Knights Ferry as it is known today was initially settled by Dr. William Knight during the spring of 1849. Dr. Knight, beside being a doctor, was a prominent fur trader who also established Knights Landing. The site of Knights Ferry was picked as it was a good area to house a ferry to cross the Stanislaus River, and furnish Knight with a gainful venture in a yet undeveloped California area. Knight soon joined forces with a James Vantine, a local and using of an old whaling vessel, made a ferry that became the staple of business in Knights Ferry. Ideally located between the port of Stockton and the gold rich Sierra foothills Knights Ferry was the best location cross the river, and amid the gold rush saw as much as $500 dollars in profits every day (translated into today's dollars, a gross of over $12,000 per day!) Unfortunately for Dr. Knight, his entrepreneur foresight did not return him much in profits as he was killed in the center of town in late 1849.
From that point Vantine collaborated with Dent, a local and the old whaling ship was replaced with a modern ferry. In 1854 another substantial business grew up as David Locke constructed a flour mill (the remnants of which can at present be seen today). As the flour mill became into a big success, Locke bought out Dent and held the control of crossing the Stanislaus river at Knights Ferry. Rather than keep the ferry, Locke offered the possibility of a bridge to the general population of Knights Ferry, and in 1857 the first bridge traversing over the river in Knights Ferry became a reality. This was not the bridge we see today. Under conditions that now appear unbelievable, a heavy winter and an early warm spring precipitation made a plenitude of water in the Stanislaus, and flood waters seethed through Knights Ferry at levels that were near 35 feet above present-day low water marks (The river almost reached the highest points of the bluffs amid the spring of 1862!). Luckily the bridge was sturdily built, and the water didn't take down. Sadly, the bridge upriver at two-mile bar was not as sturdily built and washed down and destroyed the first Knights Ferry Bridge.