Monday, March 29, 2010

Knights Ferry in the Sierra Nevada Foothills

Last Friday's Cesar Chavez holiday is somewhat of an obscure holiday for most of the world. It is only observed by eight US states, and not by many employers in these states. However, it was a great holiday weekend to drive into the Sierra Foothills. Our destination was Knights Ferry, a tiny town that most people pass on their way to Yosemite.

After passing the Altamont Pass, from where we could see the snow of the sierras in the distance, we drove through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a flat, farming area, with miles and miles of orchards.

Knights Ferry, between Oakdale and Sonora, was founded in 1842. Soon after, it had its short boom during the gold rush era, only to fall back into its sleeping beauty state. Knights Ferry is a cute little town, in the middle of beautiful countryside. It is sleepy and seemingly far from the world. A pretty and quiet place to take a break on the way to the Sierras. At one point, the number of people living in Knights Ferry was an order of magnitude higher, however, there is little evidence for it today.

It's claim to fame is a covered wooden bridge from 1862, spanning the Stanislaus river. Covered bridges were apparently common in the 19th century, because the cover protected the wood from the elements, and contributed to the longevity of the bridges. This particular one was a toll bridge, and is now a museum.
A bit of trivia about Stanislaus: He was native American, raised by missionaries, then fighting against them, but asking for forgiveness later.  He is believed to be the real Zorro.

Knights Ferry's prison was built in 1912, when an influx of workers (and I have forgotten the project, maybe a new bridge, or a road, or farming work?) was followed by a rise in the crime rate. The prison was fortunately only used for a few years. It is a big metal block, and reminds me of middle age torture chambers.

More cheerful is a view of the town center. It was early in the year, so the ice cream parlor was only open on the weekend. It seemed to be a popular meeting point for motor-cyclers, who were out en masse on this first beautiful weekend of spring. 

We were supposed to see a civil war reenactment event, but missed it. However, we didn't miss to have a peek into the gun shop, which carries rifles that were reminiscent of the civil war.

On the way to the ruins of the former mill, a barrel on wheels was permanently parked on a road corner. To me, it looks like a "Güllefass", a barrel to distribute manure on the fields.

Next to the ruins of the mill, at the river, we found evidence of old-style milling: grinding holes from native Americans. Nowadays, this is a popular river rafting spot.

At night, I explored historical pamphlets and collections about Knights Ferry, collected by the family of our host. The pride and care of the community for its history is heartwarming. The similarities in research and presentation of the history in my hometown, even though on a different scale,  was astonishing.


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