Trails, roads and stages

Nuggets from the Past

June 16, 2011 

The newest compilation of local history will be found in Zelda Garey Dubel's "To Yosemite by Stage, Raymond to Wawona and Remembering Cedarbrook Inn." In the first chapter, "Trails and Roads," she explores the means of transportation of the 1800s and early 1900s.

The following is a portion out of Dubel's book:

The earliest travelers in California used the rivers. For land travel, an ox-cart called the carreta was the first wheeled vehicle used in the San Joaquin Valley. When people migrated west they did so in covered wagons. Up until about 1850 French fur trappers used a Spanish military road (trail) from Stockton, San Joaquin County, to Fort Miller, Fresno County. From the fort they followed various routes to Fresno Flats (renamed Oakhurst) and Crane Valley (renamed Bass Lake). In 1849 and 1850 there were no roads to the mines along the Fresno River in the area of Coarsegold and Grub Gulch, so supplies from Stockton were taken by pack train over the trails. Indian trails were enlarged to horse trails, then wagon roads. Construction of new roads or improvements to existing roads was extremely difficult and expensive. If wagon roads became too full of ruts and became difficult to travel, people changed the route or abandoned them and created new roads. In 1850 the California legislature imposed poll taxes to be levied upon able-bodied men from eighteen to forty-five years of age, which required them to physically work on the roads in their area for five days a year, but that soon met with disapproval. The State of California began to appropriate money for roads in 1859, and the next year the State developed a plan for a system of roads.

Roads in 1851 were not much better than trails or paths. In spite of road conditions, in 1851 there were fourteen stage lines operating out of Stockton and even more stage lines were established by 1853. The California Stage Company was organized on 1 Jan 1854. In 1857 Thomas M. Heston's Rabbit-Skin Express stages traveled between Hornitos in Mariposa County, Millerton in Fresno County and Visalia in Tulare County. The Evening Bulletin of San Francisco reported on 5 Nov 1858 that they traveled through the area that became known as Fresno City. John Butterfield's Overland Mail stages carried passengers and mail in Concord stages until the transcontinental railway was completed 10 May 1869. The Mariposa newspaper made pleas in 1869 and 1870 for better carriage roads to Clark's on the South Fork of the Merced River, which became Wawona.

There were twenty-three turnpikes (toll roads) in California in 1857, and just a year later there were 64. They were as rough as washboards, and some were described as plank or corduroy. There were no plank roads on the route from Raymond to Wawona, but in 1874 a plank road was built from Hutchings, in Yosemite Valley, up the south side of Yosemite Valley. In 1890 one portion of a thirty percent grade on the Tollhouse road from Fresno to Huntington Lake was made of logs.

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