This article was contributed by Sharlene Van Rooy with the San Benito County Historical Society.
The Flood of 1911 destroyed most of the bridges in San Benito County—the storm damage totaled more than $2,700,000 in today’s dollars, and as reported in the Evening Free Lance, “not a bridge of consequence was left standing after the storm.” County Surveyor and Engineer Alfred Marion McCray was called upon to design many of the replacement bridges.
The McCrays arrived in San Benito County in 1874 when Alfred was just a year old. His father, Frank P. McCray, served as the first county surveyor from 1874 to 1880 and produced many of our historic maps. Frank and his brothers dominated survey work in San Benito County for almost 75 years. Victor T. McCray was surveyor from 1886 to 1890 and another brother, Harry W. McCray, served briefly from 1884 to 1886.
Alfred graduated from the Stanford University School of Engineering in the early 1890s and then spent a year in the Klondike. He returned to California and found work with San Benito County, no doubt assisted by one of his uncles. Alfred was elected as county surveyor in 1906, reelected in 1910, and continued to work for the county in various positions until 1946 when he resigned from his position dissatisfied with the pay—only $15 per week.
He was well-known for contour plowing and irrigation projects for orchards, and he designed no less than a dozen bridges after the Flood of 1911 including the steel truss bridges at Union Road and Fourth Street (see photo) over the San Benito River.
The Historical Society of San Benito County has compiled a list of more than 100 bridge locations in this county. Many do not exist anymore due to changes in the course of creeks or straightening of roads.
If you would like to learn more about these bridges, a presentation called Bridges of San Benito County will be given on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at the Wapple House Museum, 498 Fifth Street in Hollister. Follow the link for more information.