Drawbridge Ghost Town: A Forgotten Treasure in the San Francisco Bay
A hidden gem in the heart of the San Francisco Bay is the Drawbridge California Ghost Town.
A once-thriving town nestled in the marshlands, Drawbridge now stands abandoned, slowly sinking back into the bay from which it rose. This unique place, lost in time and history, offers a fascinating glimpse into the past and the lives of the people who once called it home.
In this article, we explore this intriguing town’s history, rise, and decline and the curious tales surrounding it. Let’s journey back in time to discover the secrets of the Drawbridge California Ghost Town in San Francisco Bay.
A Town Born from the Railroad
In 1876, Drawbridge, originally known as Saline City, was created by the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad on Station Island. Its purpose was to serve as a stop for passengers and to house the operator of the railroad’s two drawbridges that crossed Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough.
The drawbridges connected the towns of Newark, Alviso, and San Jose, making it an essential part of the transportation system at the time.
The Early Days
The town’s first resident was the bridge tender, George Mundershietz, who lived in a cabin on the island. He was responsible for operating the drawbridges manually, ensuring smooth boat traffic through the waterways.
The island’s isolation and abundant wildlife soon attracted hunters and fishermen who would pay Mundershietz to spend the night in his cabin.
As word spread about the excellent hunting grounds, more and more people flocked to Drawbridge on weekends, leading to the construction of hunting cabins and the establishment of a bustling community. By the 1880s, thousands of visitors would come to Drawbridge to enjoy weekend parties and outdoor activities, contributing to the town’s growth.
A Bustling Town Emerges
The Sprung Hotel and the Town’s Expansion
Around 1900, the Sprung Hotel opened its doors, becoming a popular destination for visitors and providing the town with daily water pumped from the ground. Managed by Joe Sprung and his wife, Hedwig, the hotel served duck dinners and offered a unique experience for guests.
Mrs. Sprung would rent out her room and sleep in the bathtub when all the rooms were full.
Despite the town’s growth, Drawbridge remained a place with little government oversight, no police, no mayor, and no city council. As a result, it developed a reputation for hosting illegal activities such as prostitution and gambling. However, former residents often reminisced about the idyllic rural living and hunting opportunities that made the town so special.
Hunting and Fishing in Drawbridge
Drawbridge’s abundant wildlife attracted hunters and fishermen, who would use the town as a base for their activities. Before hunting limits were imposed, hunters would use small cannons filled with shot, nails, and chains to kill hundreds of birds in a single go.
Fishing was also popular, with the muddy waters of the bay teeming with fish and shrimp.
The Heyday of Drawbridge
The town reached its peak in the 1920s, boasting 80 to 90 houses, many of which were built on stilts and had their rowboats. Five daily trains stopped at Drawbridge, bringing visitors to shoot, fish, relax, and drink.
Despite Prohibition, Mrs. Sprung brewed her own dark beer, selling it to hotel visitors for 25 cents. On weekends, the small island’s population would swell to around 600 people.
A Class Divide
Even in a town as small as Drawbridge, residents remembered a strong class divide. The south end of town was home to most full-time residents, including hunters, fishermen, and employees of the hotel and railroad. To attend school, the children of these workers would walk along the 3 miles of track to the nearby town of Alviso. On the other hand, the north end of Drawbridge was mostly occupied by part-timers in town for leisure and vacation.
The Decline of Drawbridge
Sadly, the prosperity of Drawbridge was not to last. The industrialization of the South Bay and the growth of nearby cities like San Jose and Fremont led to the dumping of industrial waste and untreated human sewage into the bay, polluting the creeks around Drawbridge.
This made living conditions unpleasant for humans and wildlife, causing the town to lose its appeal to visitors.
The Destruction of the Marshlands
Simultaneously, salt manufacturing in the South Bay expanded, and by the 1930s, half of the marshland had been converted into salt ponds. This destroyed many birds’ habitat, further reducing Drawbridge’s appeal as a hunting destination.
As the town’s fortunes waned, residents began to leave, and by the 1950s, more people living in the South Bay meant greater demand for water. This led to the tapping of the aquifer, causing Drawbridge’s deep wells to run dry and the town to sink into the bay.
Floods became more frequent, with stories of residents cooking in galoshes as fish swam in and out of their kitchens.
Becoming a Ghost Town
By 1963, fewer than five residents remained in Drawbridge, and life became increasingly difficult for those who stayed. Local newspapers began referring to Drawbridge as a ghost town, attracting vandals, thieves, and arsonists. The remaining residents felt unsafe, and eventually, all but one left.
Charles Luce, the last resident of Drawbridge, lived alone on the island for years before finally leaving in 1979. By then, the town had been designated as a wildlife refuge, and Drawbridge was left to the birds, with no hunting allowed.
The Present State of Drawbridge
Today, the only way to reach Drawbridge is on a train that doesn’t stop. As the train passes, passengers can glimpse the two dozen remaining structures, now in various states of disrepair.
Some are covered in graffiti, while others have been reduced to mere skeletons of their former selves. Year by year, Drawbridge continues to sink deeper into the mud, a silent witness to its storied past.
Drawbridge is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and visiting the town is illegal and unsafe. However, the curious can view Drawbridge from a vista point on the Mallard Slough Trail Spur or catch a brief glimpse from the Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor, and Coast Starlight trains that pass through the area.
The Legacy of Drawbridge
The story of Drawbridge California Ghost Town in the San Francisco Bay is a compelling tale of a town that thrived against the odds, only to be defeated by the forces that once sustained it.
Through its rise and fall, Drawbridge stands as a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who called it home, as well as a haunting reminder of the fragile balance between human progress and environmental preservation.
As the once-bustling town continues its slow descent into the marshlands, the ghostly echoes of Drawbridge’s past serve as a poignant reminder of a bygone era and the unique community that once flourished in the heart of the San Francisco Bay.