want to download). Although it discusses trail bridges at length – and nothing wrong with that – only a short section on pg. 19 deals with vehicular bridges, which is the way that most of us interact with the creeks on any basis.

By my rough count there are at least forty bridges over Santa Rosa, Matanzas, Paulin and Spring creeks. Some are no more than culverts, of course, but I imagine there are at least 25 that are recognizable bridges, with railings and a potential overlook.

While full creek restorations and building trail footbridges are going to be expensive long-term tasks, Santa Rosa could begin by drawing more attention to its creeks without spending all that much. Larger and better signage on the bridges would be a good start; railings could be painted in a distinctive color – or even better, swapped out for more picturesque see-through guardrails, such as seen in the Welsh example.

Anyone who’s read this journal over the years knows that Santa Rosa’s great folly is its failure to define itself. Just before the 1906 earthquake it dreamed of becoming a great tourist destination, attracting state and even national conventions; after the Golden Gate Bridge was built it was hoped that it would become the northern metropolis of the Bay Area, on par with San Jose or Oakland. It has tried parasitically attaching itself to Luther Burbank and Charles Schulz; its Chamber of Commerce has called Santa Rosa the “Gateway to the Redwood Empire,” “The City Designed for Living,” and in the worst $80,000 ever spent, paid experts to come up with idiotic motto, “California Cornucopia.”

Santa Rosa’s greatest asset has always been what it has most ignored and abused – its nearly 100 miles of waterways. Let’s do something to remember the Iron Bridge and paint the other railings while we’re waiting for the city to get around to building trails around the restored creeks. And while that’s underway, let’s ditch the silly slogans and call this place what it really is: “Santa Rosa, a City of Bridges.” Works for me.


* The Democrat identified the bridge as “Z. King’s Patent Wrought Iron Tubular Arch Bridge,” technically better known as a bowstring-arch bridge. A Google search will turn up a surprising number of academic papers explaining the mechanics behind these structures and the Wikipedia page has a good overview of how they work along with photos of various examples.

Top photo credit: “Santa Rosa, California in Vintage Postcards” by Bob and Kay Voliva

 

sources

 

THE BRIDGE QUESTION.
...As neither party claims it, and neither regards it as property, then we must find some other solution of the dispute.

It — the bridge — must be treated, not as property, but as a burden to be borne by the party legally responsible for It.

The facts as shown by the submission are substantially as follows:

The bridge was built by the plaintiff before the incorporation of the defendant, out of the county funds, at a cost of $2,875, prior to the 23d day of March, 1872, and is on what was then a county road, mainly traveled, leading from Petaluma to Healdsburg. That up to the present time this road, not included within the city limits, is a public county road, and no order has ever been made abandoning any part of it. That the county has continuously repaired all that portion outside of the city limits, but has not repaired that portion inside the city limits, since the 28th of March, 1872. That the town of Santa Rosa was incorporated under the general laws for the incorporation of towns on the 23d day of February, 1867, and lay north of, and did not include Santa Rosa creek or any part of the bridge. That on the 28th day of March, 1872, the said town was reincorporated as the city of Santa Rosa by special act, which extended the limits north of the creek and bridge three quarters of a mile, and south one quarter of a mile, including said creek and bridge. That the defendant, the city of Santa Rosa, is now, and has been, fully organized since its reincorporation, with full set of officers, including a Board of Trustees. That the portion of thoroughfare from the southern limits of the city to the bridge, formerly a portion of the county road, is known now, and was designated by the trustees as “Santa Rosa Avenue,” and has been, as well as other portions of the same road, inside the city limits, continuously worked on and kept in repairs by the city since its reincorporation. That said bridge stands in the middle of, and connects “Santa Rosa Avenue” and the thoroughfare from the creek to Mendocino street. Since the reincorporation, the city has repaired the bridge under protest.

The land on both sides of the avenue, and also on both sides of the thoroughfare to Mendocino street, has been laid out into lots and streets, approaching at right angles.

Santa Rosa creek is 138 feet wide, and is not a navigable stream.

The business portion of the city is north of the creek; on the south, it is occupied by business men for residences. The bridge is the only thoroughfare across said creek, connecting the north and south portions of the city, and is constantly used by the people in traveling to and fro…

…1. My conclusions are, that the county has no control over, or connection with the bridge, and it is not its duty to repair or rebuild the same.

2. That the bridge is under the control of the City of Santa Rosa, and if the same is to be repaired or rebuilt, it must be done by it.

3. That this Court has no power to issue a mandate to the city authorities requiring it to repair or rebuild said bridge, in the absence of proof that the city has money applicable to such purposes. Let judgment be entered accordingly.
Wm. C. Wallace,
Sept 8, 1875.
District Judge.

– Daily Democrat, September 16 1875

 

Positively Unsafe.

We are informed by Mr. R. Higgins, agent for the contractors for the new iron bridge over Santa Rosa creek, that the old bridge is now positively unsafe for crossing. Mr. Higgins says he will make it so that it will be safe for pedestrians to cross in a day or two, but that no vehicle can cross it without the greatest danger. Those desiring to cross the creek in vehicles, will have to pass over the bridge on the Sebastopol road, near the depot.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 8 1875

 

Iron Bridge.

