The Kneebone Family History
As Related to Bridgeport
By: Marlene Lindstadt
The Kneebone Family which figures so prominently in the history of Bridgeport, had its beginning in two widely separated events
the first was the birth of Andrew Reed Kneebone to Joseph and Mary Kneebone in Cornwall, England in 1860; the second event was the birth of a baby daughter, Victoria Marie to early settlers, Mary and Charles Cole, in 1862 at Bridgeport.
Andrew Reed Kneebone immigrated to California along with his parents and brother and sister, in 1871, settling on a farm of almost 400 acres in the Spenceville area. Andrew grew from childhood into manhood on this farm and in his early teens, he had mastered the art of teamstering, which he learned from his father. Andrew became one of the most skillful teamsters in the Gold Country, handling a sixteen to twenty mule and horse team with such amazing ability that wagers were made about him whenever he made an appearance in Grass Valley and Nevada City.
Victoria grew up on the family farm at Bridgeport and continued to live at home with her parents until her marriage to Andrew in 1886, when she was 24 years old (in those days, an un-married woman of 24 was considered to be an ”old maid” or spinster). However, in spite of her late-blooming, Andrew and Victoria made up for lost time by having five sons within a period of approximately nine years! These sons, Charles, Joseph, Alfred, William and Jonathon James, were all born in Spenceville and Bridgeport areas between the years of 1887 and 1897. It is presumed that the Bridgeport Ranch was inherited by Victoria from her parents, although we have no legal documentation for this. We do know that their family lived in the original big farmhouse, where Victoria had lived as a child and which also had served as a Stage stop or Rest Stop for weary travelers for many years, and which Mary Ann and Charles Cole operated along with collect-tolls from those crossing the bridge, Charles Cole also ran the Bridgeport Ranch of more than a thousand acres, growing crops and raising cattle and other livestock.
After the five sons grew up, only one of them chose to make his home at Bridgeport, and that son was Alfred Alexander, who took over the management of the Bridgeport ranch following his marriage to a Miss Lucy Moynier, of French corral. They lived in the original “Stage Stop House” until shortly before the birth of their first daughter, Lucille Victoria, in 1919, at which time the old home place” burned to the ground. A new house was built on the exact site of the old home, so that they could utilize the original basement-cellar. A second daughter was born to Lucy and Alfred in 1925, Alfreda Marie.
These girls also grew up in the farm and Lucille re-counted in her memoirs how very hard they had all worked from early childhood.
Alfred and Lucy made many changes at Bridgeport, and in addition to the little store which they had run for several years, they added a small Shell gas station. Alfred purchased his merchandise for the store in Marysville on frequent buying trips, and they sold this merchandise (along with home-made ice cream and “soda pop”) to travelers and gold prospectors The Kneebone family also purchased gold from the Indians who lived nearby at Rice’s Crossing, and from other prospectors and miners. The going rate for gold at that time (late 20s) was $18.50 per ounce.
In approximately 1926, Alfred and Lucy further expanded Bridgeport holdings by building five “cottagers” and two small “changing houses” or cabins, and a “Dance Hall” pavilion. The exact sites of the cabins are unknown but the cottages were in close proximity to the dance hall and the big “Swimmin hole” up-river from the bridge.
With the completion of the fore-going buildings, the Kneebone’s officially announced to the public that they were opening a “Swimming Resort” at Bridgeport complete with Picnic facilities, camping sites, entertainment, etc. In June of 1927 the “Grand Opening” was held (and a second Grand Opening in 1928), and local newspapers (in Nevada City and Grass Valley) reported that there would be a “two piece orchestra” present to “provide entertainment and dancing during the afternoon and evening hours”, and they also promised a “delicious menu of Camp Stew, created by expert chefs”. The new resort captured the imagination of many of the citizens from the surrounding small towns, and it became a very popular “In” place to take the whole family to “cool off and enjoy the good old Summer time”.
During the “hard times” of the Great Depression, the cottages were rented out to families who were down on their luck, and even
the tiny changing houses were rented to “Snipers” who were living along the river, many of whom were living in card-board shanties, or simply camping out without benefit of any type of shelter. Then in the Thirties, the resumption of extensive hydraulic mining u-river near the little mining town of Washington so muddied and fouled the river with debris that Alfred and Lucy had to close the swimming resort.
In 1939 and 1940, the entire resort and most of the Bridgeport area was threatened with inundation as a result of the building of the new Upper Narrows Dam in the Smartville section. It was reported by local newspapers that “this new dam would cause the waters to back up to the extent that the entire Bridgeport settlement and the Bridge, along with most of the Kneebone acreage would be covered by water to a depth of 100 feet.”
In the beginning, Alfred actively opposed the building of this new dam. However after giving the entire situation some second thought, the newspapers reported that Alfred Kneebone had decided to just sit back and wait for the waters to cover all of the Kneebone properties, and then “make the Government pay him for all of it”, either way, according to Alfred he would be a “wealthy man”.
Fortunately for history and the enjoyment of thousands of people who visit Bridgeport each year, the flooding never happened, and unfortunately for Alfred, he did not become rich at the government’s expense.
Alfred and Lucy continued to live on at Bridgeport, farming and raising sheep and cattle and other livestock. It was probably during this period of time that the second “home place” was torn down, and a third farmhouse was built on the Kneebone property. Our records are incomplete regarding when this occurred, however we do know that it was some time after the Kneebone girls, Lucille and Alfreda (Freda) grew up and left home. “This farmhouse was built back further than the first two houses” according to Lucille Kneebone Brandt, whose tapes and reminiscences have contributed to greatly to our knowledge of the Kneebone and Bridgeport histories.
Following the death of Victoria Kneebone n 1930, her husband Andrew moved from Smartville back to Bridgeport where he lived for a period of time with his son, Alfred and Lucy. Andrew died in 1934, just four years after Victoria.
Victoria was interred n the family cemetery at Bridgeport, near her mother and father, Mary and Charles Cole, and close by her youngest son, William, who died in 1919. As far as can be determined from research, Victoria Cole Kneebone is the only member of the family to have been born and reared at Bridgeport and also to have been buried there.
Victoria is remembered as a “very kind and caring woman”, one who “helped others” throughout her life. She was also recalled as being “very strait-laced and proper”. Her granddaughter and her niece remember that she “could not abide gossip”, and that ‘she had sent visitors from out of her home when the persisted in gossiping.’ Lucille also remembered, with great affection, her grandmother, Victoria, including all of the children in the family tradition of helping her to make the Christmas Plum Pudding (even the babies added their hand prints to it, apparently).
Alfred Kneebone died in 1945 and following his death, his wife Lucy, leased out the Kneebone ranch and she moved to Grass Valley where she lived until her death on 7/15/1963, and so for the first time in nearly sixty years, there were no longer any Kneebones living at Bridgeport.
Two of Victoria’s other sons, Joseph Russell and Jonathon James “Budd”, also became well-known citizens in the Nevada and Yuba counties areas, but because they “cared more about automobiles and motorcycles than horses, mules and farming” they spent little time at Bridgeport after they grew up, with Joseph becoming the proprietor of the Oakland and Chevrolet car dealership and garage in Grass Valley and one of the first “towing services” in the area.
Victoria’s Father-in-law, Joseph Kneebone, Sr., and her brother-in-law, “young Joseph” were the victims of “foul play” in the form of their murders near the “home place” on the old Spenceville Road, neither murder was ever solved, and so that’s another story for another time.