A contractor is expected in the Donnell Fire burn zone this week to remove torched remains of the historic 1933 Dardanelle Bridge that used to be the Highway 108 crossing over the Middle Fork Stanislaus River, just east of where the 1920s Dardanelle Resort burned in the same fire in early August.
Recent testing has come back negative for asbestos in the bridge debris, which was the primary concern local authorities had, based on Caltrans records, said Tim Hughes, Stanislaus National Forest engineer.
Local historians say the old Dardanelle Bridge was built in 1933, when Dardanelle Resort was about 10 years old, in the midst of the Great Depression. It’s a window on the past that most people living today did not see or cannot remember.
A 1931 tourism pamphlet, titled “The Lure of the Mark Twain - Bret Harte Counties Along the Mother Lode” and published by the Mother Lode Magnet in Jamestown, shows how local business owners and promoters saw themselves and the Highway 108 corridor in the early days of the Depression.
There’s a half-page ad for Buckman’s Dardanelle Resort on page 4. “Vacation Days in the High Sierras! Just 15 miles from the (Sonora Pass) summit at 9624 feet elevation. 54 miles from Sonora on the Mono Highway. Where you can enjoy home-cooked meals and where saddle and pack animals are available with guides to pack into God’s country — 13 miles to Kennedy Lake — 12 miles to Dardanelles Country — 7 miles to Clark’s Fork — 75 miles to Huckleberry Lakes.”
On page 8 in the 1931 pamphlet there’s an ad with the headline “Bodie or Bust,” explaining that used to be the slogan and spirit of pioneer stagecoach drivers making weekly trips over Sonora Pass to Bodie, where gold was discovered in 1859 and the town boomed into the late 1870s. The 1931 ad was for “The Confidence Service Station,” a general store with supplies, where the owners touted Confidence as “still an important stop to cool off your motor, quench your thirst, and obtain road and tourists’ information.”
According to the Historic American Engineering Record, the reason the Dardanelle Bridge was needed was back in the 1930s many of California’s bridges were becoming obsolete. Designs that had been adequate for horse-drawn carriages and wagons were inadequate for increasingly heavy automobiles and trucks.
The old Sonora Mono Wagon Road Bridge, about a hundred yards upstream from where Highway 108 is today, dated back to 1864. Hand-stacked stone buttresses dating to the 1860s are still there, within sight of the current bridge. The old Sonora Mono Road passed right through Dardanelle Resort.
Contractors hired by the state in 1933 built the old Dardanelle Bridge by hand labor also, using a pneumatic jackhammer to drill rock for blasting. They built it in just over two months for a total cost of less than $7,300, which included asphalt paving by state workers once the contractors were finished.
Sand and gravel for concrete came from a bar in the Middle Fork Stanislaus about three miles east of the bridge site. Workers used Calaveras brand Portland cement from a plant near Sonora. Reinforcing and structural steel came from Palm Iron Works in Sacramento. Redwood timber came from Union Lumber Company at Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.
Historians also say the 1933 Dardanelle Bridge was the last known timber scissors truss, a type of bridge suited for fast installation in rugged locations. It served its purpose more than 50 years. In 1978 the state Department of Transportation proposed replacing it, then delayed the project until 1987, when the Dardanelle Bridge was determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
In May 1990, the old bridge sustained damage when contractors working on the new bridge dynamited granite boulders into the upstream side of the historic Dardanelle Bridge. According to the Historic American Engineering Record, the old bridge remained in the ownership of Caltrans, to “maintain it consistent with The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings.”
Looking down on the burned-up remnants of the old Dardanelle Bridge and reflecting on what’s been lost raises questions about how the old Emigrant Trail and Sonora Mono Road came to be, and how the name Dardanelle was chosen for the area.
Historians say mountain man Jedediah Strong Smith was the first white person to find a way up and over the Sierra Nevada range, near Ebbetts Pass, in the late 1820s. Parts the Emigrant Trail near Sonora Pass were first scouted and pioneered in 1841 by the Bartleson-Bidwell Party, and then the Clark-Skidmore Party in 1852.
By the late 1850s, according to the Tuolumne County Historical Society, the boom of the Gold Rush was ebbing in the Mother Lode, and ranchers, farmers, teamsters and other business owners in Tuolumne County hoped to revitalize the sagging local economy by establishing trade with growing mining and commercial regions east of Sonora Pass, including Bodie.
In 1861, Congress authorized construction of a wagon road to run from the foot of what is now Twain Harte Grade east, up and over Sonora Pass. Toll gates at what are now Twain Harte and Sugar Pine were set up to charge travelers and defray costs of building the road. When Bodie was booming in 1877, the road was filled with stage coaches and freight wagons.
In March 1901, California Governor Henry Gage signed legislation making the old Sonora-Mono Toll Road part of the state highway system. A state engineer in 1901 described the road as “simply a rutted gully, great stretches of boulders…bridges rotted out.”
According to Caltrans, it became Route 108 in 1959 as part of the California Freeway and Expressway system adopted by the California Legislature.
So how did the names Dardanelle and Dardanelles become so common in this high east end of Tuolumne County? According to “California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names” by Erwin G. Gudde, the Dardanelles peaks or cones were named by men with the 1860s Whitney Survey because at that time, there was a place in Turkey known as the Dardanelles that became known globally as newspapers carried accounts of the 1854 Crimean War on the other side of the world.
The Dardanelles in Turkey were named by British sailors, navigators and mapmakers. They were trying to describe castles that used to protect a narrow straight along the Gallipoli Peninsula, an internationally significant waterway that forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia.
Apparently, men with the Whitney Survey saw a resemblance between the volcanic cones north of today’s Dardanelle Resort area and the castles that guarded the entrance to the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. Back in those post-Gold Rush days, the English-derived Dardanelles name for the strait in Turkey was repeatedly used by California miners and mining companies. In a letter in March 1861, Josiah Whitney himself mentions “Dardanelles Diggings, way up in Placer County,” in a letter.
Today, the Turks call the Dardanelles Straits “Çanakkale Strait” for a city near the strait.
Hughes, the Stanislaus National Forest engineer, said the contractor who will remove what remains of the old Dardanelle Bridge tentatively was to arrive and set up Monday, crane arrival Tuesday, and removing pieces of the bridge to begin later this week.
“Our primary concern is the debris is technically not a natural event so our goal is to restore the channel to pre-fire conditions,” Hughes said.
The Donnell Fire was first reported Aug. 1. It blew up the weekend of Aug. 4 and 5 and destroyed 135 structures, including 54 business buildings, cabins and other residences, as well as the Dardanelle Resort main building and the old Dardanelle Bridge.
Diana Fredlund with Stanislaus National Forest public affairs said Monday there is no change in the status of the Donnell Fire. The fire has burned more than 57 square miles and the burn zone is estimated to be more than 90 percent contained. There are 30 personnel still assigned, and the cost to fight the first has exceeded $33 million. The cause of the Donnell Fire is being investigated by U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.