July 20, 2011 -
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to over 7 million people and 12 major cities. It is one of the largest urban hubs in the United States. However, its southern end is anchored by a landscape more similar to the Colorado plains, with vast open vistas, rolling hills, and empty dirt roads lined with decaying carcasses. In the middle of this incongruous landscape lies a collection of empty buildings sinking into the mud of an abandoned island. This is Drawbridge, the Silicon Valley ghost town.
Officially given its name in 1887, Drawbridge started as a train stop on Station Island, between bridges over Mud Creek and Coyote Creek. Due to an abundance of fish and birds, it soon became a popular destination for hunters. At its peak, Drawbridge held over 90 structures - hotels, restaurants, cabins, and dozens of rod & gun clubs linked together by narrow boardwalks. Its skies were so full of birds that hunting was sometimes done with a cannon. "Legend has it that five hundred to one thousand ducks would fall out of the sky after one mighty blast," according to an excellent history compiled by the Soft Underbelly of San Jose.
Today, the skies above Station Island are nearly empty and the water nearby is dark red, fouled by algae spawning in abandoned salt harvesting ponds. After its peak in the 1920's and 30's, Drawbridge became a victim of the industrialization and development of the Bay Area. The wetlands around Station Island were parcelled off to salt harvesters while nearby communities like San Jose pumped water out of the area, causing Drawbridge to sink into the mud, and then pumped raw sewage back in, poisoning its waterways, according to Ghost Towns in the USA and Canada. The entire area is "now in the middle of a $400 million effort to restore South Bay wetlands," according to the SF Chronicle, and "the story of Drawbridge is, in many ways, the story of the West."
Station Island is now a part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, "the first urban National Wildlife Refuge established in the United States," according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, including "30,000 acres of open bay, salt pond, salt marsh, mudflat, upland and vernal pool habitats." Drawbridge has been left to collapse, a silent witness of the decline and subsequent restoration of the Bay Area.