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1. Crescent City Plank Road*

Crescent City by 1854 had grown to 300 houses and a population of 800. As the town was becoming the center of a considerable trading area, the merchants called for the construction of a wagon road to connect Crescent City with the Illinois River Country in Oregon Territory. Realizing that good roads were vital for the town's economic growth, the people held a mass-meeting on June 10 to devise a way to build a road network. Six thousand dollars had been previously pledged for the enterprise. At the meeting, preliminary arrangements were made for the organization of a joint-stock company to build "a plank and turnpike road." S. G. Whipple was elected president, F. E. Weston, secretary, and S. H. Grubler, treasurer, of the corporation which was designated, "The Crescent City and Yreka Plank and Turnpike Company." A resolution was passed constituting the company officers as a board of directors, and empowering them to employ a competent engineer to survey the route, and to hire suitable persons to assist "in the looking-out and survey of different routes." [24]

*See National Register Forms, pp. 295-310.

A survey of the route for the projected road was finished by T. P. Robinson in October, and the subscription books opened. Capital stock was established at $50,000, divided into 400 shares of $125 each. Before the end of the year paid-in subscriptions totaled $18,500. [25] The failure of a number of San Francisco business houses in 1855 caused liquid assets to disappear, and the promoters abandoned, for the time being, their project. [26]

By December 1856 the business climate had improved with the discovery of gold on Elk Creek. Men rushed to exploit the new strike. Within a short time, it was estimated that 300 men were at work, and none of them clearing less than $10 to $20 per day. Encouraged by this development, the business community of Crescent City revived the defunct corporation under the name of the "Crescent City Plank Road and Turnpike Company." W. A. Hamilton was elected president, T. S. Pomeroy, secretary, and Henry Smith, treasurer. A three-man team was charged with selecting and reporting on a favorable route for a wagon road to the Sailors Creek diggings in Oregon. Fifty thousand dollars in capital stock, to sell for $125 per share, was made available. [27] In June 1857, to speed construction, an assessment of $10 on each share of stock outstanding was levied, and agents named to collect it. [28]

The plank road was completed in May 1858, and the first through stage rumbled out of Crescent City en route for Sailors Creek on the 19th. It ran tri-weekly and connected at Sailors Creek with the stage line for Jacksonville, Oregon, and Yreka, California. This stage line, the first in Del Norte County, was operated by McClellan & Company and P. J. Mann. After leaving Crescent City, stops were made at Smith River Corners, Altaville on the Low Divide, North Fork, Tailor's on top of McGrew Mountain, and Sailors Creek. [29]

The tons of freight that had formerly been forwarded to the mining camps on pack trains now went forward by wagon. Sections of the road were planked. It was a toll road, and the toll house was at Peacock's Smith River ferry. A two-horse team paid five dollars, a four-horse team eight dollars, and a six-horse team ten dollars. If the river was low, the wagons could ford. When wagons could travel the road, from April until the wet season commenced in the fall, a four-horse team could pull 3,000 to 3,500 pounds of freight up-hill to Oregon. Often two wagons were hitched one behind the other with six or eight horses pulling. [30]

In the spring of 1862, the Postmaster-General invited proposals for carrying the mail twice a week, both ways, from Crescent City to Waldo, Oregon. R. V. Husbands filed the low bid of $2,100 and was awarded the contract. On July 3 Husbands left Crescent City at 6 a.m., en route up the plank road to Waldo. He reached Waldo as scheduled at 11 a.m. the next day. [31]

Crescent City was a busy shipping center from 1857 to 1865. In the former year, during the period March through May, there were landed at the town 1,278 tons of freight and 1,717 passengers. From Crescent City the mining districts of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California were supplied until 1865. "We doubt," a local booster boasted, "if any town on the coast commanded the extent of that business that Crescent City did." The town was advertised as a commercial center, and steam and sailing vessels, plying the coast between San Francisco and the mouth of the Columbia, habitually announced that they would "call at Crescent City with and for freight and passengers."

