The Albion River Bridge: A History
On July 31, 2017, the Albion River Bridge was placed in the National Register of Historic Places and as a result, this property has also been listed in the California Register of Historical Resources.
The original bridge over the Albion River was a low timber drawbridge. It served as an important element of the “Old Coast Wagon Road” established by Mendocino County along this section of the northern California coastline. During the late nineteenth century, most traffic to and from coastal towns and sawmills was by steamship or from inland rail connections.
The drawbridge location routed the minimal coastal traffic through the center of the sawmill operations of the Albion Lumber Company, the first mill to be built on the Northern California coast (1852). As the amount of wagon and ultimately motorized traffic increased, a new route was established. An elevated timber trestle bridge was designed and built by Mendocino County in 1922. It was located one-half mile up river. This new location also soon became inadequate to accommodate the ever-increasing commercial and industrial traffic along Highway 1.
The meandering access roadways to the old bridge and its narrow roadbed required that the Highway Department consider complete replacement rather than major structural alterations. A new route, directly across the valley, at the mouth of the river, was established and a new design was prepared in accord with Department of Highways’ continuing commitment to the dictates of the “City Beautiful” movement of the early 20th century.
In accord with this movement, the Division of Highways eliminated truss designs for all but exceptionally long span bridges. This commitment to more beautiful designs included a program of new and replacement bridges along California’s scenic coastal Highway 1.
In Mendocino County, two beautiful concrete arch bridges were built to replace the deteriorated timber trestle bridges at Jug Handle Creek (1938) and Russian Gulch (1940). These bridges are less than 10 miles north of Albion on Highway 1. When the war began, in 1941, the new bridge for Albion was still on the drawing board, and all new bridge work was restricted to “major” California roads. Highway 1 at Albion did not qualify.
However, after major lobbying efforts by coastal businesses, governments, and residents, the design work was finally authorized to replace the dangerous, deteriorating timber deck over timber truss
bridge at Albion.
Initially, two giant concrete arches were designed to span the 1,000-foot–wide valley at the mouth of the river. However, the amount of concrete and steel required for this design was not considered appropriate by the newly established War Production Board (WPB) and could not be approved. The bridge had to be redesigned.
The amount of concrete was limited to foundations, abutments, and only two of the thirteen vertical towers, called bent piers. A steel truss was salvaged from an abandoned railroad bridge near Oroville, 120 miles east of Albion. It was shipped to the San Francisco and refabricated into a 15-foot– deep Pratt truss.
This truss was installed onto 135-foot, poured-in-place concrete piers located on each side of the 130-foot–wide river crossing section of the bridge. The remaining trusses are treated timber supported on treated timber trestle-type bent piers of various heights on concrete foundations. Salvaged railroad rails were split and used to reinforce the new concrete elements of the bridge, in lieu of standard reinforcing steel.
Redwood, then restricted, was not available for the timber elements of the structure. Consequently, the revised design substituted a relatively new product: pressure treated Douglas Fir produced by the Wauna Lumber Company in Wauna, Oregon. They shipped 829,000 board feet of treated timber to Albion. This wood preservation process, along with an excellent maintenance program, is considered to be the major contributing factors in extending the life of this bridge beyond its estimated 20 years by more than 50 additional years—so far. According to Caltrans’ most recent inspection report (2014), the bridge is still in excellent condition.
Construction began in 1943. The bridge was built by the Fred J. Maurer and Son Construction Company of Eureka, California, at a cost of $370,000.00. The resident engineer was T.H. Horn. The Albion River Bridge was dedicated on June 11, 1944.
This short history was part of the application submitted for listing the Albion River Bridge on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, by John Roger Johansen, Architect