The 87-year-old bridge over Calaveritas Creek could be around for many more years following the state’s decision Friday to list the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.
The decision by the State Historical Resources Commission was supported by Calaveritas residents who sought the historical designation in hopes of heading off a proposal to replace the one-lane bridge with a modern two-lane structure.
“In the beginning everyone thought the bridge was doomed and there was no way to save it,” said Francesca Preston, a Calaveritas resident who has organized community efforts to keep the bridge.
“It’s a very rare example of its type,” said historian Stephen D. Mikesell, who prepared the report on the bridge used in nominating it for the national register.
“I think for the people in the town, it’s the bridge that they grew up with,” he said. “That wouldn’t get it listed in the national registry; it has to be something else. I just happened to know about the bridge type and I wasn’t aware there were any at all around.”
Mikesell’s report detailed the bridge’s “polygonal top chord Warren pony truss” design, the characteristic that allows for the historic distinction. The Calaveritas Creek Bridge, built in 1928, is the oldest of 24 remaining bridges in California with a similar design. The report states the bridge is “the oldest and arguably the most significant example of the type.”
The bridge has scarcely been altered in its nine decades of existence and, as a result, doesn’t meet current safety standards. However, with its addition to the national register, Mikesell said it’s not a guarantee, but a more likely possibility that the bridge will be renovated instead of replaced.
“I think it does help and I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” Mikesell said to the State Historical Resources Commission Friday. “It’s a cute little bridge and appropriate for the setting, and I hope this is a step forward in keeping it.”
Mikesell said federal guidelines dictate not to repair one-lane bridges, unless there is special circumstance. He anticipates that Calaveras County Public Works will work to restore the bridge to standards, while retaining its historically significant aspects, because of Friday’s nomination not being objected to by Public Works.
“It forms a basis for getting an exception to the regular rule,” said Mikesell. “Honestly, this listing could save the county a lot of money. It will always be cheaper to repair a bridge than to replace it.”
Preston said that she and other community members have been involved in talks with Public Works about how the bridge will be altered.
“We’re not sure yet what the final design will be,” Preston said, adding that an upcoming community meeting will help decide things. “But because it’s recognized now, we can use federal funds to retrofit it.”