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O’Byrnes and Central Ferry

May contain: nature, outdoors, shelter, building, rural, and countryside
O'Byrnes Ferry crossing, spanned with a covered bridge.

The land now inundated by Tulloch Lake was the location of two Stanislaus River ferries, the best-known of which was O’Byrnes Ferry on the Copperopolis to Sonora Road (also known as the Mountain Pass Road, connecting Copperopolis and Yosemite Junction on the Knights Ferry to Sonora Road). The ferry was located at an important crossing on the Stanislaus River, on the principal roads between Sonora and Stockton. Established in 1852 by Patrick O. Bymes, who also did business as Byme and Company, the ferry was replaced by a toll bridge in 1853. Supported by chain cables, the suspension bridge had a plank floor. Mention of the bridge was made in two mechanics liens filed by Thomas Russell in September of 1853:

For work and labor done and performed on a certain suspension bridge across the Stanislaus at Byrnes or Table Mountain Ferry and known as Central Bridge. Work performed between March 9th and August 5th, 1853, being for 130 days work and labor $1651.00 – at a rate of $10 per day.

The second lien was for $548 for work performed at a rate of $4 per day for 18 weeks by John Russell (Calaveras County Mechanics Liens 1852-1856:21).

This bridge, which was destroyed by a flood in November of the same year, was replaced by another in 1856. A description of the latter structure was found in the Articles of Association for the Table Mountain Bridge Company, which noted that the purpose of the company was to “construct a bridge across the Stanislaus River in the counties of Calaveras and Tuolumne, at a place formerly occupied by the Stanislaus Central Company.” The place of business was at Sonora, with existing stock of 300 shares at $33,000. The bridge was to be constructed as follows: “a strong abutment with a pyramid upon the same on each side of the river with two wire cable extending across the river over said pyramids from which cables the bridge floor shall be suspended by iron ropes or wire” (Calaveras County Book of Agreements A:96).

This bridge washed out in the flood of 1862, and was replaced by a covered bridge in 1863-64. Known as the Union Bridge, for its builders the Union Bridge Company of Sonora, the bridge was built in New York and shipped around the Horn in sections. A Howe truss bridge, it was reinforced by an auxiliary arch, and was about 240 feet long. One of its builders was Rehindhart Rupli, who resided adjacent to the structure.

The bridge was operated by Joe Pardee (Pardies), an early settler in the area, for many years and succeeded by his nephew Pierie Camou. The bridge was purchased from the Union Bridge Company by Calaveras and Tuolumne counties in 1906 at a cost of $4,000 and declared a free bridge. The most picturesque bridge in Calaveras County, it was dismantled when Tulloch Reservoir was completed in the late 1950s (Stone 1991:57-58; Wood 1955:140).

Central Ferry, located upriver from O’Byrnes's enterprise, was another route which provided access to Sonora from the Stockton Road. In October of 1853 John Carothers & Co. was granted a petition to establish a ferry and collect tolls; the name to be Central Ferry (presumably because it was located about midway between O’Byrnes Ferry and Reynolds Ferry) (Minutes of the Court of Sessions of Calaveras County Book A:38).

An account of the ferry, written in 1858, noted that Central Ferry was owned by Mr. Lawhead, who lived on the Stanislaus side of the stream. The ferry was in good repair, the houses large and commodious, with a store and butcher shop, and a good road “on the other side of Jordan” (San Andreas Independent, February 20, 1858).