We think our City Fathers have acted wisely in the adoption of a plan for an iron bridge over Santa Rosa creek. From what we can learn the cost will be but a trifle more than a wooden Howe Truss Bridge, taking all things into consideration, The plan adopted is one of the King Bridge Company’s circle arch, whose principal offices are in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Higgins their agent on this coast is now in the city and has already telegraphed to Mr. King to forward the bridge with all dispatch, and he says there is no unnecessary delay he will have it up ready for use within 60 or 65 days, this being their first bridge on this coast Mr. Higgins says they are going to give us a first-class Job, with a few extras thrown in, as they are going to make it their advertising bridge on the Pacific and establish an agency here…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 8 1875

 

A City of Bridges.

Before the season is over Santa Rosa will be entitled to the name of the city of bridges. A splendid iron bridge will span the creek at the crossing of Main street. It will be the first iron and the handsomest bridge of its size in the State. A wooden bridge is in course of construction at the crossing of D street to connect with Sonoma avenue. This will be a handsome structure. But the most unique and neatest bridge will be a short distance further up the creek, at the crossing of Second street, connecting with an avenue laid out on the opposite side of Santa Rosa creek, parallel with Sonoma avenue. This will be a wire suspension bridge of a light and elegant pattern. All these bridges have been contracted for and two of them are now under way. We learn that the spring beyond the reservoir, known as the Tarwater spring has been sold and the property is to be improved. The opening up of the section, on the opposite side of the creek is one of the most important improvements ever undertaken in this city. It has been here ofore [sic] unnoticed on account of its inaccessibility. The building of these bridges will put it within a few minutes walk of the centre of the town.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 15 1876

 

Accident at the Bridge.

Saturday afternoon, at about six o’clock, an accident occurred at the iron bridge from the following cause: The men engaged in its construction are inexperienced hands and one of them had tied an insecure knot in one of the guys supporting the first arch. When the second arch was being hoisted into position this knot gave way, which allowed the standing arch to fall upon the one being raised, throwing it into the creek. The first arch fell upon the trestle work. The iron used in the bridge is wrought, and the only damage it sustained was in being slightly sprung, which can be easily remedied by blacksmiths. Mr. Higgins, the Superintendent of the work, was standing upon the trestle at the time the accident occurred, and jumped into the creek. In his fall he was struck upon the head by a piece of timber and rendered senseless. His right ankle was badly sprained and his system received a severe shock, however, his internal injuries are thought not to be serious. The accident will delay the construction of the bridge about one week. Geo. E. King, General Western Agent for the bridge, had arrived in Santa Rosa a short time previous to the accident and the work is going on under his supervision during Mr. Higgins’ illness.

– Daily Democrat, February 28 1876

 

Dimensions of the Iron Bridge.

“Can the Democrat give the cost, width, span and material of the bridge now being constructed across Santa Rosa creek, with the address of the contractors? And oblige bridge and other subscribers. John Knight. Sanel, Mendocino county.”

[ln reply to the above inquiry we will state that the cost of the iron bridge being constructed across Santa Rosa creek is $4,000; the width is 16 feet; span, 125 feet: the material used is rolled and hammered iron. For further information, address Geo. E King, Santa Rosa. —Eds. Democrat.]

– Sonoma Democrat, March 3 1876

 

THE NEW BRIDGE.

The new bridge across Santa Rosa creek was completed last Saturday in the forenoon. It was the same day formally turned over to the Board of City Trustees. The plan is what is known as Z. King’s Patent Wrought Iron Tubular Arch Bridge, manufactured by the King Iron Bridge Company, at Cleveland, Ohio. It consists of the arches, lower chords, upright posts and diagonal counter braces, and the bottom and overhead lateral bracing. The material used consists entirely of wrought iron, which is erected and trussed perfect in itself without any woodwork whatever. When the frame work of iron is complete then the pine flooring is laid. The length of the bridge is 125 feet, in one span, a carriage way 16 feet wide, and a footway five feet wide, on each side of the carriage way and outside of the supporting arches. The plan of the bridge seems to combine comparative lightness of material with strength and beauty. There are over three thousand of these bridges now in use in the Atlantic States, but to Santa Rosa belongs the credit of the first iron bridge west of the Rocky Mountains. The bridge is cheap and durable. Wherever used the company have certificates recommending them in the highest degree. We think the Trustees are entitled to the thanks of the community for the excellent judgment they displayed in the matter of the bridge across Santa Rosa creek.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8 1876

Raising the Arches.

Contrary to general expectation, Sunday morning dawned dark and threatening, with the promise of a heavy storm. In view of this fact, Mr. King and Mr. Higgins determined to raise the arches of the iron bridge across Santa Rosa creek, notwithstanding it was Sunday. In the forenoon it commenced to drizzle, and by 1 o’clock it had settled in a steady and continuous fall of rain. In the midst of it the work of raising the arches of the bridge progressed with dispatch, and we are glad to say with no untoward accident to delay its progress or mar the beauty of the structure. Sunday morning, in view of the inevitable rise in the creek, the arches were in a very insecure position, They lay upon a temporary framework built in the bed of the stream and liable to be carried away by the high water. In which case the arches would have been thrown into the river. Mr. King determined to raise them and succeeded in doing so and securing them before dark by braces so that there was no danger from the water. The arches are very handsomely turned, and the bridge will be when completed, the only structure of the kind in California, and it will be the most ornamental bridge of its size in the State. Mr. Higgins, though lame from a fall, stood all day in the rain and assisted by giving directions to the men, who were mostly new in that kind of work. Sure enough, Monday morning the creek was booming, but over the frail under structure the iron arches rested secure upon their stone foundation.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 11 1876

 

THE IRON BRIDGE.
Formal Dedication of the King Bridge – Grand Turnout of the Citizens — The Band — Wine and Wit — Jim Clark the First to Cross — A dashing Four-in-Hand Team.

