In July 1848, John Bidwell discovered gold in a canyon of the Feather River, leading to the establishment of Bidwell’s Bar, one of the first mining camps in California. The settlers had a tough life, relying on a ferry to transport people and supplies across the river, until a bridge was built. That bridge was destroyed by a flood, but in 1854, approval was given to construct a stronger, permanent solution to cross the canyon.
The iron structure was constructed in Troy, New York, and shipped down the Hudson River to the Atlantic, where it then travelled around the Cape Horn of South America and arrived in San Francisco Bay. From there, it was transported up the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, covering around 18,000 nautical miles, with a team of oxen hauling it the final 30 miles. When completed in 1855, it became California’s first suspension bridge.
In 1961, the construction of the Oroville Dam began, and Bidwell’s Bar was soon submerged by the waters of Lake Oroville. The bridge and tollhouse were preserved and moved in 1964.
A newer version of the bridge was built in 1965, which was one of the highest suspension bridges in the world at the time, swinging 627 feet above the streambed. Although the lake created during the construction of the Oroville Dam raised the water level, making it less high, it still remains an impressive feat of engineering.
The old Bidwell Bar bridge and toll house are now located in a state park, near the Bidwell Canyon Boat Ramp. Visitors can cross the old bridge to a vista point and admire the new Bidwell Bar Bridge on the opposite side of the lake.
The two Bidwell Bar Bridges are a fascinating look at the story of Northern California’s history. The old bridge is a relic of the Gold Rush that completely changed the region and populated the region from all across the world. The newer bridge shows how the era of dam building in the area completely altered the local landscape. With dams bringing giant bodies of water, old bridges and historical Gold Rush and Native American communities were lost, and new bridges were built.