Not a day passed, when the rains and snow would permit passage over the Crescent City Plank Road through the mountains, but there was great activity on 2d Street. One side of this street, between E and K, was lined with incoming teams and the opposite side with outgoing. In addition, there were always pack trains. The construction of the Oregon & California Railroad to Redding and Roseburg, Oregon, diverted most of the traffic away from Crescent City, and the heyday of the packer and the teamster in Del Norte was over by 1866. [32]

The Crescent City Plank Road passed up Elk Valley, crossed Howland Hill (about one-half mile south of where U.S. 199 does), turned to the northeast, striking Smith River at Peacock's Ferry. It then ascended the ridge dividing the watersheds of Smith River and Myrtle Creek to High Divide and Altaville, then on to Jacksonville, Oregon. [33]

2. Gasquet Road

Horace Gasquet, after acquiring the stand of J. D. Mace & Co. at the confluence of North and Middle Forks of Smith River in 1857, expanded his activities. A trail was opened from his stand into Oregon. Over this route he packed tons of supplies and equipment to the mining camps. Next, he cut a trail down Gold Mountain to Indian Creek and Happy Camp on the Klamath. Stores were opened by Gasquet at Waldo and Happy Camp. These stores, his mining activities, and trail construction and maintenance, as well as his farm at Gasquet, were handled with Chinese labor until 1886.

By the late 1870s it was apparent to Gasquet that the efficiency of his multiple business operations would be improved by the construction of a toll road from his base of operations at Gasquet Flats, (as his home base at the junction of the north and the middle forks was called), to Oregon. On May 15, 1881, a petition was circulated calling on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to help fund the project. While the board talked, Gasquet put his Chinese to work opening up a road over a route surveyed by Laurant Bonnaz. This route led from Gasquet's place up Patrick Creek, up East Fork of Patrick Creek, over the ridge to Shelly Creek, and on to Oregon. [34]

Gasquet in 1882 notified the Board of Supervisors that the road was under construction and about one-half completed. Its cost so far had been $10,800. As it was already being used by the public, he asked the board to establish a rate of tolls, "pedestrians 25¢, horsemen $1, pack animals laden 50¢, unladen 25¢, loose horses and cattle 12-1/2¢ each, sheep and hogs 6¢ each, vehicles with one horse $2.75, two horses $3, four horses $3.50, and six horses $4." [35]

Gasquet's toll road into Oregon was completed by 1887. Meanwhile, to increase traffic over his road and to reduce hauling costs to Crescent City, Gasquet had opened a road from Gasquet Flats down the left bank of Smith River to the mouth of South Fork. This road, although built by private enterprise, was free of toll. Del Norte County hired Nels Christensen to lay a plank road through the Mill Creek bottom and across Howland Hill. This road joined the Crescent City Plank Road in Elk Valley and connected with Gasquet's at South Fork. The suspension bridge across South Fork was built by Gasquet and donated to the county. [36]

3. Crescent City-Trinidad Road*

The construction of the road south from Crescent City to the Klamath, and beyond, is an excellent example of the difficulties encountered by roadbuilders in the redwoods. By 1887 there were enough settlers on the lower Klamath to pressure the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors into ordering the District Attorney to take legal action to secure a right-of-way for a wagon road to the Klamath. On October 22 it was reported that work on the road had commenced. Construction had started "where the road commences below Alexanders." [37] Progress was agonizingly slow. Becoming discouraged with the county, Lewis DeMartin in June 1889 hired Pat Feheley to open a sled road from his Wilson Creek dairy farm to Requa. This six-mile road was completed in July, and DeMartin lost no time in hauling up from Requa 600 pounds of freight in a cart. The road was said to be excellent, and running along the ocean, it followed the old trail. [38]

*See National Register Forms, pp. 341-324.

