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Old time charm
Bursts through in Knights Ferry

It has the oldest operating general store in California. There’s a Community Club House that serves as a gathering place. It has played host to multiple Civil War re-enactments over the years and is home to the iconic Pumpkin Roll the Sunday after Halloween. The ice cream parlor is always a popular spot. There’s even an art gallery. And it sits along the picturesque Stanislaus River.

If those aren’t reasons enough to explore downtown Knights Ferry, don’t forget about the historic covered bridge, the longest west of the Mississippi, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

The small community, established in 1848, is off Highway 108/120 just a few miles east of Oakdale. And while it’s worth the short drive anytime, summer is definitely when the population swells, especially on the weekends.

More than one river rafting company does good business on the Stanislaus, with the rafts going in at the Stanislaus River Park area adjacent to the Army Corps of Engineers visitors center. The center features displays and information about the region and visitors can also tour the remains of an old mill or hike in the hills above the river.

The covered bridge is currently closed to pedestrian traffic while undergoing repairs though it still makes a perfect backdrop for photos. And strolling from one end of the main street through town to the other doesn’t take too long, but there’s plenty to pique your interest along the way.

At one end stands The River’s Edge restaurant, which not only has ample space for indoor dining but an expansive outdoor covered patio and a veranda outfitted with comfortable chairs. The lawn slopes down to – appropriately – the river’s edge, where diners can take in the calming waters of the Stanislaus flowing by.

Gwen Hoyt of Walnut Creek was relaxing there recently, taking advantage of the comfortable chair and the serene setting before eating lunch at the restaurant.

“We were at a wedding yesterday in Coulterville and we had lots of family come in,” she said, adding that they wanted to make a stop in Knights Ferry on the return trip. “My son-in-law first brought us here a couple of years ago … it’s just beautiful, especially right now with all the green. We all love the area.”

The red building close by to the restaurant is the Knights Ferry Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1 – no longer operating as a firehouse but with some unique equipment inside.

The Knights Ferry Fire House No. 2, a little further down the street, today is classified as Station 29 in the Oakdale Fire Protection District. The Washington Hotel is a destination for wedding parties or those looking to vacation along the river. The Community Club House, established in 1923, is the host site for a number of community gatherings and is also available to rent for private events. There is a small post office, tucked in behind the Knights Ferry Creamery ice cream parlor, with the Knights Ferry Museum upstairs in the same building and a small art gallery around the back.

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, Daniel Knell and his daughter Maverick, 5, were enjoying some ice cream cones, while dogs Mae and Macie sunned themselves on the porch outside the ice cream parlor. They were in Knights Ferry for the day with friend Mike Colwell, from Manteca, who proposed to his girlfriend by the covered bridge just before they all headed to the Creamery for a celebratory treat. Girlfriend Danielle Shehadeh – from Southern California – said “yes.”

“We’ve rafted here before,” Colwell said of choosing to propose near the river.

The Creamery itself is a family-run business, with Heather Voortman, her daughter Dakota – a sophomore in college – and her mom Susan Glidewell overseeing the operation and keeping the doors open almost year-round.

“We close for a month for Christmas break only because we are a small family business,” Heather Voortman said. “We do extend our hours as summer approaches.”

A couple who recently moved to Modesto from Chicago, Marcella and Philip Oglesby, stopped in for some refreshment after spending a little time exploring the area.

“We love it,” Marcella said. “We went on a little hike and it’s so sweet, seeing nature and lot of families.”

And family is what is also important to Voortman, as she loves to see people enjoy their time in the community, whether they are there for river rafting, touring the museum or just getting away for a day.

“Honestly, it is the interaction with people and being a part of people’s memories,” she said of what she likes the most about operating The Creamery. “I’m honored to be a part of that.”

At the General Store – which has been in operation since 1852 – you can find everything from fishing tackle to corn bread mix, Knights Ferry T-shirts to potato chips. On the wall behind the counter is an antique phone, with a separate earpiece and a rotary dial, which is still operational.

And if you step through the back, you enter Rick’s Saloon, which is well known for its libations, conversation and good food.

For residents Jared and Ali Krick– who live in what used to be the Knights Ferry Hotel, established in 1854 – moving there in June of 2023 was a sort of a homecoming.

The home he now lives in as an adult was the first place Jared lived after he was born. His parents had an antique store in one of the rooms of the house and his dad also built a shop on the property.

“It was really neat for us to come back here and be part of this,” he said.

Jared also said he considers the front porch as one of his “favorite rooms in the house” because he can sit on the porch and talk to everybody that comes by.

“I love the people,” Ali agreed. “It has been so fun to just be part of a small community like this; it’s definitely something special.”

Jared pointed to the variety of amenities in Knights Ferry, from the restaurant to the hiking trails and the river, the ice cream parlor to the saloon, all being a big draw and providing a little something for everyone coming in to spend a few hours. It is, in fact, almost like taking a step back in time.

“It’s a different pace of life. We’ve lived in big cities and smaller towns but this town, there’s something very unique to it, there’s kind of a charm, almost a spirit to it,” Jared explained. “It’s really quiet during the week and on the weekends, it gets busier but there’s a cool spirit when people come through here.”