Mission Creek Bridge
By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 18, 2009
This Thursday, October 22, marks the 118th anniversary of the Mission Creek Bridge.
In the years prior to the initial anniversary date, a stone aqueduct, part of the Mission waterworks, once framed the entrance to Mission Canyon, and past that, a wooden bridge spanned Mission Creek for the convenience of the many tourists and handful of canyon residents. (See picture at end of article)
Mission Creek Bridge, January 1897
In April 1891, the local papers reported a new stone bridge was to replace the old wooden one. Credit for the bridge was given to Rowland Hazard, who lived directly behind the Mission in what is now St. Mary’s Retreat House. Mr. Hazard drew the plans and, along with four of his neighbors, contributed a little more than half of the $2,250 construction costs, with the county kicking in the final $1,000.
To build the bridge, Hazard hired stonemason Joseph Dover, whom he’d met while Dover was working on walls at the Mission. Dover was joined on the bridge project by Joseph Woods and their names – “Dover & Woods 1891” – were proudly carved into the keystone on the east side of the bridge. But you have to look hard to find the keystone, as various pipes now hang across it.
Dover also built the walls along Hazard’s property, including the “stegosaurus” wall that leads from the west side of the bridge and around the Museum of Natural History, as well as wall in many other Santa Barbara locations. Dover Road on the Riviera is named for him.
On opening day, the papers reported, “The new bridge over Mission Creek is completed and is certainly an ornamental as well as a substantial piece of work…the bridge is 140 feet long and twenty-two feet wide with a graceful arch of twenty-four feet through which the creek will flow. It is built of cut stone quarried out on the spot, and it is the only stone bridge in the county.”
After the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club completed their Mission Canyon clubhouse in 1928, they called for the bridge to be widened to 30 feet and flanked with pedestrian paths. This was not only for benefit of their members (over 1,000) who actually walked to the club from their homes and streetcar stops by the Mission, but also for the many visitors to the Museum of Natural History, and new Blaksley Botanic Garden. The pathway on the east side of the bridge may have been installed due to the Women’s Club’s efforts, and the bridge was eventually widened on the west side, possibly in the 1950s.
The bridge today is owned by the City (one wonders if they ever reimbursed the county for the $1,000) and is a City Landmark. In recent years, it has become a popular location to crash-test cars, leaving the impression that the next 118 years may not be so fortunate.
Archway in Aqueduct Wall by Henry Chapman Ford c1875
Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection