Skip to main content

November Bay Area Trip Park 9; Firebaugh's Ferry

Heading home from San Francisco it seemed somewhat passe to take another boring slog down CA 99 to Fresno. That being the case I decided on something I've been looking which proved to be far more entertaining; hunting down the location of Firebaugh's Ferry.  After getting over Pacheco Pass via CA 152 I took a southward turn on I-5 to Nees Avenue towards Firebaugh.  Firebaugh is a small city located in Fresno County along CA 33 on the western bank of the San Joaquin River.  The area was settled during the California Gold Rush with creation of Firebaugh's Ferry in 1854.


Firebaugh's Ferry was opened by Andrew Firebaugh who was a somewhat notable historical figure during the California Gold Rush.  Firebaugh was also the builder of the first toll road over Pacheco Pass which is followed roughly by modern California State Route 152.  Both Firebaugh's Ferry and the Pacheco Pass Toll Road were part of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route between St. Louis and San Francisco which operated from 1858 to 1861.

The location of Firebaugh's Ferry was located somewhere north of the 13th Street Bridge over the San Joaquin River.  The Ferry Dock was located somewhere between the 1885 Firebaugh Drawbridge and the 13th Street Bridge.


South of the 13th Street Bridge there is a plaque about Firebaugh's Ferry and Andrew Firebaugh located in Firebaugh City Park.




During the 1800s the San Joaquin River would have been infinitely more treacherous than it is today.  The San Joaquin River with in San Joaquin Valley was prone to flooding from water run-off from the Sierras and in some instances the extinct Tulare Lake via Fresno Slough.  The river was known to swell to huge widths with in San Joaquin Valley due to the flatness of the terrain.  Most early roads in Central California like the Stockton-Los Angeles Road generally flanked the foothills of the Sierras or the Diablo Range due to the chances of encountering an a river crossing which couldn't be passed.  Millerton to the east was example of a ferry that utilized higher elevations to make for an easier ferry crossing of the San Joaquin River.  Ever since the Friant Dam was built along San Joaquin River in addition to the Big Creek project flood waters have been largely controlled by impoundments.  Today the San Joaquin River is often low enough to be easily swam across or possibly walked.


Firebaugh's Ferry was replaced by the 1885 Firebaugh Drawbridge which used to be located on 12th Street.  1885 Firebaugh Drawbridge was replaced in 1948 but the ruins of the structure are still present on the west river bank.  Firebaugh as a settlement was large enough to warrant a permanent Post Office by 1865 and was incorporated into a city by 1914.  A map of Fresno County in 1891 shows an apparent bridge over the San Joaquin River in Firebaugh.

1891 Fresno County Map

A clear road over the San Joaquin River in Firebaugh without a ferry is shown on a 1896 map of California.

1896 Map of Central California

Andrew Firebaugh was part of the 1851 battle in the Mariposa War which led to the first European discovery of Yosemite Valley.  Apparently Andrew Firebaugh had some hand in founding Academy the first secondary school along modern CA 168 in eastern Fresno County in 1872.  Given that the Firebaugh was buried on Tollhouse Road I would speculate that he had something to do with the lumber routes that eventually became CA 168 as well.

After visiting the city and trying to track down the ferry location it was a short ride to the east on CA 180 back to Fresno.  Suffice to say the two day weekend trip to the Bay Area was a packed one, usually I try to space things out a little but it was a long overdue road trip.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Paper Highways; California State Route 1 through the Lost Coast

For all the accolades and praise that California State Route 1 gets for being a top notch coastal highway one fact tends to get overlooked; the highway was never finished!  In this edition of Paper Highways we look at the failed path of California State Route 1 through the Lost Coast.



Part 1; the history of Legislative Route 56 and California Route 1 through the Lost Coast

The Lost Coast region consists of the undeveloped coastal areas of Humboldt County, Mendocino County, and the King Range.  The Lost Coast region roughly spans from near Rockport in Mendocino County north to Ferndale of Humboldt County.  The Lost Coast region is known for having rugged terrain which rivals what is seen in Big Sur.  The Lost Coast has several small communities such as; Shelter Cove, Whitehorn, and Petrolia.

In 1933 Legislative Route 56 was extended south to LRN 2 (US 101) near Las Cruces and north to Ferndale to LRN 1 (also US 101).  Prior to 1933 the legislative description of LRN 56 had it's nort…

Where the hell is Hill Valley? (US Route 8 south/US Route 395 east)

Recently I made a visit to Universal Studios near Los Angeles.  While on the back lot tour I came across a piece of infamous movie-borne fictional highway infamy; the location of town square of Hill Valley, California on US Route 8/US Route 395.


The above photo is part of the intro scene to the first Back-to-the-Future movie which was set in 1985. To anyone who follows roadways the signage error of US 8 meeting US 395 in California is an immediately notable error.  For one; US 8 doesn't even exist anywhere near California with present alignment being signed as an east/west highway between Norway, Michigan and Forest Lake, Minnesota.  To make matters worse US 8 is signed as a southbound route and US 395 (a north/south highway) is signed as an eastbound route.  At minimum the cut-out US 8 and US 395 shields somewhat resemble what Caltrans used in the 1980s.

Assuming Hill Valley is located on what would have been US 395 by 1985 what locales would be a viable real world analog?  US 39…

US Route 99 to Visalia?...

Something that I noticed awhile back while doing map research regarding US Route 99 in Fresno was that the highway intended to be originally routed through the City of Visalia.



The early originally planned alignment of US Route 99 in Visalia

To be clear US 99 was never actually routed through Visalia and ended up bypassing the City in favor of a direct route from Goshen southeast to Tulare.  US 99 within San Joaquin Valley was aligned over Legislative Route 4 which in turn was added to the State Highway System as part of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act.  LRN 4 for a time was aligned through Visalia via; Mineral King Avenue, Main Street, and Mooney Boulevard.  This early alignment of LRN 4 through Visalia can be seen on the 1924 Division of Highways State Map.


The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925.  The US Route System with in California was approved by California Highway Commission with no changes recommended…