Fifty: Ghost City
Continuing the ”Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long quest.
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There is a bonafide ghost town right smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley!
Many don’t know about the little town of Drawbridge, a once thriving community located on the cusp of southern San Francisco Bay in what is now Fremont, California. It is now a ghost town sinking into San Francisco Bay.
Drawbridge got it’s start in 1876 when a narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad was built from Santa Cruz to Alameda. The ‘town’ initially consisted of one small cabin on Station Island for the operator of the railroad’s two drawbridges (they were actually swing bridges, but the name stuck), crossing Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough.
It didn’t take long for others to join him for some drinking, hunting, and fishing, and soon it became a regular train stop. By the 1880s, upwards of a thousand would come on weekends for the abundant hunting and fishing. Soon 10 stops a day was common for passenger trains up and down the track, which was the only way into town other than by boat.
By the 1920s, the town had reached its heyday, growing to about 90 buildings including a couple hotels and restaurants, many with wells and electricity. During prohibition, the town gained a reputation for having speakeasies, gambling, brothels, and heavily armed residents. The residents were split into two communities: The Protestants lived in North Drawbridge, and the Catholics resided in South Drawbridge. While there was quite a bit of feuding, they also had “tide parties” where residents would row to neighbors’ houses for socials at high tide.
In 1955 the trains no longer stopped in Drawbridge, and all but two last residents moved away. The last resident left around 1979.
There is quite a bit of information on the Internet if you google “drawbridge ca”. Some of the better links are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Huel Howser’s Golden California TV Series did an episode on it which can be found here.
A video from a trespasser can be found here.
Drawbridge is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (painted in FortySix: Don’s Sunrise Pix and FortySeven: Hunter’s Heaven) and they are letting it slowly sink into the wetlands. There are about 20 buildings left, many had burned down, some are sinking into the mud, but a few remain high and dry.
It is now closed to the public, and hefty fines can be levied if caught there, however, people do go there all the time, mainly kids I think, looking for an adventure, gather relics, and to leave graffiti. A rave party was reportedly broken up there awhile back. The closest legal way to see Drawbridge (other than from a train) is trekking over two miles on the Mallard Slough Trail from the Alviso end (painted in ThirtyThree: Sin City) of Don Edwards Preserve.
The location of the ghost town can be found on my interactive map here. (Look for the red X right in the middle).
Drawbridge has been on my list from almost the start of this quest and I spent more time researching it than any other painting. Since it is closed to the public, and can be dangerous, I asked special permission from the Public Affairs Officer of the Wildlife Refuge to go paint it for a day, but the Manager of the Refuge turned me down. Although they were quite interested in my quest, the answer was eventually no. Time for Plan B.
Last Saturday I took a tour sponsored by the Wildlife Reserve and conducted by Ceal Craig, president of the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society. After a historical presentation, the tour takes you via van to a viewpoint where you can see the remains across Coyote Slough. (If you are interested in a free tour, space is limited and you have to sign up, but do it early as they always sell out. Click here for more information.)
Here are a few pictures I took on the tour prior to going out and painting, using a zoom video camera to take some of these pictures– Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***
There are plenty of other, better closeup pictures on the web, many taken by what I am guessing are trespassers. If interested, start here.
Since it wasn’t legal to go into town, I did the next best thing and painted it from across Coyote Slough. This greatly limited what I could do with the composition, but had to go with what was practical. It would have been nicer to paint right in the town for a better composition, but I wasn’t interested in getting caught by the feds!
On painting day, rode my bike the over two miles on the dirt levy trail to the viewpoint. They recently built some informational displays and a park bench, which came in handy. To keep light weight, I took my mini Open Box M pochade box and just sat on the bench and painted. Not another soul was seen the entire time I was there. It was really windy, and had to constantly monitor my materials to make sure they didn’t blow into the slough!
How great it was to be way out in the marshlands with only the sounds of the tide going out and an occasional waterfowl winging by! I probably spent as much time just sitting there soaking the environment as painting!
Here’s a few pictures on painting day– Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show***
Here’s a 180 panorama of the scene. The railroad trestle on the left replaced the old swing/drawbridge many years ago. Click on the picture to view a larger version–
It’s a little tough to paint what should be an expansive scene on an 8×10 canvas, but tried to include as much as I could without it looking too ‘busy’. In the back upper left is the entrance to Niles Canyon painted in Nine, Ten: Charlie Chaplin. The city of Fremont is also in the background, and we could see the new Tesla Plant with the naked eye. I made sure to include the train tracks on the left, as that is why the town is there. There is just a peek of Coyote Slough at the bottom which Coyote Creek empties into. This is the fifth painting in this quest of Coyote Creek as it is a major creek and one of the few which runs year round.
Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.
***Email subscribers may not see all pictures. Just click on the title for a link to the online version.