Early Roads & Routes

Image of Highway 26: Mokelumne Hill to West Point

Highway 26: Mokelumne Hill to West Point
By Patrick B. McGreevy, Glencoe, 2007

The steep canyons formed by the branches of the Mokelumne River presented formidable obstacles to transportation. Development of a route east from Mokelumne Hill was largely dictated by the availability of suitable points to cross the seasonally roaring water courses located at the bottom of steep canyons. While the general location of the river crossings has remained the same for 150 years, there has been a succession of bridges and roads driven by the needs to import mining supplies and heavy equipment during the gold rush and to export logs and lumber after the Depression.

Image of O’Byrnes and Central Ferry

O’Byrnes and Central Ferry

The land now inundated by Tulloch Lake was the location of two Stanislaus River ferries, the best-known of which was O’Byrnes Ferry on the Copperopolis to Sonora Road (also known as the Mountain Pass Road, connecting Copperopolis and Yosemite Junction on the Knights Ferry to Sonora Road). The ferry was located at an important crossing on the Stanislaus River, on the principal roads between Sonora and Stockton. Established in 1852 by Patrick O. Bymes, who also did business as Byme and Company, the ferry was replaced by a toll bridge in 1853. Supported by chain cables, the suspension bridge had a plank floor. Mention of the bridge was made in two mechanics liens filed by Thomas Russell in September of 1853:

Image of Ferry Roads

Ferry Roads
In the Copperopolis Area

 Known locally as the “ferry roads,” these historic roads provided access to the Stanislaus River ferries and the diggings from, first, the Old Antelope Trail and the later Reed’s Turnpike, constructed after the copper boom in the early 1860s.

Three historic roads, with various permutations over the years, were established to provide access to the O’Byrnes Ferry crossing from the Calaveras side of the river (Figure XXX). The routes of these roads, and their names, changed over the years as they were superseded by other roads, other connections, and other starting points.


Murphys-Big Trees Road
Development of Highway 4

Highway 4 is one of the overlays of the Murphys-Big Tree Road. This road follows the approximate route of an early immigrant trail over the Sierra Nevada that was improved in 1855-56 and known as the Big Tree Road or the Big Tree to Carson Valley Road. On 15 April 1857 the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors established a road from Murphys to Big Trees, according to a historic map (County of Calaveras 1850-1880:341). No doubt, James Sperry, owner of both the Murphys Hotel and the Mammoth Tree Hotel at Big Tree, was the main force behind the new road. This road linked up with other local routes (Psota and Marvin 2001:5).


Copperopolis Roads and Trails

Following the discovery of gold in 1848, hordes of eager argonauts swept into the Mother Lode. Although the lands near Copperopolis were not included in the boom-and-bust mining areas of the early Gold Rush, they came to have a front-row seat to the traffic to and from some of the greatest camps of the Southern Mines. At first, travel was by foot or on horseback, and most people used the established Indian route: the Antelope Trail.

Image of Emigrant Road, Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike

Emigrant Road, Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike
Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike, Alpine Highway

The present Highway 4 alignment follows the approximate route of an early emigrant trail over the Sierra Nevada that was improved in 1855-56 and known as the Big Tree Road and in the early 1860s as the Big Tree and Carson Valley Turnpike. Originally a free trail, it became a toll road from 1864 through 1910, and then a free county road in 1911. It was accepted into the state highway system in 1926 and portions were paved in the 1930s. The road was realigned in the mid-1960s when the Bear Valley Ski Resort was opened, making it an all-weather highway.


Angels Camp & Murphys Transportation

The earliest routes into the gold regions followed long-established Indian trails. The first route into Angels Camp and the Stanislaus Diggings followed the Antelope Trail, also known as the “Old Stockton Trail,” and “Marshall’s Trail.” The most direct route from Stockton to Angels Camp, Murphys, and the Stanislaus River ferries, it was promoted by Ben Marshall, one of Calaveras County’s earliest sheriffs. By 1854 it had been improved to accommodate wagon traffic.