The Ancient Bridge Across Pickens Canyon
In the late 1880s, a heavy wagon bridge was constructed across Pickens Canyon high up near Briggs Terrace. We have info about the bridge from a letter that pioneer Winifred Bathey sent to the local paper in 1966.
The Bathey family moved to La Crescenta in 1886 and established a ranch at the top of Briggs Avenue, next door to Dr. Briggs‘ estate up on Briggs Terrace. (That original ranch of nearly 200 acres is still there today under different ownership.) Two of the sisters, Winifred and Allie, lived on the ranch until the late 1960s and Winifred often contributed her memories to the local paper, The Ledger. In this letter she elaborates on an old story that there had once been a major bridge over the upper end of Pickens Canyon. Here are snippets of Winifred’s letter (in quotation marks), along with my comments to clarify.
“The bridge spanned Pickens Canyon at about the extension of Harmony Place and just south of the Gould barn on the east bank of the canyon. It was about 12 feet wide by 100 feet long and 20 or 30 feet above the creek bed, built of heavy planks.”
So, it ran from just below Briggs Terrace, across Pickens Canyon, to the upper part of today’s Ocean View Boulevard.
“This bridge was constructed for Dr. Benjamin Briggs and Mrs. E.H. Gould by my father as contractor. They traveled over it to visit each other.”
Mrs. E.H. (May) Gould was Dr. Briggs’ niece.
“Most of the building blocks used in the construction of the Gould Castle were hewn out of immense boulders strewn upon the land lying between the west bank of the canyon and Briggs Avenue, and they were hauled over this bridge.”
The Gould Castle was a true stone castle that May Gould had constructed on the east bank of Pickens Canyon near the end of today’s Canalda Drive. The streets Castle Road and Rock Castle Drive were named for it. It was torn down in 1955.
“Dr. Briggs had a wagon road through his Black Hamburg grape vineyard, thence over a bench of land along the west bank of Pickens Canyon to the bridge.”
That wagon road would have been the modern path of Shields Street. Black Hamburg is an older name for Muscat grapes.
“In those days there were no defined streets, although they were defined in the early maps. The shortest road from one place to another was a wagon trail through the tall brush. Briggs Avenue was a winding trail zig-zagging around the boulders. Dr. Briggs had a road cut out from the south end of his vineyard to Briggs Avenue.”
Old aerial views show there were many diagonal shortcuts across empty land until homes filled in the empty lots. Winifred mentions “the tall brush.” The valley was covered in head-high sagebrush before it was cleared or burned off in several wildfires. And yes, the initial path of all the straight roads we know today, such as Briggs Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, did zig-zag around the many boulders strewn across the valley. In fact the valley, before it was La Crescenta, was called “Big Rocks.” Eventually the boulders were moved aside and the roads straightened. (Where are those rocks today? Dig a hole anywhere and you’ll find them.)
“It washed out in the 1913 freshet.”
“It” meant the old bridge, and “freshet” meant a flood from a heavy rain. Perhaps Winifred meant 1914 as there was a huge flood that year that killed 43 people in the Arroyo Seco area. No doubt that storm caused Pickens Canyon to flood as well and take out this bridge. After a repeat flood in 1934, Pickens Canyon was re-engineered with check dams and channelization to avoid future flooding.
Several times over the years, development schemes were floated for further development in the upper reaches of Briggs Terrace and Ocean View. Very often the idea of a major bridge up high was proposed as part of the development but it never happened.
Nothing’s new. Turns out there was a bridge there in the past.