Happy 100th Birthday, Yolo Causeway!

One hundred years ago this week, the Yolo Causeway was dedicated in a four day celebration which lasted from May 11-14, 1916.

When it was completed in 1916, the Yolo Causeway became a vital link in the California state highway system because it was the first all year, all weather automobile bridge across the Yolo Basin between Sacramento and Davis. At 3.1 miles long, 20 feet high and 21 feet wide, it was said to be the longest concrete highway in the world at that time.

Prior to completion of the Yolo Causeway, travel between Davis and Sacramento took place on the “Tule Jake Road.” Travel on the “Tule Jake Road,” which replaced the earlier Yolo Plankroad Turnpike, usually only occurred after the rainy season had finished.

On July 21, 1914 the contract for the causeway was awarded to Graft Construction Company of Seattle, Washington and work began on September 11, 1914. 13,851 concrete piles, measuring fourteen inches square, thirty five feet long, and reinforced with steel, were used in the causeway construction which cost $396,000.

The official May 1916 dedication was preceded by semi-official events on March 18-19, 1916. Sacramento had planned to open the causeway with a parade of cars on Sunday, May 19. However, Yolo County Supervisor W.O. Russell wanted Yolo County to claim that honor. According to the Weekly Agricola newspaper:

“By a two hour campaign of telephoning Saturday afternoon permission was secured to open this unit of the State highway that night. The opportunity was too great to be neglected. By seven o’clock every automobile in town and at the Farm [University Farm, now UC Davis] was filled with people and waiting at the corner of First and Olive for the impromptu parade to start. Then started a long procession of over thirty machines over this wonderful causeway road. Official permits opened all gates. Sacramento was soon reached and the parade wound its way through the business section with the band at its head, playing form a large truck, and accompanied by the deafening noises from bells, horns and lusty throats.”

Local resident and Chairman of the Yolo Causeway Committee, George W. Pierce, described the March 18 events in his diary:

“Sue phoned that Davis was going to send a large auto delegation across the new Yolo-Basin causeway, the first to make the trip – took the boys, Gardner and Herbert, Miss Peters, cook, Sue, Mrs Fizzell, Senior and Junior.  Two Farm boys rode on running board –  It rained hard, beginning before we left Davis.  Breuner met us with truck for our band. We were entertained at Hotel Sacramento.  W. O Russell and myself spoke from balcony.”

Pierce’s diary also contains entries related to his planning efforts for the May celebration.

The program for the four day celebration began on Thursday, May 11 with concerts and athletic programs in Sacramento. It concluded at 10pm with a stunt by Frank Steinbacher, known as “The Human Fly,” who made a daredevil slide on a cable stretched between the dome of the California Capitol and the top of the Pacific Gas and Electric Building.

Children’s Day activities on Friday included a parade of 12,000 schoolchildren, a concert by 2500 school children, folk dances, Shakespearian scenes, and fireworks.

Saturday’s events started at 9am when the Yolo County part of the parade formed at the University Farm and crossed the causeway, led by Governor Johnson and state highway commissioners and engineers. The parade traveled through Sacramento to the Capitol where an “allegorical wedding” of the East and West sides of the Sacramento Valley was held. Miss West Side (Bernice Worley of Yolo County) was “married” to Mr. East Side (John Murray of Sacramento County) by Associate Justice E.C. Hart. Other day’s events included boxing at the Riverside baths and an aquatic program that featured a motorboat competition on the Sacramento River

The festivities ended on Sunday with athletic programs and bicycle races at the State Fairgrounds.

At the conclusion of the celebration, a Sacramento Union headline proclaimed, “100,000 Enchanted by Causeway Pageant.”

The image below, a postcard of the Yolo Causeway, is from circa 1920. Historic images of the Yolo Causeway from the collections of the California State Library and the Center for Sacramento History are available on the Sacramento History Online website.

Happy 100th Birthday, Yolo Causeway!

The Great Yolo Basin Trestle, bridges three miles of marsh lands and unites the east and west sides of Sacramento Valley. The Yolo Basin, a vast marshy district extends from a point 15 miles north of Marysville, south for a distance of over 120 miles. The basin is flooded annually for a period of from six to eight months, and prior to the construction of the Trestle in 1916, the Capitol City was practically isolated from the market center of California by vehicle, as only during the summer months were the lands dried out sufficiently to permit travel, by what was known as the "Tule Jake" road. Sacramento, Calif. : Frank McCougal, [ca. 1920]

Postcard caption:

The Great Yolo Basin Trestle, bridges three miles of marsh lands and unites the east and west sides of Sacramento Valley. The Yolo Basin, a vast marshy district extends from a point 15 miles north of Marysville, south for a distance of over 120 miles. The basin is flooded annually for a period of from six to eight months, and prior to the construction of the Trestle in 1916, the Capitol City was practically isolated from the market center of California by vehicle, as only during the summer months were the lands dried out sufficiently to permit travel, by what was known as the “Tule Jake” road.

Postcard published by Frank McCougal, Sacramento, Calif., circa 1920.