Saturday, March 11, 1876, will long be remembered as the day of the final completion and dedication to public use of the Santa Rosa iron bridge. In the forenoon the City Trustees were advised of the fact that the finishing touch had been given and at 2 p. m., a test of its strength with such force as could be improvised for the occasion would be made and that the “popping of bottles” would intersperse the exercises.

The Santa Rosa Band, ever ready to add to occasions for Santa Rosa, was out and discoursed soul stirring music as only the Santa Rosa Band can. J. P. Clark, the prince of drivers tendered his services and with his “coach and four” dashing horses conveyed the officers of the city […and city officials…] followed by the Band and a large number of citizens of the city and county in vehicles, horseback and afoot, arrived at the scene of the festivities. Mr. Clark drove his team immediately upon the bridge and was followed in close order by the band wagon and other vehicles and the people, everybody having the utmost confidence in the capacity of the bridge to stand the pressure.

After some delay Messrs. Downing, Rea & Rauscher, photograph artists of this city, from a position on the grounds of Mr. John Ingram, photographed the bridge.

The Band played and toasts were drank and after calls for the City Attorney Campbell, he responded in a few brief remarks as follows:

He thanked the City Fathers and those present who had conferred upon him the honor of responding to the grand occasion, but that as he had not expected to be assigned the position was illy prepared to do justice to the subject. He said, “We are here to-day to witness the formal opening and dedication of the new bridge and at the suggestion of his friend, Mr. Thornton, he would name it the ‘Santa Rosa Iron Bridge’ and who could look upon it now in its finished state without admiration. It had strength and beauty, and would stand for years as a monument to the genius and industry of its builders. It was as imperishable as time itself, and would not go down and dissolve even with the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, but with the great globe itself. He said the City Fathers were here, and had witnessed the completion of this undertaking, and they could justly feel proud of what they had done. We are in the midst of a beautiful city, whose limits had recently been extended, with beautiful houses in the midst of beautiful yards filled with sweet scented flowers, and inhabited by the industrious mechanics, business and professional men, and fair and lovely women; and — God bless them! — they too were here to honor the ceremonies of this dedication. And we now have the finest bridge on the coast!

In concluding Mr. Campbell introduced Mr. George E. King, the architect and builder. Three rousing and hearty cheers were given for Mr. King, after which he responded as follows:

Mr. King thanked the people present for their manifestation of good will towards him personally; indeed he was proud to acknowledge that since his arrival in Santa Rosa he had received nothing but kindness and hospitality at the hands of the people, and he never could forget it. To-day, in looking over this assemblage of people who had come spontaneously to testify their appreciation of the bridge just completed, he could hardly find words to express his gratitude. He referred to the turnouts and fine horses here, and said they could not be excelled on this or any other coast. He gave a history of the iron bridge and the opposition it had met on Its first introduction, and said this was the first and only bridge of the kind on the coast, and that time would demonstrate that it was all that could be desired. The Band played several lively airs. Three cheers were given to Mr. Higgins, also to the City Trustees, the Santa Rosa Band and James P. Clark. The bridge having been cleared, Mr. Clark drove his team at full speed across the bridge, but it did not effect it in the slightest degree. The sparkling wine being exhausted, the merry crowd dispersed to their homes well pleased with what they had seen.

Mr. R. Higgins,the agent of the firm of King & Son, obtained the contract from the city and displayed great energy in making preparations for and in carrying on the work. Mr. George E. King, of the firm, arrived with the materials from Cleveland, and since then has superintended the work personally, and it is the universal opinion that the structure is complete in all its parts. This is the first and only iron bridge on the Pacific Coast, and Santa Rosa has reason to be proud of it.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 18 1876

 

The Iron Bridge.

Parties traveling over the new Iron Bridge will take notice there is a sign which calls for a fine of twenty dollars if they drive faster than a walk; and the city authorities say they are determined to carry out the law. We have been informed that it is a common habit to drive across at full speed to the detriment of the bridge.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 1 1876

 

What is the Name?

The street leading northerly from the plaza is called C or Mendocino street, at the option of the caller. The continuation of the same street on the south side of the plaza is called Main street as far as the iron bridge, and then, we believe, Santa Rosa Avenue. The two streets fronting the east and west sides of the plaza are called C street, Hinton Avenue, Commercial Row and perhaps by other names. This is calculated to bring about some confusion, and we hope the Mayor and Board of Aldermen will settle the name or names authoritatively, if it has not been done heretofore.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1876

 

 

Fast Driving.

