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Albion River Bridge History

There's quite a bit of consternation brewing on the Mendocino Coast about a Caltrans project to possibly replace the highway bridge over the Albion River near its mouth. The Caltrans view is that the project is needed because “the bridge is narrow, it does not meet current standards for shoulders and guardrails, and maintenance costs are high.”

Those in favor of keeping the bridge argue that it is historic and is one of the last wooden piling structures of its kind remaining on the West Coast. “Historic” is a pliable word, easily bent to suit the purposes of those who use it.

I have watched the three and a half minute film called “Bridging the Gap.” Aside from the presumably unintended irony that the owners of the Gap, Inc. also own much of the timberland extending eastward from the mouth of the Albion River, this ultra short film is long on pretty views of the bridge and its surroundings, but incredibly short on history. What passes for history in “Bridging the Gap” zooms by in about twenty seconds and consists of a still photo and a caption that reads, “Grand Opening, 1944.”

I have a very much living sibling older than the present incarnation of the Albion Bridge. At one point in the “Bridging the Gap” video the camera briefly follows the road that heads down to the Albion Flats (site of a mill for a little less than a century's length of history). That fairly steep road once led to the previous bridge crossings, just above flood level (but not always) on those flats. There were several versions of bridges crossing from the flats (mill site) to the south bank of the Albion, thence up a truly steep grade to just east of the present location of the Albion Store.

Earlier Albion Bridge (click to enlarge)

While I am no gleeful fan of Caltrans, let me also remind readers that history is a relative thing. The Grand Opening for the current Albion Bridge occurred on Sunday, June 11, 1944. The weather was bright and sunny, devoid of the usual June gloom fog. A large crowd that included county and state officials gathered on the south side. The bridge was dedicated in honor of the coast boys and men who had given their lives fighting in the ongoing World War. The American Legion sponsored the dedication along with several coastal businesses. The legion's color guard held an American flag (forty-eight stars). Reverend J.L. Kent read the invocation. The Fort Bragg Community Band played and Norma Bainbridge sang “America the Beautiful.” An abalone feed followed the opening ceremonies.

The bridge was constructed by Maurer & Son, a Eureka company. A mid-March, 1944, newspaper item noted, “The last cement was poured in the south tower last Saturday [March 11th] and the north tower has been completed for some time. These two towers are some 120 feet high.”

The article goes on, “Steel for the span over the river is now arriving. Maurer & Son have sublet the steel construction and a crew is now being assembled on the job and beginning the work... Work on the approaches is now underway and they no doubt will be completed and ready for travel before the main structure is done.”

A Berkeley contractor named Clauson was awarded the job of constructing those approaches to the bridge. Total price of that contract: $22,000.

The fanfare of the bridge opening in 1944 and its so-called “historic” nature in the eyes of some today is tempered by the news in this report from December, 1942. “This week the State Department of Public Works is calling for bids for the removal of several buildings at Albion to make way for the north approach to the new bridge...

“Contrary to general opinion, the north approach will not go as far west as the first surveys indicated. The engineers' borings in that section gave indication that the strata was not as stable as it might be, so the north abutment of the bridge will be at a point near the south end of the old Albion church. The roadway will swing north from there some 150 feet to take in the old recreational hall and the right of way will not only embrace this hall but also the cottage of the Albion Lumber Company at the northeast highway and street intersection directly across the way...

“This last survey calls for a higher bridge than was contemplated under the more westerly location, and it will be 969 feet in length, the longest modern bridge structure on the coast. At its southern terminus the new highway section will cut west from the present roadway about 700 feet south of Newgard's store and will run northwesterly cutting directly through the large barn on the Dolly Brown ranch, which is approximately 200 feet west of Newgard's store.

“The State is asking the removal of three buildings [church, recreation hall, and the Albion Lumber Co. cottage] in north Albion within thirty days from the time the job is undertaken...”

I wonder how many readers remember Mr. Newgard. My mother first registered to vote at his store during the time of the Albion Bridge construction. Since Macdonalds had been registered as Republicans since the 1800s, Mr. Newgard followed a mistaken presumption and registered Margaret Fay Macdonald as one, too. She never forgot nor quite forgave the somewhat sexist slight.

The church at the north end of the modern bridge dated back to the 1800s. (My grandparents as well as Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hickey, and many others attended services there.) The lumber cottage was also a historic building, dating at least to the 19th century and the lumber company ownership of Standish and Hickey, and likely farther back to the original mill owner Alexander Macpherson. (If you want to see historical faux pas, check out how the City of Fort Bragg has misspelled his name on street signs for lo these many years.) My father played basketball games in the recreation hall in the 1920s, so perhaps the defenders of the “historic” 1940s bridge might grasp the concept that in my family we still haven't gotten over the outrage of that 969 feet long span displacing a chunk of our history. I'll leave reaction to the destruction of the barn to descendants of Dolly Brown.

(More instruction than destruction at


  1. Phil Frisbie, Jr. April 23, 2018

    My father lived in Albion for several years in his youth during the early 1950s. I asked him a few years ago what he remembered of the current bridge, and he told me the locals referred to it as “the old bridge.” I asked him what that meant, and he said the locals did not like the temporary bridge and how it was an old looking bridge, nothing like the concrete arch originally planned, but which could not be built during the war due to shortages of concrete and steel.

    • Jim Heid May 8, 2018

      Mr. Frisbie is a public information officer for Caltrans, so his objectivity may be…clouded. In any event, a significant number of locals quite like the “old looking bridge.”

      • Phil Frisbie, Jr. May 8, 2018

        I never hide who I am, and the AVA knows me well :)

        My work does not ‘cloud’ my own personal beliefs, but my personal beliefs, such as honesty and hard work, definitely influence the work I do at Caltrans. I have many fond memories from my late father about his time living in Albion in the 1950s. I was simply sharing an interesting perspective since most, if not all, of those living in Albion in the 1950s are now gone.

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