Contemporary Bay Area residents can rightfully complain of overpopulation, overdevelopment, and a housing crunch. But amidst this development boom, the history buffs over at KQED remind us that the Bay Area still has one ghost town. KQED’s ongoing series Bay Curious gives the details on the abandoned Fremont-area ghost town of Drawbridge, speaking to historians and residents of what had been a booming resort between the 1880s and 1930s.
Our story begins back in 1876, when Ulysses Grant was president, California had been a U.S. state for barely 15 years, and nicknames were real nicknames. “Slippery” Jim Fair Alfred “Hog” Davis built a railroad from Alameda to Santa Cruz, and tracks were built over the marshlands of what would become Drawbridge. A small number of cabins were built at Drawbridge to accommodate riders during train stops, but riders noticed huge flocks of ducks and unrivaled fishing conditions, and the midway stop became as popular as the train’s destination.
With no government or law enforcement taking jurisdiction over Drawbridge, hunters could fill small cannons full of nails and kill dozens of ducks with a single shot. As Prohibition took effect, Drawbridge became a popular destination for tourists seeking unregulated booze, prostitution, and gambling. During that era, Drawbridge hosted 80-90 homes and its population grew to 600 people on the weekends.
But as throughout Bay Area history, s**t happens. Specifically, raw sewage and industrial waste from the growing and more powerful establishment towns of Fremont and San Jose built up in the creeks and waterways of Drawbridge. Salt ponds on every side made life more miserable, and evolving water patterns left Drawbridge residents’ homes routinely flooded.
By 1963, only five residents remained in Drawbridge, leading to media descriptions of the area as a ghost town. “They also said there was all kinds of antiques and stuff here,” former Drawbridge resident Roger Battinich told KQED. “Which there were, but people still owned them.” Such talk led to looting and vandalism of what was left of the town, and the population dwindled to just one diehard resident. That resident, Charlie Luce, left the island in 1979.
Is there drone video of what Drawbridge looks like today? Heck yes there is, and it is embedded above.
People are no longer allowed to set foot on Drawbridge land, as it is now a protected wildlife preserve and visitors can be cited for trespassing. (But Drawbridge does have a Yelp page, with reviewers claiming you can “park at the McDonald's” and “jump over the fence”.) Amtrak trains do pass through Drawbridge, though, and this 2011 Blogspot post provides an excellent photo tour of what remains today.