We learn that some persons continue to violate the ordinance forbidding fast driving or riding ever the iron bridge, and that the penalty will hereafter be strictly enforced.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 27 1876

 

BUSINESS TRANSACTED BY THE CITY COUNCILMEN

…City Engineer Ricksecker gave a verbal report on the three styles of bridges before the Council. The iron bridge, he said, was a strong, substantial structure, but the plans and specifications failed to provide any foundation of piles, stone or concrete. The re-inforced concrete bridge he considered as good, but not as ornamental as a solid stone structure. He recommended that the foundation be four feet under the water line instead of two feet. He suggested that the approaches might be made from the timber of the old bridge for temporary use, and fill in later from the street and lot gradings. Architect Willcox explained his plans for a re-inforced concrete bridge from street to street, with a driveway and walks on each side of the road. Mr. Willcox estimated the cost of the re-inforced concrete bridge at $9,200; re-inforced concrete bridge with stone facing $10,700; all stone bridge, $12,000. After further consideration the plans were adopted with the suggestions made by Engineer Ricksecker, and the clerk was instructed to advertise for a steel bridge in addition to the three kinds of bridges already named…

– Press Democrat, November 14 1905

 

AWARD CONTRACT FOR NEW BRIDGE ON MAIN STREET
A fine steel bridge, with concrete flooring is to take the place of the old iron structure on Main street, which has been adjudged dangerous for all but light loads….

– Press Democrat, April 10 1907

 

TEARING DOWN THE OLD BRIDGE
Main Street Bridge Being Removed to Make Way for New and Modern Structure Across Creek

Not many more travelers will pass over, and not much more water will flow under, the old iron bridge across Santa Rosa creek at Main street. Yesterday the workmen began to tear it down. The footpath on either side has been removed, and pedestrians must now keep in the middle of the road. The old span wobbles much when a team passes over, and for some time heavy loads have been taken to the other bridges.

A little boy remarked to another yesterday that when the circus comes the elephants will not be able to cross. The other reminded him that they hadn’t crossed there last year, either. “They didn’t try it,” he said. “If they had, I guess the fellers would a’ had to buy new elephants, ’cause the bridge wasn’t strong enough, and they’d all been killed.” Last year the elephants forded the creek at Davis street, and the drivers had a “time” in getting them to leave their wallowing in the bed of the creek.

The old bridge was built in 1877, [sic] and was regarded as a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It was a good bridge, too. But it has severed [sic] its purpose. The new steel bridge will require sixty days or thereabouts in its construction. Meanwhile, teams will go around, and foot-travelers will have a little plank bridge for their use.

– Press Democrat, August 22 1907

 

THE MUCH WANTED BRIDGE IS ORDERED

Contractor W. L. Call was awarded the contract to erect the bridge at the end of Pierson street across Santa Rosa Creek, by the Board of Supervisors on Thursday morning….The city donated the old Iron bridge that formerly stood on Main street and this will be reconstructed and shortened and will be just the thing…

– Press Democrat, January 8 1909

Read More

under1963bridge

HOW WE LOST SANTA ROSA CREEK…

Pity future historians; they will struggle to understand why we destroyed the things we loved most – and even paid for the pleasure. When the 1960s began, Santa Rosa had a lovely creek burbling through its downtown. Before the decade ended, the town’s jewel became a flood control channel buried under a pile of reinforced concrete buildings which no one would ever call lovely.

In the history of many towns there’s a chapter with an unhappy and wrong-headed tale such as this, and it’s because the nation was gripped by a collective madness called “urban renewal” during that era. Anything new would be better than anything old simply because. There was also free federal money available as long as the magic words were spoken: “urban blight.” So cities across America declared large swathes of their communities were indeed filled with areas injurious to public welfare because of being unfit, unsafe, obsolete, deteriorating, underdeveloped (read: undertaxed), subject to flooding or otherwise terribly blighted. File your blight report and don’t forget to include the address where Washington can send the money.

(This is a continuation of of the series, “Yesterday is Just Around the Corner,” which examines how Santa Rosa – a city which has always had swaggering ambitions – only has limited options for betterment today because of terrible 20th century planning decisions. Part one showed the downtown core is cramped because we rejected proposals to revise its layout beyond the setting of the original 1853 village, and how highway 101 “sawed the town in half” against the advice of state engineers.)

Santa Rosa took its first redevelopment baby steps in 1958 when the City Council formed an Urban Renewal Agency (URA). Besides its five appointed members there was soon a full-time planner, an executive director hired from Merced and out-of-town consultants to study the issues (bet you didn’t see that twist coming). Come September 1960 they discovered that Santa Rosa was indeed blighted, and in the amount of forty acres.

Meanwhile, there was another federal gravy train pulling into the station loaded with even more money, this time for flood control. Normally the Army Corps of Engineers does this kind of work but Sonoma Water (AKA the Sonoma County Water Agency, AKA the Sonoma County Flood Control and Water Conservation District) wrestled away most of the project along with its $11.8M budget – the equivalent to about $106,000,000 today.

Both urban renewal and flood control projects kept a low profile over the next few years. Reports were written, best plans were laid. Surveyors surveyed. The most exciting related event was the design proposal by the city’s New Jersey consultants. A scale model of their reimagined downtown (“as modern and carefully engineered as the latest model of a star-probing rocket” – PD) circulated around several bank lobbies. Their 1960 layout is seen in the drawing below, with a county/city government center along both banks of a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek.

North looking view of 1960 Santa Rosa redesign by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates of Newark, NJ, with the courthouse/jail on the south side of Santa Rosa Creek.
North looking view of 1960 Santa Rosa redesign by Candeub, Fleissig and Associates of Newark, NJ, with the courthouse/jail on the south side of Santa Rosa Creek.

