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The story of a bridge over the San Joaquin River

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The story of a bridge over the San Joaquin River

The railroad bridge over the San Joaquin River at Mossdale Crossing.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 4, 2012 12:24 a.m.

Lathrop’s most enduring landmarks – the Mossdale railroad bridge across the San Joaquin River and the brick silos on the nearby Dell’Osso Farms – once were not part of that community. Instead they were built as part of the river outpost named after the river crossing.

Mossdale came into being when gold prospector John Boak made his way to the Mother Lode in 1848. After a fairly decent take from the diggings he started back to Santa Cruz. It was when he realized the safest way to get across the river was at the point that eventually would be christened Mossdale Crossing.

Since travel was on the upswing between Sutter’s Fort and the south, Boak partnered with Jacob Bonsell. They purchased lumber in Marin County to build a ferry. They then sailed the ferry through San Pablo Bay to the mouth of the San Joaquin River. Once there, they dispatched a small boat equipped with a line ahead of the ferry. The line was tied to a tree which then the men on the ferry pulled to move the ferry upstream. It took almost a week to reach Mossdale. The ferry went into operation in November 1848.

The ferriage rates were $3 for a man and a horse, $1 for a man only, and $8 for a wagon.

Ownership of the ferry changed hands several times until 1856 when it was sold to William S. Moss.

Moss had reached California via the Panama route. He bought the ferry on his first trip and then went back East. His next trip to California was to bring his family via wagon. After selling his investments in the East, he carried the $500,000 in gold coins he received in the floor of his wagon.

Moss eventually started the San Francisco Examiner that he later sold to George Hearst.

The ferry was in use until 1890 when a bridge was put in place, Farmers in the area would turn the bridge by hand whenever a boat sounded its horn to announce its arrival with freight and passengers.

The bridge that was the forerunner to the railroad bridge was completed on Sept. 8, 1869 as the last segment to be completed for the transcontinental railroad. The two competing companies – the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific – actually linked up on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point in Utah. But the California segment hadn’t been 100 percent completed hence Mossdale’s place as a footnote in railroad history.

The brick silos were built in 1918 by Stewart Moore for whom Stewart Tract where River Islands at Lathrop is being developed is named.

The dairy it was attached to was once considered one of the largest in the country.



— Dennis Wyatt
managing editor

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