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Today the area that is Station Island is a lot different than it was in 1880 when the South Pacific Coast Railroad placed a shack for a bridge tender in the middle of the island. Back then both waterways on either side of the island were navigable by vessels as big as steamboats, the water was clean enough to swim in, the island had not yet begun to sink into the bay, and the sky was filled with waterfowl. It wasn’t long until word got out about the sportsman’s paradise in the marshlands of San Francisco Bay and the town of Drawbridge was born.
One of Drawbridges residents was John Byrnes, who was an employee of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, and had been coming to Drawbridge since he was a young boy. He had built a modest shack at the north end of town and when he married Ann Deasey in 1903 they honeymooned at his cabin that he called “The Recreation.” Ann was considered a “mighty” hunter.
From the late 1800’s until the 1930’s the town of Drawbridge grew from that first tender’s shack to as many as 90 buildings, most of which were “hunting clubs.” As many as 1,000 people would come to the island on weekends with 10 trains a day stopping at the railroad depot that had been built. Electricity was brought in on above ground wires and plumbing needs were taken care of by the tide. The town even had two hotels.
By the 1920’s life on Drawbridge began to change. As the City of San Jose grew the amount of sewage that it pumped into the wetlands around Station Island increased. Also, the pumping of groundwater caused the island to start to sink into San Francisco Bay. In addition the construction of dikes for salt ponds in the 1920’s greatly reduced the number of waterfowl in the area and filled the sloughs with silt. By the 1940’s the waterways were no longer navigable.
The final blow came in the 1950’s when salt ponds were constructed on Station Island disrupting the natural plumbing system by preventing the daily tides from cleansing the sloughs and inlets. In 1979 the last resident, Charlie Luce, moved out of Drawbridge when he was bought out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Drawbridge and Station Island became a part of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
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