The Bay Area's Only Ghost Town

Located in the Don Edwards Wetlands

Drawbridge is located north of Alviso and unaccessible by trails. It is not a place where you can visit; it is illegal to trespass on the land and is punishable by a citation and possibly a night in jail. It is visible from Coyote Creek/Warm Springs trail, currently closed for construction as of this writing, but it is part of a trail upgrade program to offer future viewing from a safe distance.

Drawbridge - weathered abandoned building

How Drawbridge Began

A brief historical overview

The South Pacific Coast Railroad, founded in 1876, ran from Alameda through the Santa Cruz Mountains to the city of Santa Cruz. From Alameda, the line provided ferry service to San Francisco

Drawbridge flourished from 1876 to the 1930s. It began to decline in the 1940s and by 1979 it became the ghost town it is today.

Just north of Alviso, the railroad crossed Station Island, commonly called Drawbridge. Sportsmen rode the train to Drawbridge for easy access to the excellent hunting and fishing in the area. Soon the railroad made regular runs to accommodate the increasing hunting crowds. A few stayed to build homes and a couple of hotels. At its peak, Drawbridge had 80 to 90 buildings, including two hotels and gun clubs.

The railroads were built (single guage) and two swingbridges were built, and needed to be manually operated. A railroad employee needed to be stationed to manually open this swing bridge. Some have said the town should have been named "Swing Bridge" instead of Drawbridge.

  • First Settler


    The bridges over Mud Slough and Coyote Creek were completed. Only one building stood on the island which was the bridge tender's house. He would often charge duck hunters $.50 to spend the night there.

  • More Trains, More Settlers


    Many trains were now stopping at Drawbridge. The outstanding hunting and fishing that were available from the area spurred the development of Drawbridge as a sportsmen's and vacationers community. By 1890, Many buildings were now being built at Drawbridge. Most of these were duck hunter shacks but a few hotels were also being built.

  • In its Prime


    A regular Saturday night train was now available with return connections the following day. This implied that there were some sort of overnight accommodations available to travelers. For the first time the island was made an official station on the South Pacific Coast timetable. The island was now officially called Drawbridge and a white sand paint sign was hoisted at the bridge tender's shanty. Sprung's Hotel was opened in 1900. Near the height of Drawbridge's popularity, it would have as many as 600 visitors on the weekends.

  • The Beginning of the End


    This was the beginning of the end when salt companies began to build levees and drain the marshes. This, along with increasing water pollution, hurt the hunting and fishing that attracted the people to Drawbridge. By 1936, the fresh water supply began decreasing while water pollution increased. Weekend visitors and residents begin to disappear

  • The Demise


    For the next 10 years, the few remaining residents were subjected to severe vandalism, looting and burning, of the abandoned cabins. By 1963, fewer than 5 residents remained. A white flag now had to be waved to get the train to stop. In 1972, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge acquired 23,000 acres of the South Bay, including Drawbridge.

  • The End


    Charlie Luce, the last resident, leaves Drawbridge. In, 1980, the town of Drawbridge was now a ghost town. some salt ponds were being turned back into marshland.

Today, all that remains of this once thriving community and resort area are buildings sinking into the marsh. The area is inaccessible and deemed a wildlife preserve; trespassers face fines if they are caught on the land. There is a trail project underway to allow hikers and bikers to get close to the remains. If you take the Ace rail, it goes right through Drawbridge - but be alert - it flies by in about 10 seconds or less.

Aerial view of Drawbridge taken in 2011 by Cris Benton

Drawbridge, California