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Padding and poking around gold rush Knights Ferry.

Paddling and poking around gold rush Knights Ferry

Over the last hundred years, a tiny goldrush town 2 hours east of San Francisco has changed little in size or character.

You might have been the Knights Ferryturnoff as you scurried along State Highway 108/120 en route to Sonora or Yosemite. A visit of even an hour or two is worth the 1-mile detour. Poke around among historic buildings, walk across the Stanislaus River on a century-old covered bridge, or take advantage of the river's recreational possibilities.

Covered bridge, historic structures (and one new one)

At 330 feet, the one-lane covered bridge isthe longest west of the Mississippi. It's also the oldest, having been built in 1863 (to replace another, built in 1854 but lost in an 1862 flood). In 1981, it closed to all but pedestrians. Cars began using a temporary vehicle bridge; a new permanent auto bridge is set to open this year.

In 1849, Knights Ferry was a crossingarea to the gold fields and home to the first ferry across the Stanislaus. It later became the launching point for upriver miners' supplies. Eventually, it hosted its own gold rush, and population ballooned to 8,000. But in 1872, the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to bypass Knights Ferry; by 1880, population had dropped to 191. It has never risen higher.

Most of the oldest structures are on or justuphill from Main Street (Sonora Road), which runs the 1/2 mile between Knights Ferry Resort and the covered bridge. Lewis Dent built the oldest building, the Long House, in 1851. (Dent's sister Julia married young Army officer Ulysses S. Grant, who stayed in the house in 1854. Dent was later Grant's Civil War aide-decamp.) Second oldest is the General Store, in business since 1852. A good reference is John F. Criswell's Knight's Ferry's Century Old Structures (available in town for about $3).

Opened in 1985, the newest building is thetall, red-brown structure facing the river near Sonora Road's dead end. Local headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it houses an interpretive center designed to acquaint you quickly with the town and local natural history. Personnel can answer water sports questions and provide names of private operators licensed to run canoe and raft trips on the lower Stanislaus. (You can rent rafts and canoes in town year-round for $24 to $28 or more per day, and arrange shuttle pickup at Orange Blossom Park.)

Write or call the corps for more riverinformation: Stanislaus River Parks, Box 1229, Oakdale 95361; (209) 881-3517. Knights Ferry Resort serves meals; its campground has 14 RV and 12 tent sites. The General Store and Cliff's Tavern also serve meals.

Photo: They're camping in shadedgrounds at west end of Main Street. Stanislaus River is just beyond picnic tables

Photo: Canoeists pull into bankat south end of 124-year-old Knights Ferry covered bridge. Best places to picnic or swim--or launch a raft, canoe, or boat--are here and by the new bridge 1,000 feet downriver

Photo: Hang around this storeawhile and you'll probably meet just about everyone living in Knights Ferry (they have to come here to pick up their mail)

Photo: Graceful old garage serves as display casefor antique horse-drawn fire hose cart
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1987
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