by Jim Bulls
In 1850 California became the 31st state, and Reedley was in Mariposa County. Back then, if you wanted to cross the river, you either found a shallow place and “forded” across or found a ferry, paid the fee and crossed while staying nice and dry. At one time there were half a dozen ferry crossings over the Kings River, from the foothills to Tulare Lake. In just two years, the Reedley area was in Tulare County and could claim two operating ferries.
Poole’s Trading Post and Ferry was located about two miles north of Reedley and was run by William Campbell and John Poole from 1851 through 1857. It was considered one of the area’s most important early river crossings. However, it became famous as the location where Major James Savage was murdered by newly elected Tulare County Judge Walter Harvey. Harvey had organized a posse to arrest, what he considered, some unruly Indians near Squaw Valley. At Poole’s Ferry, Savage, a noted peacemaker, tried to diffuse the situation, but Harvey shot him dead.
Downstream from Poole’s about four miles, was located Smith’s Ferry and Hotel. Mr. and Mrs. James Smith ran the ferry and the two-story, 11-room hotel at the north end of the Reedley Cemetery. Smith’s Ferry lasted much longer than the other ferry crossings in the area because his was the only boat that could be approached during high water. T.L. Reed lodged at this hotel while he was building his ranch headquarters. By the time Smith’s Ferry went out of business, the Reedley area was part of Fresno County.
The first bridge across the Kings River was built of wood in 1885 and was known as the Wagon Bridge. Remember, the automobile would not be along for another 25 years. This was not a toll bridge, so the days of the ferry were numbered. At the turn of the century, the Wagon Bridge had seen quite a few flood seasons and was showing her age. In 1908, the Manning Avenue Bridge was joined by a new bridge crossing at Olson Avenue. During the flood of January 26, 1914, neither the Manning nor Olson Avenue bridges fared very well. The Olson Avenue Bridge completely washed out during this flood, just six years after its construction. It was to wash out again prior to the completion of Pine Flat Dam, during the flood of November 19, 1952.
Following the earlier flood, a three trestle steel bridge was built. It sat on the big steel pillars that Mike Kelly has painted red, white and blue. In the mid-1920s, this bridge was damaged so badly by flood that it could only be crossed by one-way traffic. School buses changed their routes to the Olson Avenue Bridge so the kids could get to school on time.
Construction of the reinforced concrete bridge began in 1928 and it was considered state-of-the-art for its day. It was illuminated by streetlights across the bridge span and made a spectacular entrance to the City of Reedley. At its completion in 1929, there was a gala dedication celebration with the local brass band, and speakers including Governor C.C. Young (26th Governor of California). The bridge was packed with onlookers and vehicles waiting to cross the Kings River. Due to the blackout restrictions of World War II, the streetlights were removed.
The big flood of November 1952 took out the start of Pine Flat Dam, washed out the little burg of Piedra, and set the Olson Avenue Bridge afloat! The bridge finally lodged itself (or parts of itself) against the island behind Kings View Hospital. In the meantime, the river was gushing through portals in the Manning Avenue Bridge, flowing across the road and through the portals on the down riverside. The only vehicles allowed on the bridge were National Guard trucks, as the soldiers were clearing away debris lodged against the upriver side.
It was tragic and exciting. I can’t believe I witnessed such destruction. All I can say is, if you live off the bluff and can look up to see the bridge, I have seen the Kings River above your house.
Sometime in the 1960s a new bridge was proposed by Fresno County. It was suggested that Adams Avenue be the east-west corridor across the county. Reedley was livid. Supposedly even easements and rights of way had been purchased. Reedley went ballistic. If Manning Avenue was not chosen as the east-west corridor across the county, Reedley would become a ghost town!
It was finally decided to go with Manning Avenue and it was widened to four lanes. A new two-lane bridge was built, attached to the old one on the down riverside. This opened up the land on the south side of Manning for development. The City’s first brainstorm was an auto mall, where all the dealers would be in one area. Hughes Ford-Mercury made the move, but the other auto dealers didn’t follow. They could sell as many cars as they wanted in their old (paid for) locations.
The next big idea was Reedley Produce Trucking and then Mike Raphel, owner of the Bear Club, proposed a bowling alley complex large enough for nationally televised tournaments. It was to be an AMF equipped complex with food and spirits by the Bear Club. This would put a big dent in Selma’s Freeway Lanes and be devastating to Dinuba and Sanger Lanes. The owner of Dinuba Lanes had an ace up his sleeve. He had converted an old theater into Dinuba Lanes that he bought from a Hollywood Studio–the same studio that owned the Reedley Theater that was sitting vacant. So, there were two signs claiming “Future Home of Reedley Lanes.” The City Council could hardly deny a permit to the man from Dinuba who already had a building.
Of course, everyone remembers the failed Wal-Mart project. But no one seems to remember the same ghost town prediction when Adams Avenue was proposed as an east-west corridor over Manning. I guess that’s all ‘water under bridge.’
Speaking of the new bridge of 2013 (?), I only have one suggestion: who to name the bridge for. There were many issues that I did not agree with Councilman Scott Brockett on, but I supported his excitement and dedication for this new bridge project. He would beam with pride whenever he talked about it, “Jim, we are even going to have streetlights!” In addition to Scott, his father Budd was totally involved with Reedley’s history. So I propose the name as simply, “Brockett’s Bridge” in honor of these two proud Reedleyites.