Knights Ferry – If you’ve been there, then you would recognize it immediately by it’s iconic covered bridge – if you haven’t been there, you might never even know it exists. Knights Ferry is a small community that dates from the California Gold Rush. It lays just East of Oakdale in the Sierra Foothills of California, and as you drive by it on the small highway 120/108, you could easily miss it if you don’t know the turnoff.
I was thinking about Knights Ferry, because we were just up there for their annual Gold Country Peddlers Fair. This time we were a vender, selling off some antiques for my father, but we enjoy going most every year to look around at the antiques and collectables.
When gold was discovered in California in 1849, Dr. William Knight rediscovered a pass he had crossed with John Fremont and established a ferry boat there. Soon, the ferry boat prospered and Knight and Captain Vantine built a hotel and trading post near the crossing. The settlement was named for Dr Knight who on November 9, 1849 was killed by a gunfight on the town’s main street, and buried in an unmarked grave.
There are a number of historic structures still standing in this sparsely populated historic town, including the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi. The bridge built in 1852 replaced the ferry for crossing the river. After a flood destroyed the original bridge a new one was built in 1862 and still stands, open only to foot traffic in order to preserve it. Other historic structures include the Community Church, General Store, Lewis Dent House, and Abraham Schell house. Ruins include a mill and town prison.
Ulysses S. Grant stayed in Knights Ferry, on a few occasions while he was a Captain stationed in Benicia, and Eureka, since his brother in-law was a prominent resident here. Knights Ferry was also the County Seat for Stanislaus County in 1852 before the railroad came to Modesto. The Willms Ranch which is just outside of town has been in the family for over 160 years, first as a horse ranch, then a cattle ranch. The ranch has been used as a filming location for shows such as Bonanza, and Little House on the Prairie.
Stanislaus river park is right at the bridge, with hiking trails, & lots of picnic tables & bbq’s. There is also a river rafting company located here. If you have never been here, is it a worthy stop while you are exploring the gold country.