 

That they highlighted the creek was not surprising. Every prior re-envisioning of the town did the same, starting with plans for a waterpark in 1906 (which was followed by the quixotic attempt to turn it into Lake Santa Rosa). In 1945 there was local architect Cal Caulkins’ park at the junction of Matanzas and Santa Rosa Creeks to compliment his vision of a new civic center. While the URA and flood planning was underway Santa Rosa was also doing an update to its General Plan, and the Planning Commission wrote this in 1962: “It has been suggested that there is not enough emphasis upon the preservation of Santa Rosa Creek for public purposes, such as hiking, riding, and bicycling trails. The staff recommends that the general plan be changed to show a green belt throughout the whole length of the Santa Rosa Creek within the planning area.”

This shuffling rate of progress came to an abrupt end in early 1963, after the North Bay was slammed with the worst winter storm in eight years. Santa Rosa received over two inches of rain in 24 hours during Jan. 31-Feb. 1, and the Russian River flooded – according to the Russian River Historical Society, it ranked #11 among top floods. Suddenly big decisions had to made, and made fast.

In mid-February it was revealed $3.5 million of flood control funding would be lost unless work plans for the upcoming year were submitted by July 1. Unlike urban renewal money – which required little more than flashing a pretty smile in the general direction of Washington – the water money was controlled by a tightwad Congress limiting how much dribbled out each year and was awarded competitively from two different agencies.

Santa Rosa was in for a rude shock. Except for the Planning Commissioners having just recommended creek preservation as part of a greenbelt, nothing about the future of Santa Rosa Creek had been mentioned in the Press Democrat for years – undoubtedly everyone expected it to be a featured part of the beautification of the town promised as part of urban renewal, per the drawings and models by the consultants. Not so. A headline in the March 17 PD presented the grim options: “THE CHOICE ON SANTA ROSA CREEK: LINED DITCH OR CULVERT”.

It seemed that the flood experts had been planning since 1959 to use a concrete-lined culvert for the stretch of the creek running through downtown. Gentle Reader is forgiven for now muttering, “bait and switch.”

There were federal specifications connected with the project that required this, a consulting engineer explained. Otherwise, the banks of the creek would have to be gradually sloped back, which would “destroy access to and usefulness of many more acres,” according to the PD. Which, of course, was exactly what was shown in the drawings and models.

The only given alternative was to “bury the whole thing,” which URA officials “believe to be an even neater solution.” The article continued, “an artificial creek, somewhat like that in Juilliard Park, has been suggested as part of the landscaping.” A following edition of the paper illustrated the difference with a photo of an open culvert that had both banks protected by five-foot chainlink fences topped by barbed wire. Next to it was a pastoral image of Juilliard Park and its fake creek. Pick one.

A joint meeting was called with the City Council, Planning Commission, plus all their other little boards, commissions and agencies. The three side-by-side box culverts would be a total of 48 feet wide and 17 feet high, enough to handle the surge of a 100-year storm, the officials were told. Otherwise, if the creek overflowed “it would sweep through downtown.” But the consultant who said that was either ignorant or lying; during the megaflood of 1862 the Central Valley became a giant lake and Sacramento was under ten feet of water, yet here the overflow from Santa Rosa Creek barely reached Courthouse Square. It was hardly a calamity, but there was no one there to challenge his audacious claim.

So without further consideration they immediately approved the underground culvert plan, with the original creek bed to be filled in “for use as a landscaped pedestrian way, and an artificial creek as part of the landscaping.” The city would end up paying for a good chunk of that work, however, as flood control only covered the cost of it being an open channel. Thus the URA coughed up $311K to condemn to oblivion the only natural feature everyone wanted to preserve.

Putting a bright shine on the loss of something so precious, the URA Executive Director insisted they not only would save money on not having to build bridges, but the city now had additional land for development. And that raised a big new question: What should they build on top of it?

NEXT: …AND HOW WE GAINED AN UGLY CITY HALL

Water levels at the A Street bridge during the 1963 flood. Top: Under an unspecified creek bridge during the 1963 flood, probably one of last pictures of Santa Rosa Creek before it was entombed. (Photo: Sonoma County Library)
Water levels at the A Street bridge during the 1963 flood. Top: Under an unspecified creek bridge during the 1963 flood, probably one of last pictures of Santa Rosa Creek before it was entombed. (Photo: Sonoma County Library)

Read More

1905santarosacreek

THE GODAWFUL STINK OF SANTA ROSA CREEK

If you ever come across a time machine, avoid Santa Rosa in July, 1913. That month had the all-time hottest temperature (113 in the shade) as enormous wildfires blazed in Marin and Napa; it was also the second year of severe drought, causing the town’s reservoir to draw dangerously low. More about all that can be found in an earlier item, “THE AWFUL SUMMER OF 1913” but there was also something else: A terrible stench drifted up from Santa Rosa Creek.

The Press Democrat first reported PG&E was suspected as the culprit, as they operated the coal gas plant on the south side of the creek. A story in the PD the following day said the company investigated and it wasn’t them, instead suggesting it was probably “vegetation that has decayed,” causing the paper to skeptically snort, “at least that is their contention.” After weeks of complaints, Dr. Jackson Temple, the town’s Health Officer, and a reporter for the Santa Rosa Republican set off in a voyage of disgusting discovery to solve the mystery.

