The Milliken Creek Bridge is again intact, having recovered from a car wreck and an earthquake.
Stephen Simich put the finishing touch on the comeback for the historic bridge while also honoring a pioneer-era founder of his own Napa Marble & Granite Works.
Simich restored the stone dedication plaque for the 1908 stone arch bridge at Trancas Street and Silverado Trail near the city of Napa. The plaque had been dashed into pieces by the August 2014 South Napa earthquake.
“I’ve driven across that bridge thousands of times,” Simich said. “I guess I had a stake to keep it as historic as possible.”
Then there is the name of the bridge builder commemorated on the plaque – H.W. Wing. Wing and fellow stone mason James Newman in 1878 founded Napa Marble & Granite Works. The Simich family has operated the business located at Third Street and Coombsville Road since 1946.
“Steve was more than glad to take on this project for repairing this plaque knowing his history, our history in the valley,” county Assistant Superintendent of Public Works Dave Cardwell said.
The Milliken Creek Bridge has taken hard knocks in recent years. In May 2014, a chain-reaction accident caused by a suspected drunk driver shattered much of the bridge railing.
Then the earthquake hit in August 2014, dislodging and breaking the stone plaque. Napa County reopened the bridge in September 2014 after putting temporary bracing and concrete railing in place.
Cardwell thought Simich would be the right person to repair the plaque. Simich agreed to do the work for free and in late 2014 took possession of a box containing six to eight pieces that needed to be made whole.
“I worked on it in my spare time, when I had an hour or two free here and there,” Simich said.
He glued the pieces together. He broke up similar pieces of marble, mixed the dust with epoxy and used the concoction to fill holes. He recarved 10 or so letters.
Simich wasn’t tasked with making the plaque look as-good-as-1908 new. After all, this is a historic bridge. Rather, he aimed at the more-than-100-years look, a plaque that shows age but is in one piece.
Everything recently came together for Milliken Creek Bridge. The county closed the bridge for a week in May and finished work left over from the auto accident. Simich finished the plaque for reattachment to the stone railing.
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“It was a proud moment for me, I’ve got to admit it,” Simich said.
Milliken Creek Bridge is one of Napa County’s prized stone arch bridges from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The county has about 27 public masonry arch bridges remaining that are 20 feet long or longer, according to Caltrans. Milliken Creek Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Way before wine, we were famous for bridges and we still are ... they are a connection to our past,” Cardwell told the county Board of Supervisors in June.
The Napa Daily Register reported on Oct. 16, 1907 that the county had chosen H.W. Wing to build the new stone bridge at Milliken Creek. Wing had submitted the low bid of $6,680.
Wing was a prominent Napa County stone mason. He and partner Newman had both immigrated to the United States from England. The two cut stone for the window sills and doors at the original Napa State Asylum, a sprawling Gothic castle of a building demolished in about 1960.
And Wing built bridges, lots of bridges for what was known as “The County of the Stone Bridges.” He worked with county Surveyor Oliver H. Buckman on the Milliken Creek Bridge, which is 169 feet long and 26 feet wide with five arches.
By then, Wing was no longer part of the Napa Marble & Granite Works predecessor. Newman had taken over the business in 1900, according to James Miller Guinn’s 1904 “History of the State of California.”
Simich called the Milliken Creek Bridge “an amazing piece of work.” He marveled at how it has stood the test of time.
But the bridge isn’t wide enough for modern traffic loads. In 1973, the county built a second bridge at Milliken Creek. The historic bridge is the smaller one and is one-way, carrying traffic from Trancas Street turning right onto Silverado Trail.
The stone plaque mentioning Wing, Buckman and the Board of Supervisors of 1908 is unlikely to be seen by many people. It is embedded into the northern stone side of a narrow bridge with no sidewalk, smack in the center.
“If you’re backed up on the bridge and you’re waiting to get onto Silverado Trail, you can take a quick look at it,” Simich said.
You’ll see a plaque that owes its birth to Wing and his team of craftspeople—and its continued existence to Simich.