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DIGGING OUR ROOTS: Old bridges of Glen Ellen

DIGGING OUR ROOTS:  Old bridges of Glen Ellen

Contributed to the Kenwood Press by the Glen Ellen Historical Society

Glen Ellen’s distinctive bridges over its many creeks add charm to the daily life of our town. The oldest ones date to the early 20th century and were constructed in the horse and buggy days. A few remnants of the 19th century bridges, some built for the railroad, remain here and there.

Over the course of its three incarnations, the main Downtown Bridge (also called Arnold Drive Bridge, Glen Ellen Bridge, etc.) has occupied the center of town, spanning Sonoma Creek. Originally, it was a ford in the creek at “Gibson’s Crossing”; later, it was built of wood probably resting on stone piers, then replaced in 1890 with a steel span supported on cylindrical piers filled with concrete.

After 49 years, in 1939, the bridge was replaced with the concrete span upon which we travel today. While potholed, it is a shady and charming crossing from which you can peer over the side to see the confluence of the Calabazas and Sonoma Creeks and watch river otters cavorting in the shallows. It wasn’t so long ago that the creeks here were so full you could see local kids splashing in the pools under the oaks and alders. The bridge itself is adorned with scalloped boughs and ribbons during the Christmas holidays.

About this town bridge, Bill Meglen reported that, “In my youth, the guys used to play on the steel bridge over Sonoma Creek … Under the bridge were bars. It was just like a gymnasium; you could go hand over hand on the bars above the creek. I can remember one instance — it was nighttime and we were rattling the bridge. Frank Thierkoff, who lived on the corner of Carmel Avenue [where it meets Horn and Arnold], came out with a shotgun and took a few shots at us guys on the bridge. Luckily, he didn’t hit anybody, but the BBs were flying all around. All kinds of steelhead trout came up to spawn in the creeks in wintertime…” There’s the locally named Stegosaurus Bridge on Dunbar Road, a spiky, sharks-tooth rocky entrance to old Judge Justi’s former home, made of stone and concrete, date unknown. Justi’s place on Dunbar was an early stop for the Wells Fargo stage, and the first post office in town, established in July 1872. The Justi barn with little pigeonholes where they sorted the mail in the old days marked this spot until it went up in flames in 2017.

Next time you drive up Bennet Valley Road, look for the timber truss bridge. The timbers we see today are just a portion of the original structure, but no longer support the roadway. These timbers were preserved by the county when the original wooden bridge over Yulupa Creek was replaced, date unknown.

The Eldridge steel truss bridge, on the northern edge of the Sonoma Developmental Center on Arnold Drive, was constructed in 1932 to replace a collapsed concrete bridge. It was rescued from neglect by a petition drive headed by Glen Ellen native Jim Berkland around 2000, and is officially named the Jim Berkland Bridge. Jim remembered childhood adventures in the 1940s swinging from the rafters underneath, and diving for crawdads that he sold for one cent apiece in town. Apparently, they are tasty when simmered with California bay leaves.

The graceful brick bridge on O’Donnell Lane, the O’Donnell Lane bridge (or the Calabazas Creek bridge, depending on who you talk to), behind the post office, is one of the oldest bridges, and the only brick bridge, in Sonoma County.

This stone arch bridge is 10 feet wide and was built for horse and pedestrian traffic in 1900. A county landmark, it was constructed of yellow bricks made just down the road at the California Brick and Pottery Company at the O’Donnell Brickyard, which was firing bricks around 1903-1906.

In 1978, Warner Bros. produced a movie called “The Magic of Lassie,” starring Jimmy Stewart, Lassie the collie dog, and others. It included scenes shot on this little bridge, as well as other scenes around Glen Ellen. It can be viewed on YouTube.