Ca. 1905 photo of Santa Rosa Creek, with the old Main Street bridge in the distance. Note the discharge pipe seen to the left. Photo Credit: “Santa Rosa, California in Vintage Postcards” by Bob and Kay Voliva

Dr. Temple and the reporter started behind the Levin tannery (the current location of 101 Brookwood Avenue). The tannery had a long history of polluting the creek with lime and highly toxic agents such as cyanide used in the manufacture of leather. Citizens had petitioned the City Council to get tough on the tannery and the Dept. of Fish and Game had sued over the poisoning of fish. But on the day of the creek survey, no problems were found – although cynics might wonder if the tannery had been tipped off about the creek investigation, given the business was Santa Rosa’s largest employer.

More distressing was what they found nearby: “Several piles of rotting vegetables and garbage were found at this spot and were evidently from private houses. There was plenty of evidence that many persons had used the creek for a considerable distance as an open air toilet.”

As their wagon continued bumping down the dry creek bed (drought, remember) they came to the PG&E gas plant, another source of frequent complaints about foul smells. And again, no problems were found that day, except for “a considerable deposit of lamp black” on the bottom of the creek. Dr. Temple proclaimed it harmless, but he was wrong; lampblack carbon residue was considered as toxic as petroleum tar even back then; in 1906 the Army Corps of Engineers specifically sued the Portland gas company for dumping it into the river and by 1913 PG&E had installed scrubbers at their plants in San Francisco and elsewhere to keep it out of the waterways.

So far, so good (mostly) – but as the Republican commented, “a short distance further on, however, came the worst conditions imaginable.”

This area was just south of the Davis street bridge, which was named in the earlier odor complaints. Today this section of Santa Rosa is gone, wiped out by the highway, but it was just where the southbound onramp from West Third street merges onto 101.

The main offenders were two major businesses, side-by-side: The Grace Brothers brewery (today the location of the Hyatt) and the Santa Rosa Tanning Company directly to its south. “The stench arising from this was indescribable,” the article said. “It filled the nostrils like blue smoke, filtered down into the lungs, and burned its way to the stomach, where it worked until it gave one the feeling of a bad morning after a worse night. The top of the water was covered solid with a green-black streaked scum, and the water beneath was as black as night.”

And that wasn’t all: “[A]nother sight was met which added greatly to the stench in the neighborhood. A toilet had been built of rough boards in the Mead Clark Lumber Company’s yards. The rear of the toilet was open and hung over the creek bank and its contents covered the bank for a distance of many feet.”

The next – and thankfully, last – horror was the cannery, where “two large streams of water were found pouring into the creek. The water was a wine purple in color and carried with it an orange colored scum, which was added to that from the brewery. Combined, the smell was almost overpowering” Just beyond that was a “great pile of refuse which was rotten and putrid, and which also gave off a most offensive odor.” Even though there was no further dumping downstream, the Republican said the stench from the water carried as far as where the creek passes under modern-day Dutton ave.

Gentle Reader is probably wondering why these companies were stinking up the town instead of discharging their waste down the sewers. As it turns out, that always might not have been an option.

Santa Rosa indeed had a sewer farm at the corner of West College and Stony Point (think Finley Community Park and the the city bus transit center) and by 1913 there were multiple septic tanks and several in-line evaporating/seepage ponds before the residual water was dumped into Santa Rosa Creek. But the system was usually teetering on the brink of collapse, according to John Cummings’ survey, “The Sewage of Santa Rosa” (which is a really fun read if you enjoy municipal screwups). In the decade before our stinky 1913 tour, town officials made a string of remarkably bad decisions. Some lowlights:

* In 1905 the city wrote to the Cameron Septic Tank Company in Chicago requesting plans and costs for a new tank. Told by the company that their system was patented and they required a deposit before providing plans, Santa Rosa ripped off the design and had locals construct it anyway. Cameron Septic sued, and Santa Rosa ended up paying back royalties plus the cost of building the copycat tank. That wooden septic tank was big enough to handle a population of 10,000, although there were already almost that many people in the greater Santa Rosa region. By 1912 the sewer committee reported the “sewage problem is in deplorable condition” as the system was beyond capacity.

 

* The original 1886 layout of the sewers called for eight-inch pipe west of Main Street/Mendocino, but only six-inch lines east of there into the main residential neighborhoods. By the early Twentieth Century, these pipes could not handle demands; every winter the sewer mains down Second and Fifth streets backed up. In 1913 the city approved a high water volume, “Wet Wash” laundry at the corner of First and A streets and every time it discharged wastewater, the Second street main line overflowed. The town’s solution was to ask the laundry to build a private cesspool but according to the Republican article, they had been dumping it into the creek.

 

* Santa Rosa failed to make incremental improvements even when it had the opportunity. After the 1906 earthquake hundreds of connections were repaired and there were new extensions of the sewer mains, all using the inadequate six-inch diameter pipe. When the city added a new line to serve the booming communities south of the Creek in 1914 they used eight-inch mains, which predictably backed up just as they did on Second and Fifth streets. Santa Rosa’s solution was to spend more on maintenance – installing new manholes allowing workers to use a sewer cleaning machine that cost the equivalent of about $24,000 today.

(RIGHT: Santa Rosa Creek at flood stage in 1925, as seen from the newer Main Street steel bridge. Photo credit: Sonoma County Library)

Compounding the odor problems of 1913 was the drought, which meant no moving water in the creek so pollutants stayed more or less where they were discharged. All that was about to dramatically change.

