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 The routes of these roads, and their names, changed over the years as they were superseded by other roads, other connections, and other starting points. Their destinations, however, were always O’Byrnes Ferry and either Knights Ferry or Sonora. Thus, all of the roads were known at various times as the Burns Ferry, Old Burns Ferry, O’Byrnes Ferry, Six Mile Bar, Copperopolis to Knights Ferry, or Sonora roads. Other roads connected from these roads to various ranches, and between ranches, or provided shortcuts from the ranches to Knights Ferry (i.e. Smith Flat Road). Therefore, the discussion below is provided only as a general reference to the more important routes.
The earliest road, which turned south from Thomas McCarty’s Log Cabin Ranch (Section 8, T1N. R12E) on the Stockton Road (present Highway 4), was also known as the Sonora Road. When the citizens petitioned the Board of Supervisors to establish a new road to Reynolds Ferry, the account noted that it intersected the Burns (sic O’Byrnes) Ferry Road at the Log Cabin (Calaveras County Road Records:261).
In 1859 the citizens of Scorpion Gulch petitioned the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors for “a road from McCarty’s cabin, Scorpion Gulch to Six Mile Bar” (about one and one-half miles downstream from Scorpion Gulch, at site of later Goodwin Dam) (San Andreas Independent, November 26, 1859). The following year the road from Scorpion Gulch to Log Cabin was noted as the main road, and at times was noted as the Six Mile Bar Road, but by 1870 this road was depicted on a map as the “Old Burns Ferry Road” (GLO 1870). A segment of a branch of this road was recorded as (CA-CAL-1868H).
The “Upper Road” to O’Byrnes Ferry was established in February of 1857, although undoubtedly in use before that date (Calaveras County Road Record Book:262). The citizens’ petition for a county road to O’Byrnes Ferry and vicinity was granted the following February (San Andreas Independent, February 20, 1858). This road departed from the Stockton Road near the Four Springs Ranch (present junction of Highway 4 and Reed’s Turnpike) and continued southeasterly through the Moulton Ranch to connect with O’Byrnes Ferry (TH-2). It follows the approximate route of Littlejohn Road today.
Two other roads, depicted as “Old Burns Ferry” and “Burns Ferry Road” on an 1870 map appear to have been variations or permutations of these more important routes (GLO 1870).
After the discovery of copper and the development of Copperopolis, which became the supply center for southwestern Calaveras County, a route was established which coursed southeasterly from the town to connect with the ferry crossing at O’Byrnes. This route superseded the earlier O’Byrnes Ferry roads, which were soon abandoned except for local traffic (GLO 1870, USGS 1916). This main route crossed the Stanislaus River and proceeded easterly through Tuolumne County to connect with the road from Knights Ferry to Sonora (present Highway 108) near Yosemite Junction. It then proceeded northwards through Mountain Pass to Jamestown and Sonora. It is known today as O’Byrnes Ferry Road.
The Copperopolis and Knights Ferry Road ran for some distance easterly from Knights Ferry along the north bank of the Stanislaus River, before climbing out to the undulating hills of the old Rancheria, past Scorpion Gulch. From there it turned northerly through Ramsey Flat and into Copperopolis (GLO 1870, USGS 1916, Criswell 1972). This route was undoubtedly a more direct route from Copperopolis to Knights Ferry than the O’Byrnes Ferry route, and was also used by those at the Alto Mine and the Moulton Ranch.
The Smith Flat Road provided access between the O’Byrnes Ferry roads through Smith Flat to Knights Ferry. Although it traverses more geographically difficult terrain than the Copperopolis and Knights Ferry Road noted above, it undoubtedly served the ranches along its route and provided a more direct access for those ranches in the upper Littlejohns Creek region.
Other roads within the area connected the various ferry roads with each other, and with the local ranches. One of these, (TH-3) was depicted in a 1901 map and appears to date to that era.
By Judith Marvin, November 2001.
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