There are many ghost towns in the American West, but perhaps just one where thousands of commuters zoom past every day. It is Drawbridge, in south San Francisco Bay, and it sits directly on the Amtrak line between Fremont and San Jose. I went to high school in Fremont, and I remember hearing rumors of a ghost town down on the railroad tracks. In fact, at the time it wasn’t yet a ghost town: the last resident didn’t leave until 1979. I wish I had gone out there while I still had the chance: today Drawbridge is strictly off-limits.
Drawbridge was named for the two railroad drawbridges that used to span Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough. The hamlet’s heyday was in the early 1900s, when there were two hotels and the trains stopped five times a day. By the 1960s only a few residents were left and the trains no longer stopped for passengers. Vandalism grew common after the San Jose Mercury incorrectly stated that Drawbridge was entirely abandoned. The last two residents were Nellie Dollin and Charles Luce. Nellie left in 1974 after tiring of scaring off vandals with her shotgun. Luce was bought out by the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1979. Both their cabins burned down, probably by vandals.
Perhaps two dozen wooden buildings remain, in various states of decay. The only way to see Drawbridge today is from an Amtrak or Capitol Corridor train. For the best views, sit in the upper level of the carriage. There are buildings on either side, but they will zip past very quickly so have your camera ready.
Update: A Tale of Two Ghost Towns
- Drawbridge, California — A Hand-Me-Down History, by O. L. Dewey, with many vintage photographs
- Drawbridge, with some modern photographs