The winter of 1913-1914 was an El Niño storm season, and Sonoma county was hit hard; in the December 30 storm, Santa Rosa had four inches in 26 hours while Cazadero had fourteen. Many “wagon bridges” over creeks around the county were destroyed and the Russian River passed flood stage. Railroad crews and volunteers in Santa Rosa worked through the night to protect the Santa Rosa Creek bridges as “trees and timber of all kinds, fencing and all sorts of trash were being whirled along in the angry, muddy, turbulent stream,” according to the Press Democrat. In the thrilling account transcribed below, men with axes and secured by ropes chopped for hours on a tree rammed against the side of the Davis street bridge.

The creek probably smelled pretty good after that big flush, at least for a while. But nothing fundamentally changed. According to the Cummings paper, “the city’s own sanitary inspector described the condition of the creek in the spring of 1916 as being ‘worse than a septic tank’ and commented that nothing could be done about it.”

AROMA ANNOYING ON THE DAVIS STREET BRIDGE

People who have to cross the Davis street bridge are lodging complaints concerning the aroma that comes up from the stream. The befouling of the water is said to come from gas water from the gas works. It is hoped by the complaints that something will be done to relieve the present unpleasantness.

– Press Democrat July 24, 1913
SAY SEWER GAS IN FILL IS CAUSE OF STENCH

Thursday morning’s Press Democrat mentioned the annoying stench coming from the creek, supposedly caused by gas water from the gas works. It at once recalled the suggestion made long ago that there should be a commercial sewer, into which the drainage from the gas works, tanneries, etc., could be turned in. Several years ago this matter was up for discussion before the city council, and Mayor Mercier and the present council are also interested in the matter. So is Health Officer Jackson Temple, M. D. The gas people state that they made an examination, thinking that there was a leak of gas somewhere, but claim that the stench is probably caused by vegetation that has decayed since the fill was made for the Davis street bridge. At least that is their contention.

– Press Democrat July 25, 1913
CITY HEALTH OFFICER INVESTIGATES CONDITION
Of Santa Rosa Creek With a Republican Representative

No one need go to an auto polo game, nor to seventy mile an hour races, nor on a scenic railway for thrills. The Alps, Mt. McKinley nor any other peak can have any terrors for the person who takes a light wagon or buggy and drives down the bed of Santa Rosa creek from city limits to city limits. Apprenticeship for a deep water sailor can be gone through with in less than regulation time by taking this trip.

It is not a pleasant trip in any sense of the word. So much has been said and so much written concerning the Santa Rosa Creek that the REPUBLICAN determined to find out the conditions of the creek from an expert’s point of view, and let the people of this city know that condition, its cause and what it’s effect will be. The blame for the conditions can be placed at once. When this article is read over and nearly every condition described is noted by the reader, let him say simply, “A commercial sewer will prevent this condition.”

Blame for the condition lies entirely in this. If the city is to blame for not having such a sewer, that is another matter. But the direct blame for the conditions lies in the lack of a proper commercial sewer, or any commercial sewer for that matter, for the city is without one. There are certain factories on the creek which are creating more waste water every day than their sewer tappings are capable of carrying away. There are factories creating more waste water than the main sewer with which they are connected is capable of carrying, with no other factor or residence connected with it.

What shall these factories do? Shut down or use the creek as an outlet?

Certain it is that no more factories can be encouraged to come here until proper sewerage is provided for those already here, an epidemic will sweep this city and the cost of the sewer in dollars will be insignificant compared with the cost of an epidemic in human lives.

Now for the conditions. Dr. Jackson Temple accompanied a representative of the REPUBLICAN on the inspection of the creek. Dr. Temple is city health officer. He made the trip at the invitation of the REPUBLICAN because of the importunings of citizens who live along the creek and who have been keeping his telephones busy for the last few weeks sending in complaints of the unsanitary conditions which they claimed to be prevalent along the creek throughout the city.

The descent into the creek bottom was made in back of the tannery at the foot of F street. Several piles of rotting vegetables and garbage were found at this spot and were evidently from private houses. There was plenty of evidence that many persons had used the creek for a considerable distance as an open air toilet. This, by the way, is distinctly against the law. No waste water from the tannery was in evidence, at least not in any large streams. Had there been, the green vegetable matter noticeable in all stagnant water would not have been in evidence, as it was, through the pools at this point.

Passing from here after much violent pitching and rolling of the wagon, the back of the gas works was reached. Two large streams of water were being turned into the creek at this point from the works. A gas works sends its waste water through a long process of filteration with lamp black before it is turned into the creek or sewer, as the case may be. The water as sent into the creek is tested and passed by the Fish and Game Commission and therefore is pure enough not to cause trouble in the creek. For quite a distance below the creek, however, a considerable deposit of lamp black is noticeable on the bottome of the creek. According to Dr. Temple, this will not do any harm, nor cause any stench, and none was noticeable at this point beyond that arising from any gas works, and which is impossible to prevent.

Passing to the Wet Wash Laundry, the waste pipe which was recently broken and the water allowed to flood into the creek, was found to have been fixed, and there was no overflow, and has not been for some time as the ground where the flow had been was completely dried.

Dr. Temple, however, pointed out a white deposit left where the overflow had been and stated that this was to a great extent alkali and that turned into the domestic sewer, it would nullify the work of the septic germs in the tanks at the sewer farm. Along the creek at this point, however, there were many piles of garbage, again evidently refuse from residences. Piles were in various stages of decomposition and the stench was very strong although not spread over a very wide area.

