The Historic Fernbridge

There isn't one bridge on Northern California's Eel River that has not been destroyed at least once by this wild river. Except for this one. For over a hundred years, this grand old landmark has withstood everything the Eel has thrown at it. It has survived major floods and log jams, earthquakes which destroyed buildings and highways, and has even held off an attempt by Caltrans in the 1980s to replace it with a more modern structure. Like the giant redwoods up the road, the century-old Fernbridge is a survivor

View from Humboldt Creamery roof
This is the current image from a live webcam owned by the USGS.
More river data is available here. River Lodge cam (upstream) is here.

It wasn't until 1910 before the county contracted for its construction. For twenty years there had been demand for a bridge at this location to replace the Singley Ferry. It was inconvenient and sometimes difficult to transfer to a boat to cross the river, and hazardous during times of high and fast water when loose saw logs and other large pieces of debris were washing out to sea.

Construction began in January of 1911, and the span was finished in November of that same year. The initial cost for the building of Fernbridge was reported as $245,967. We should convert that to today's dollars, and that is best done by using the date of the structure's centennial celebration in 2011. The equivalent purchase price in 2011 would have been almost 6 million dollars.

So what did Humboldt get for this $6M chunk of change? An awesome structure. Designed by civil engineer John B. Leonard, this multiple arch reinforced concrete bridge is 1,450 feet long and 24 feet wide. Three thousand piles were sunk 50 feet into the river bed to support the 30,000-ton span. The bridge is built of 20,000 tons of concrete with another 425 tons of reinforcement. Each of the seven spandrel arch spans contains 600 yards of concrete, and at 200 feet each, they are the longest in the state.

Fernbridge 1912
She wasn't even a year old yet when she posed for a photographer from the Pacific Photo Company. The business was located in Los Angeles and for a buck fifty would mail you this print to hang on your wall, such a deal! But that was 1912 money, equivalent to $35 today.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

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