Knights Ferry, California
|Nearest city||Oakdale, California|
|Area||107 acres (43 ha)|
|Architectural style||Mid 19th Century Revival, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival|
|NRHP reference No.||75000490|
|Added to NRHP||April 23, 1975|
Knights Ferry is an unincorporated historic community in Stanislaus County, California, United States. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it is about 40 miles (64 km) east of Modesto on the Stanislaus River. The Willms Ranch, a California Landmark near the town, was one of many filming locations for the television series Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie.  It is home to the Knights Ferry Bridge, the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi at 330 feet (100 m) in length. Today, it is home to a K-8 Elementary School, and a museum about the history of the town and also about local wildlife. The town's ruins include a mill and a jail.
When gold was discovered in California in 1849, Dr. William Knight rediscovered a place which he and John C. Fremont had previously found to be a favorable river crossing, and established a ferry boat there. Soon, the ferry boat prospered and Knight and Captain Vantine built a hotel and trading post near the crossing. On November 9, 1849, Knight was killed in a gunfight and was buried in an unmarked grave. Knight's family believed he was stabbed to death in his bed and was buried near the gate in the yard of John Dent's house, which was Dr. Knight's place at the time. The Dents immediately took possession of Bill Knight's property at Knight's Ferry following the murder.
After Knight's death, Vantine operated the ferry alone until he formed another collaboration with John and Lewis Dent, brothers to President Ulysses S. Grant’s wife, Julia Grant. In 1852, Vantine sold his properties in the area to the Dents and moved elsewhere. A new townsite under the name of "Dentville" was laid out by John Dent. The inhabitants continued to call the town "Knights Ferry" and "Knights Crossing". In 1852, a toll bridge replaced the ferry. It was destroyed by the Great Flood of 1862. The new covered bridge was built at a higher level than the previous one, and it still stands today. The bridge was used for car traffic until it was closed to prevent damage in 1985. In addition to being the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi River, the bridge is one of the nation's finest examples of a Howe truss covered bridge. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.
The following is a list of historic contributions that make up the Knights Ferry Historic District.
- Abraham Schell House Built in 1856, it was built of sandstone for Abraham Schell, owner of the Rancho del Río Estanislao.
- Lewis Dent House Built in 1851, it was owned by Lewis Dent, the brother-in-law of President Ulysses S. Grant, who visited Knights Ferry in 1852, when he was an army captain in Benicia and Eureka. It is the oldest home in the community.
- Knights Ferry Community Church Built in 1890 to replace the previous structure constructed in 1860, the church conserved the original pews, altar and upper windows. The church still gives services by Pastor Bob Sadler.
- General Store California's oldest operating general store was built in 1852 by Moulton and Drew as the second structure in the town. It was bought by George Valpey, who became a Wells Fargo agent in 1867.
- Millers Hall Constructed in 1863 the building operated as a restaurant, pool and poker parlor on the ground floor, and a dance hall upstairs. It was restored in 1984 by the Knights Ferry History and Museum Associates and now is home to the post office, community library, Ice Cream Parlor and local made goods shop.
Located next to Knights Ferry is the Knights Ferry Recreation Area, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This recreation area includes a "put in" location for Class I-II rafting trips on the Stanislaus River. Rafting most often occurs April through October. Water in the lower Stanislaus is discharged from the base of New Melones Dam, resulting in clear and cold water even in the warmest months of summer. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains recreational facilities along the Stanislaus River. Park Rangers caution rafters to exercise caution and use life vests, as the rapids below Knights Ferry can be challenging when the river is high.
Willms Ranch is a California Historical Landmark in Knights Ferry.
The California Historical Landmark number 415 reads:
- NO. 415 THE WILLMS RANCH - Arriving in California October 12, 1849, John R. Willms and John H. Kappelmann engaged in the hotel and butcher businesses in Buena Vista, in what is now Stanislaus County. They bought up mining claims and settler's claims until, by 1852, they had a tract of 3,600 acres. The 'KW' brand was the first in Tuolumne County in 1852. After the death of Kappelmann, Willms carried on alone, and the ranch has been owned by the Willms family ever since. 
In the California State Legislature, Knights Ferry is in the 8th Senate District, represented by Republican Andreas Borgeas, and in the 12th Assembly District, represented by Republican Heath Flora.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
- "Knights Ferry". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- "Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa - Willms Ranch"
- "Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa - Williams Ranch" Common confusion with adjoining Willims ranch which is west of the county line. Williams ranch was established in 1852 and was almost entirely within Calaveras County. Willims ranch is in Stanislaus County and shares a common boundary with then the Williams ranch.
- "Padding and Poking around gold rush Knights Ferry". Sunset. May 1, 1987. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
- "NHL nomination for Knight's Ferry Bridge". National Park Service. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
- Gooch, Kathleen. Site Seeing in Stanislaus: A Tour of Historic Sites in the County. Modesto: Press and Publications Board McHenry Museum & Historical Society, 2003. Print.
- aliforniahistoricallandmarks.com Landmarks chl-415, Willms Ranch
- "Statewide Database". Regents of the University of California. Archived from the original on February 1, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
- "California's 10th Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved September 28, 2014.
- Climate Summary for Knights Ferry, California