Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living



The Covered Bridge
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the CPW Covered Bridge
The Covered Bridge at the CPW
Photograph Courtesy of the Museum of Art & History @
The McPherson Center, Santa Cruz, CA

In 1869 when William Henry Gorrill, who had worked with R. W. Smith, a bridge designer and builder in Ohio, arrived in San Francisco, he quickly became aware of the boom in construction, especially in roads and bridges. With his brothers, Gorrill established the Pacific Bridge Company in Oakland, California, and commenced bidding on bridge projects using R. W. Smith’s 1867 patented bridge design. This patented design pre-cut and dressed the necessary bridge components at the factory to measurements which had been taken on site. These “bridge kits” were then shipped by rail, water, or wagon to the building sites and assembled under the supervision of a skilled foreman which substantially reduced the bridge’s cost.

When the original CPW bridge over the San Lorenzo River washed away on December 30, 1871, Bernard Peyton, Superintendent of the Powder Works, needed to find a quick replacement. Having seen an ad for the Pacific Bridge Company, he contacted them, and after the necessary survey, he signed a contract with them in February 1872 for a bridge of this new design. From contract to completion, the bridge took 71 days to construct and cost $5,250 (approximately $92,000 today). The company’s slogan was "Built by the mile, cut and sold by the yard."

Photograph of an Advertisement for the Pacific Bridge Company
An Advertisement for the Pacific Bridge Company

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 4, 1872:

The Pacific Bridge Company of San Francisco has completed the bridge across the San Lorenzo, according to a contract made with Bernard Peyton Esq., Superintendent of the California Powder Works. As the bridge is 168 ft. in length and has but one span, it deserves something more than passing notice. The bridge is a Smith patent high truss design. The truss is 18 ft. in height, with top chords of four leaves, each 6’ x 11’, and bottom chords, of four leaves, 6’ x 13’. The width of the bridge is 20 feet, enabling the Powder Company to put down narrow gauge car track without conflicting with wagon travel. The entire structure is of the best materials and workmanship throughout using beams of Douglas Fir heart wood over 40 ft. in length. It will sustain 1,000 pounds to each lineal foot which, distributed over its surface, would be more than 80 tons, and is capable of sustaining a moving load of much greater weight. The piers at each end are of very heavy piles well driven, capped, and braced in the most thorough manner. As there is no pier in the center to impede trees that come down the San Lorenzo with such fearful force in high water, this bridge is not only put to stay but will doubtless stay put. The structure is designed to be enclosed and roofed thereby more than doubling its life. Long may it stand as evidence of the enterprise of the Powder Company, and also reflect credit on the Pacific Bridge Company.

Special features of the bridge are the overhanging portals at either end. The diamond windows and off-center support in the river bed were added at a later time.


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dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River

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