Sometimes overlooked by travelers on U.S. 395, the small community of Bridgeport, Calif. contains a surprising amount of accessible history.
To reach Bridgeport from Carson City, just head south on Highway 395, through the Carson Valley and into California. Bridgeport is located about an hour and a half south of Carson City.
The founding of the area actually dates to about the same time that Nevada gained territorial status. Mono County was created in 1861 and was the first of the mining counties organized on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California.
On a map, the county is long and narrow, averaging 108 miles in length and some 38 miles in width. It includes more than 3,000 square miles, wedged between the crest of the Sierra Nevada and the Nevada state line.
The focal point for the county is the community of Bridgeport, which is the county seat. Established during the late 19th century, it has retained many of the historic buildings and flavor of its early years.
A good way to learn about the community is by downloading the Historic Bridgeport Walking Tour brochure developed by the Mono County Historical Society and using it as your guide as you wander around.
Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Bridgeport is the county courthouse. Built in 1880-81, this three-story white wooden structure, which remains in use, features classic Italianate architecture and is topped with a square cupola and flagpole. It is the second oldest operational courthouse in California.
Behind the courthouse is the Old Mono County Jail, a simple square stone building constructed of native rock that was used from 1883 to 1964. It replaced an earlier, wooden structure (moved there from Bodie) that was burned down by an inmate.
Slightly to the west of the jail is one of the best places to learn about the history of the area, the Mono County Museum (760-932-5281), housed in an old schoolhouse. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Inside this traditional white and green school house, built in 1880 in a different location (it was moved in 1964), you will find an interesting array of artifacts including a fine collection of handmade baskets woven by local Paiutes, antique furniture, firearms, farming equipment and a great collection of historic photographs.
The latter displays include a large number of scenes of the nearby ghost town of Bodie, now a California state park.
Adjacent to the museum, visitors will also find a pleasant community park with picnic tables. Bridgeport also contains a number of businesses, such as gas stations, motels and restaurants, geared for the traveler.
Other historic sites to check out in the town include:
• The Community Church, 80 Emigrant St., built years earlier and moved to this location on skids in 1901.
• The George Byron Day House, also on Emigrant St., built in the early 1860s, and one of the oldest houses in the valley.
• The J.W. Stewart House, on Emigrant St., also built sometime in the 1860s, which was originally owned by one of the area’s largest timber mill owners, James W. Stewart, and his family.
The surrounding area is very beautiful as Bridgeport is located in a large valley surrounded by spectacular mountains. In fact, the mountains southeast of the town are the northern border of Yosemite National Park, certainly one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the world.
The eastern entrance to Yosemite, at Tioga Pass, is located about 30 miles southeast of Bridgeport via 395 and State Route 120. This road takes you through the Tuolumne Meadows and winds around to the magnificent Yosemite Valley in the heart of the park.
Directly north of the town is Bridgeport Lake, a popular reservoir that offers camping and fishing. There is also quality recreation available at the Twin Lakes, located about five miles southeast of Bridgeport.
To view the Walking Tour map, go to https://sites.google.com/esusd.org/historic-walking-tour/home.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.