The Klamath Trail in October was reportedly in bad condition as the rains had made "the ground slippery so that it is hardly safe to ride a horse over it faster than a walk." [39] Bids had been asked by the county for two and one-half miles of wagon road from the south approach to the Cushing Creek bridge to the top of Ragged Ass Hill. No bids were received. [40] The Board of Supervisors on November 9, 1889, announced that they would make a trip to the Klamath to reconnoiter the wagon road survey. Supervisor John Miller told the editor of the Record that "the growth of the country demands a good wagon road to the Klamath." [41]

DeMartin was delighted to learn from the Record of March 6, 1891, that Supervisor Miller "will have the wagon road completed to Klamath in one year from date if people will let him alone." As far as he was concerned, DeMartin was willing to be taxed 50 cents on the hundred dollars of assessed value of his property to get the project off dead-center. Commenting on DeMartin's letter, which he published, the editor noted that except for P. S. Snyder, DeMartin paid the most taxes in the district. With the exception of one or two others, there was not a taxpayer who had paid over $10 of his assessment for the much desired road. The editor trusted that the Board of Supervisors in April would find a petition for a special election in the Klamath Road District for building the road.

At the same time, the Arcata Union was pointing out that if a road were opened from Redwood Creek to the Klamath, trade from that area would gravitate to Arcata. [42]

A contractor who had examined the route reported that the Klamath Wagon Road could be completed for $6,000. [43] Road building was resumed in the spring, and on September 19 it was announced that the men working on the road were inching closer to Crescent City, and they would "soon have the road finished to the beach." On October 3 the road overseers had 16 men at work clearing brush. As soon as the right-of-way was opened, the crew would be reinforced. [44]

The editor of the Record informed his readers on July 30, 1892, that the road is in "very good condition," but it is very narrow. Evidently, the road was unsatisfactory, because on November 4, 1893, the Record complained, "In 1887 the Klamath Road was surveyed and still there is no road." Support for the completion of the road materialized, and in January 1894 the Board of Supervisors awarded the contract for building the road, from Last Chance to DeMartin's, to W. T. Bailey for $985. Joseph Bertsch agreed to build the road across his property for $600. DeMartin planned to use road machinery to open the road across his land, and he was to be paid $75 for the bridge he had thrown across Wilson Creek. [45]

By May the road had been completed to DeMartin's, and on July 7 Pat Feheley of Requa was given the contract to open the Del Norte section of the road south of the Klamath. The wagon road was finished by the late summer of 1894 and stages were operating between Crescent City and Eureka. [46] The supervisors now discussed proposals for bridging the Klamath at Requa, but, after studying the situation, it was dropped for the time being as too costly. [47]

Much of the road through the redwoods was built on puncheons. The roadbed was graded, then paved with slabs of redwood. These made an excellent roadway as long as the puncheons were solidly packed. When the winter rains came, the dirt was washed away and water collected under the puncheons, "Forming veritable geysers as vehicles drove over them." The puncheons kept the vehicles from sinking in the mud, but they were very rough and un comfortable to ride over.

In the summertime, the dust became so thick that clouds of it rolled up behind each wagon. The trees and ferns along the right-of-way were coated with dust, which was not washed away until the winter rains came. [48]

The Crescent City-Trinidad Road, on leaving Crescent City, paralleled the beach to within a short distance of Cushing Creek. At ebb tide the stages and cars would be driven along the beach. After crossing Cushing Creek, the road ascended Ragged Ass Hill and passed around the head of Nickel Creek. It then descended Damnation Ridge by way of Skunk Camp and Last Chance and on to Wilson Creek. The road then paralleled today's U.S. 101 as far as Hunter Creek, where it crossed High Prairie Creek and continued to Requa. South of the Klamath, the old wagon road and the Redwood Highway followed the same alignment to Elk Grove. There it skirted the western verge of the prairie. From May Creek to a point just below the confluence of Prairie and Redwood creeks, the wagon road and today's 101 had identical right of-ways. Here the wagon road crossed to the east side of Redwood Creek. [49]

