A Faded but Historic Postcard from Ferndale, California

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To me and probably most other postcard collectors, one of the most important things we should do is carefully read our cards! Here is a great example of why it is important to learn the facts that are right there in the image and sometimes in the message but are often missed.

This real photo postcard shows a photograph of the nearly completed construction of the historic Fernbridge (originally named the Eel River Bridge), crossing the Eel River at Ferndale, Humboldt County, California.

Construction of this bridge began in 1910 by the Pacific Construction Company of San Francisco using a design by John B. Leonard. It is an arch bridge constructed of concrete with seven spans with either seven or eight piers in the river, depending on the river’s flow.  The bridge carries two lanes of California Highway 211 across the river to Ferndale.

The Ferndale Bridge or Fernbridge, is 1,320 feet long, 24 foot wide and opened for traffic on November 8, 1911, at the Singley Ferry Crossing of the Eel River. The bridge is the last crossing of the Eel River before the river empties into the Pacific Ocean. When it was built, it was referred to as the “Queen of Bridges” and is still the longest functioning poured concrete bridge in the world.

Construction of the Fernbridge began on March 20, 1910. The use of reinforced concrete for its construction was due to studies held after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 showed that this method of construction could withstand earthquakes better than any known construction method.

The nearly one-quarter mile long span cost $245,967 to build and consumed millions of board feet of local redwood timber to frame the bridge. Originally, each end of the bridge had a wooden trestle approach span which were later (1920) replaced with concrete ramps.

The Eel River has had many severe floods. Each flood has caused some damage to the Fernbridge but have not ended its useful life.

This card of the Fernbridge, mailed to Chicago, Illinois in 1934, shows all seven arches on what appears to be a very calm day. [Editorial note solicited from Dr. E. J. “Mickey” Smith, Rowen University, New Jersey.  The message is handwritten in German but is written in old “Kurrent”script. A German language scholar will point out the words “Glückwunsch” (good/luck wish) and “Geburtstag” (birthday) have old style letters that were taught as proper penmanship prior to 1915. Kurrent script was replaced by “Sütterlin,” which was actually the name of the person who “designed” the script. This script was taught beginning in 1915, so this postcard was written by someone who was educated before then.]

During a Christmas week flood in 1955, waters measured 27.7 feet deep at Fernbridge. The south side abutment and approach were washed away.

Nine years later, again during Christmas week, the flood of 1964 badly damaged nearly every bridge on the Eel River. At that time the force of the floodwater was increased by the debris from homes, barns and thousands of redwood logs stacked for winter mill production along the banks of the river. The flood peak at Fernbridge occurred at 4:00 AM on December 23, 1964, when flood levels reached 29.5 feet. The waters stayed high for the next 24 hours with the discharge being estimated in excess of 800,000 cubic feet per second, yet the Fernbridge survived!

On September 24, 1976, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated Fernbridge as a historic civil engineering landmark and installed a plaque on the northwest approach pylon to the bridge.

In 1987, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recommended the removal of Fernbridge and replacing it with a modern span. Residents of Ferndale successfully campaigned to stop any changes to the historic bridge and Fernbridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 1987.


This postcard is a true historic treasure!  It was sent to Miss Edith Davidson at 488 S. Sixth Street in San Jose, California, on November 14, 1911, with the following message: “A picture of our bridge across the Eel River. It has seven spans or arches; this shows but five. It will be open to travel the last of the week when you come to Ferndale you will ride over it.  Love, C.C.”

[Note #2] It is a disappointment to announce that a search for Edith Davidson failed. It is possible that shortly after this card was mailed, Miss Davidson married Leonard Miles in Los Angeles, California, but it seems impossible to confirm at this time. However, success was had when Miss Davidson’s father, Alexander died in Phoenix, Arizona, his obituary was, apparently, written by the deceased in advance. Mr. Davidson bragged about the fact that the first time he voted in a national election, he voted for Abraham Lincoln.

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What an historic bridge.

Great stuff! My postcard passion is really all about the history and this is a fine example of it. Can’t get enough of this! Thanks for sharing.

This is the National Register of Historic Places bridge in my postcard collection. Yes, it is still in use.

Last edited 23 days ago by Violet Walsh

The messages both add to the historical appeal of the cards on which they were written.

Excellent article! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and all of the research you did on this. Always appreciate west coast postal history.

Reading your article encourages me to see whether I can find any bridges in my collection. I love to go north but don’t travel much any more. We have visited a niece when she used to live in Soulsbyville, Sonora, near the Tuollamny (spelling?) River and other family in WA state. Have to get out the old Thomas Guide. I like to read maps even if everything can be found on the computer.
Anyhow, I enjoyed your article, Shav.

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