Conditions along the creek from this point on for some distance were the best of any found. There were piles of tin cans festooned along the banks, rendering them very unsightly, but this offended civic pride more than bodily senses. Around the Davis street bridge, that is in close proximity to the bridge, everything was fairly clean.

A short distance further on, however, came the worst conditions imaginable. From the tannery came a small stream of bluish-white water, the odor of which was most unpleasant. A short distance on there was a good sized stream from the brewery, and still further on another larger stream from the same place. The stench arising from this was indescribable. It filled the nostrils like blue smoke, filtered down into the lungs, and burned its way to the stomach, where it worked until it gave one the feeling of a bad morning after a worse night. The top of the water was covered solid with a green-black streaked scum, and the water beneath was as black as night. This scum came down with the water over the banks and was traced to the brewery.

Just before reaching this another sight was met which added greatly to the stench in the neighborhood. A toilet had been built of rough boards in the Mead Clark Lumber Company’s yards. The rear of the toilet was open and hung over the creek bank and its contents covered the bank for a distance of many feet. This also is in direct violation of the law and will be attended to at once by the health authorities.

Passing on from the back of the brewery as quickly as possible, the railroad bridge was left behind and the camping grounds near the cannery were encountered. The sanitary conditions here are very commendable. Nothing had been thrown on the banks except old papers and a few cans. This is due to the persistent efforts of Dr. Temple, who insisted that the rules of sanitation be lived up to as much as possible in the camp.

The scum on the water was deeper the further down the creek one went, and the stench correspondingly more unendurable. Reaching the back of the cannery, two large streams of water were found pouring into the creek. The water was a wine purple in color and carried with it an orange colored scum, which was added to that from the brewery. Combined, the smell was almost overpowering. Just below the cannery, on the bank was a great pile of refuse which was rotten and putrid, and which also gave off a most offensive odor. This pile was seen to be fresh on one side and badly rotted on the other.

From the cannery to the Seventh street bridge, there was nothing else added to the creek in the way of vegetable matter or waste water. But the stench from the water at the Seventh street bridge was just as strong as at the brewery.

In making a resume and comparing notes of the trip, Dr. Temple was asked what the result would be if these conditions were not attended to and speedily at that. “Sickness, much of it, and in bad forms,” was his instant reply. Therefore, while no attempt will be made to point a moral, a question is left which needs a speedy answer: “Will the citizens provide a commercial sewer, or will they invite the inevitable epidemic.”

– Santa Rosa Republican August 15, 1913
SANTA ROSA CREEK IN A WILD MAD RACE
Much Anxiety Felt for Hours for Bridges–Big Tree Lodges Against Davis Street Bridge–Care Could Not Cross Electric Railroad Trestle Last Night

For some time last night when the storm was at its height considerable anxiety was felt for the safety of the Island bridge, the Main street bridge, the Davis street bridge, the electric railroad bridge and that across the creek at West Third street, as well as the old bridge at Pierson and West Sixth street.

Scores of people braved the storm and visited the bridges and at 2 o’clock this morning when a Press Democrat representative made the rounds people were still watching the mighty torrent racing along carrying al kinds of debris with it.

About 10 o’clock last night a big willow tree swept down and lodged against the Davis street bridge. Word was at once sent to Mayor Mercier and Street Superintendent Beebe and in a short time they were on hand with men and many of the big branches were cut away. This was accomplished by men with axes who climbed down onto the tree and were held from slipping by ropes placed about their bodies. At 1 o’clock this morning the tree was anchored with stout ropes so as to prevent if possible, its going further down stream to collide with the electric bridge.

The high water washed away considerable of the fill on this side of the Davis street bridge, but so far as could be seen the retaining wall on the Ellis street side was not damaged. A portion of the fill on the Main street side where the turn is mde onto the Island bridge, was also washed away. At 2 o’clock this morning Mayor Mercier, Superintendent Beebe and George Plover went out to the old pumping station to look at the bridge across the creek there which also carried the big water main. The bridge was in good condition.

Cars Don’t Cross Bridge

The electric cars to this city stopped on the other sided of the trestle bridge across Santa Rosa creek as it was deemed dangerous, owing to the tremendous torrent to cross. A crew of men employed by the railroad were on hand endeavoring to dislodge any debris that rammed against the structure. This bridge seemed in great danger. The Northwestern Pacific railroad had crew of men watching its bridge across the creek. Santa Rosa creek was a boiling torrent and the roar of the stream could be heard for a long distance. At 2 o’clock the water had fallen considerable but it was raining and a high wind was blowing.

A portion of a bulkhead near the electric bridge was washed out. Horses were moved from stables on the bank of the creek. Many awnings and signs suffered from the force of the wind and storm. It was altogether a wild night and people living along the banks of the creeks in town and in the country adjoining were considerably worried..

…The amount of debris carried by the waters of the creek was wonderful. When the water was at its highest last night big pieces of wood and other material kept up an almost incessant banging against the Island and Main street bridges, at times somewhat alarming timorous people gathered there. Trees and timber of all kinds, fencing and all sorts of trash were being whirled along in the angry, muddy, turbulent stream.

Men employed by the city were kept patrolling the various bridges all night to give warning should occasion arise when additional help might be wanted.

– Press Democrat December 31, 1913

Read More