The unincorporated area now known as Bonsall was originally named Mount Fairview in 1871. In 1881 it was renamed by the town’s people to Osgood, after railroad engineer Joseph Osgood in an attempt to get the California Southern Railroad Company to bring the railway through the river valley from Oceanside to Fallbrook Station. Osgood resigned his post in 1892, replaced the next year by Fred Perris. The town received its final name, Bonsall, after a renaming contest in 1891, named after the minister James A. Bonsall. James Bonsall was a Methodist minister who purchased land, built a home and established a successful nursery in the area.
Many bridges were constructed in the late 1800s, early 1900s to cross the San Luis Rey River just southwest of the community center of Bonsall. Horse-drawn carts and early automobiles frequently crossed the narrow span.
During the flood year of 1884, the rainfall at Fallbrook was over 40 inches. The newly completed California Southern roadbed through the canyon was mostly a shambles. There was practically no track left in Temecula Canyon and scores of other sections, including bridges, were washed out.
During the flood in 1891, all railroad tracks in the canyons were washed out. The hardest hit was Temecula Canyon. The portion of the railroad through Temecula Canyon to Fallbrook Station was officially abandoned on January 28, 1892.
In 1917 the Signal Film Company used the San Luis Rey River Bridge for the scene of a “thrilling wreck.” Directed by J. P. McGowan, “The Lost Express,” took advantage of what was left of the cement bridge over the San Luis Rey River which had washed away in the Flood of 1916. The film company ran a 1913 Studebaker off the north approach.
The Oceanside Blade described the scene in which the two stars put themselves in danger: “When the car started it was occupied by Miss Helen Holmes and Eddie Hearn, and driven by a dummy chauffeur. The auto jumped in the air then made two complete somersaults and landed on the wheels right side up, without puncturing a single tire.” The two stars had jumped before the car landed. After filming, the film company donated the wrecked car to local resident Brownie Dodge of the Oceanside Garage.
The bridge Bonsall local residents now refer to as “the Bonsall Bridge” was constructed in 1925 and dedicated on February 12, 1926. It’s about 5 miles southwest of the community of Bonsall. The bridge is an arch design with the longest span being 106 feet. The total length of the bridge is 672 feet. Its ultimate problem was the 21-foot-wide road—hazardous to increasing automobile traffic.
The Bonsall Bridge was closed in March of 1990 upon completion of a new Bonsall Bridge across the San Luis Rey River and the expansion of CA Highway 76 leading to Interstate 15. The new Bonsall Bridge is 40 feet wide and 1,220 feet long. Access to the abandoned bridge is off E. Vista Way and Highway 76. There is no parking and the decaying bridge today is used by hikers and bicyclers.
The old bridge served as the western entrance to Fallbrook for over 65 years and has become a National Historic Place.