The coming of the automobile speeded up and increased traffic on the Crescent City-Trinidad road. By 1915 there was a guide for tourists. According to this publication, it was possible to reach Eureka from Medford, Oregon, via Grants Pass, and through the redwoods of Smith River to Crescent City. South from Crescent City the road passed through more redwood groves to Requa, where the tourist crossed the Klamath on a ferry. He then drove southward, skirting the proposed National Redwood Park down the valley of Prairie Creek, "through the grandest redwood growths known to Crick." From Orick the road led southward, "along the margins of placid lagoons . . . and rock-bound coast," to Trinidad and Eureka. [50]

4. Redwood Highway*

The Redwood Highway was created as a State Highway by a bond issue in 1909. It was October 19, 1917, before any action to expedite its construction was taken in Del Norte. At that time the Board of Supervisors announced plans to secure the right-of-way for the Redwood Highway between Wilson Creek and Crescent City. A contract was let in July 1919 for construction between Cushing and Wilson creeks. In 1923 the section from the head of Richardson Creek to Hunter Creek was built by prison labor. A camp for the prisoners was established on the Del Ponte place. [51]

*See National Register Forms, pp. 325-337.

By the end of 1923 the Redwood Highway, except for the bridge across the Klamath, had been completed and opened to through traffic in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. Between Crescent City and Cushing Creek, the Redwood Highway and the old road followed the same alignment. South of Cushing Creek, the Redwood Highway clung for three miles to the cliffs, providing the motorists a spectacular view of Crescent City and the Pacific. The new highway then skirted the headwaters of Damnation Creek, descending Damnation Ridge to Wilson Creek. Its alignment here was parallel to and a few hundred yards west of the old road. Wilson Creek was crossed several hundred yards above the False Klamath. Between Wilson and Hunter creeks, the Redwood Highway followed the same general alignment as the old road. From Hunter Creek, the Redwood Highway, instead of sweeping toward Requa, continued southeastward and struck the Klamath at the mouth of Hoppaw Creek. The roadway on the south side of the Klamath ascended Richardson Creek and intersected the old road near High Bluff. From High Bluff to Orick the alignments were identical, except at two points: between Elk Grove and May Creek, the new road was located east of the old, while at Orick the Redwood Highway crossed Redwood Creek about one-half mile farther south. [52]

The California Highway Commission, which has frequently been a whipping boy for conservationists, demonstrated a keen sense of aesthetic values in accepting the right-of-way for the Redwood Highway in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. The counties had to acquire land for the right-of-way. Heretofore, they had been in the habit of purchasing the right-of-way, logging it, and then turning it over to the State Highway Commission. The State Commission now refused to go along with this practice, and the County Boards of Supervisors were required to turn over to the State an unlogged right-of-way. In building the Redwood Highway through Del Norte and Humboldt only those redwoods interfering with construction were felled. Thousands of these giants were thus saved for the American people. This practice was followed when sections of the highway were relocated in the 1930s. [53]

5. U.S. 101 (Redwood Highway)

Costly slides, which fortunately caused no fatalities, compelled the State of California to relocate six miles of the Redwood Highway in Del Norte County. This was done in the early 1930s. South of Crescent City the new highway, on entering Section 35, Township 16 North, Range 1 West, ascended the ridge and passed around the head of Cushing Creek. From this point for the next four miles it paralleled the Wagon Road constructed in 1887-1894. It then descended Damnation Ridge to a junction with the cliffside road in Section 31, Township 15 North, Range 1 East.

Before the new bridge across the Klamath was opened in 1965, two sections of U.S. 101 were relocated. South of the Klamath, the road was aligned to ascend the valley of Waukell Creek. North of the river one-half mile of road was repositioned to facilitate the approach to the new bridge.

6. U.S. 199

Today's U.S. 199 was built in the late 1920s to link Crescent City with Medford, Oregon. The Hiouchi Bridge across Smith River was officially opened for traffic and dedicated on June 22, 1929. [54]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004