Little History (and some guessing)
The Las Pilitas Steel Bridge and Road
Roy Parsons 2010
The first “official” public road
coming into Las Pilitas canyon was surveyed in 1886 by then county
surveyor E. Carpenter. This dirt road forded the Salinas River at a
crossing very close to the spot where the present new million dollar
concrete bridge exists today.
This road was officially called the
“Rinconada and Pilitas Public Road”. ( However, some of the early
maps also called this the San Jose road because the Pozo area was
originally called San Jose by its earliest settlers.) The Salinas
River crossing proved to be hazardous due to a soft channel bottom
and high water during winter. So, in 1898 a group of early resident
pioneers petitioned the board of supervisors for a new road with a
better crossing location farther upstream where the riverbed was
rocky. The last names of the signatures on this petition in 1898
Craghill, Bean, Watson, Epperly,
Gooley, Sumner, Harrington, Sawyer, Cavanagh,
Wilson, Leach, Downey, McNeil,
Freeborn, Whitlock, Arnold, Nicholson, Crawford, and O’Leary.
When the first 1886 road was built, the
surrounding property at the River was owned by Jose Ramon and C.J.
Blanco. Mike Wagster of the Rinconada Ranch suggests that the Blanco
family may have had some connection to the Santa Margarita Ranch and
its early owner, Joaquin Estrada, and may have been employed by the
The second road (1898) was surveyed by
then county surveyor V. H. Woods. This road was proposed as a 60 foot
wide dirt road, and the new crossing was an apparent improvement. Then,
in 1916 plans were made to bridge the river for year-around
access, and a steel bridge was designed and engineered by then county
surveyor Austin Frank Parsons, who came to California from
Ohio as an educator and engineer in 1876. The office of county
surveyor was an elected position of prominence in those days, and was
similar in stature to that of county supervisor. The surveyor was
also the county engineer, the road commissioner, the public works
director, and the overseer of property boundaries, all rolled into
one person and his staff.
In 1916, along with the steel bridge,
Parsons also surveyed a new (third) road on higher ground and westerly
of the previous two
roads. This is the present road today (2010).
The property surrounding this road and
bridge was then owned by Minnie Goforth. Minnie Goforth was paid the
sum of $250.00 by the county for this new road alignment plus the
bridge site itself. The steel bridge was built on the same concrete
abutments that are there today. The bridge is 16 feet wide with a
150 foot span. It was supplied (and probably erected) by the
Gutleben Brothers Builders from San Francisco who were prominent
steel bridge builders of the era.
There were a number of similar steel
bridges engineered by Parsons in San Luis Obispo County during this
period, but only 2 or 3 remain today. From 1916 to 1948 the north
end of the steel bridge did not have the present-day extension. In
1948 the county added this 78 foot “Timber Trestle Post Bridge”,
apparently to allow more water volume to pass under both structures.
Santa Margarita resident Herb Brazzi, who lived from 1932 to 1936
near the bridge, suggests that when the Corps of Engineers built the
Salinas Dam in 1941, it was common knowledge that 1941 was an
extremely wet year and the Salinas Reservoir filled up very quickly.
The dam developed a crack when the dam was full, and he remembers
that the engineers were so concerned that they made the people living
at the time in the Garden Farms area of Santa Margarita evacuate
their residences until it could be determined that the dam was safe.
So, perhaps floodwaters were the main reason the bridge extension was
built. The cost to build this extension was $12,200.00 which was
shared equally by the state and county. The surrounding property at
this time was owned by Edith, Bessie, and Bertha Butchers. They
received the sum of $50.00 from the county for property acquisition.
Mr. Brazzi states that in 1936 when he lived near the bridge that the
road and bridge was paved. Charlene Abeloe (the Kusta property)
agrees. However, Al Kahler states that he believes the main road was
dirt until about 1948 when it was then just oiled. He says it was
later chip-sealed once or twice, until in 1984 it was overlayed with
a layer of hot asphalt to make the present road we have today in
In 1963, the bridge was sandblasted,
cleaned, and painted at a cost of $5,900 by Archie Peckham of Fresno,
Ca. At this time, the road was still called Rinconada-Las Pilitas,
and also County Road #48. Today, it is called Las Pilitas County
Road #3100. I do not have any record of painting after 1963, but it
likely may have been.
In 2006, the present poured concrete
bridge was built at a cost of over one million dollars. The funds
came from a federal bridge grant established only for really old
bridge replacements. When the county received the grant funds, they
then wanted to use the money for other bridge replacements that they
considered more urgent, but the Las Pilitas had the only bridge that
met the grant requirements, and so we got our new bridge.The property surrounding both
today is owned by the Hobson Brothers Packing Company and is leased
by Mike Wagster & his family who live on Pozo Road. Please
respect their property rights by not intruding unless you have their