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The Colony Mill Road to the Giant Forest/Tulare County Mountain Road 357

Back in August of 2016 I drove a segment of what once the Colony Mill Road from California State Route 198 to the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park.






While researching Mineral King Road I stumbled onto a 1919 Tulare County Road Atlas showing the Colony Mill Road to the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.

1919 Tulare County Road Atlas

The Colony Mill Road was the original roadway that led to the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park before the Generals Highway was built.  The history of the Colony Mill Road is as follows:

-  Either in 1895 or 1896 there was a Danish socialist commune that was set up along the North Fork Kaweah River.  Apparently there was at least two town sites in what was known as the Kaweah Cooperative Colony; Arcady (now known as Kaweah) and Advance. 
-  Starting in 1896 the first 18 miles of the Colony Mill Road was constructed and sawmill operations were opened up.  The Colony Mill Road followed the North Fork Kaweah River and had an 8% grade which was meant for eventual rail service which never came to be.
-  In 1890 Sequoia National Park was opened which annexed all forest land being worked by the Kaweah Colony towns along with any possible redwood groves into protected government lands.  Basically this meant that any prospects the Kaweah Colony had of surviving were hosed and they shut down operations in 1892.
-  An eight mile extension of the Colony Mill Road was built by the U.S. Army in 1903 to facilitate wagon traffic to the Giant Forest at about 6,000 feet above sea level.  Apparently at this point car traffic was not a thing yet up to the Giant Forest and I'm really not exactly sure on the true date.
-  In 1905 the Park Service gave some hydroelectric rights out to Mount Whitney Power Company in exchange that they would improve the Colony Mill Road and build better roads to the Giant Forest; the yield of this was apparently the Middle Fork Road which later became part of the Generals Highway.
-  By 1913 there was automotive road access to Wolverton which is a small valley just north of the General Sherman Tree.
-  From 1921 to 1926 Tulare County improved the Colony Mill Road and Middle Fork Road for better automotive travel.  Traffic would take Colony Mill Road up one-way into the Giant Forest and apparently come back down the Middle Fork Road.
-  From 1926 to 1935 the Middle Fork Road was improved, paved and extended to General Grant National Park (now Kings Canyon National Park) which was re-dedicated in June of 35.
-  At some point a large portion of Colony Mill Road was abandoned; namely the extension created by the Army and is now maintained as the Colony Mill Trail.

The following two articles were used as sources while researching the Colony Mill Road:

When two parks meet: The History of the Generals Highway

Sierra Nevada Geotourism; Kaweah

Much of what was once the Colony Mill road exists north of Three Rivers today.  The Crystal Cave Road is in Sequoia National Park is a former alignment of the Colony Mill Road and is where it would have met what was once known as the Middle Fork Road.




18 miles of the Colony Mill Road is still can still be driven and is now called North Fork Drive or Mountain Road 357.  I only went about 8 miles up the road due to the weather turning to rain.  Regardless here is where North Fork Drive goes from paved to completely dirt:







According to my map data a community known as Advance was roughly where the transition from asphalt to dirt takes place.  I did find a concrete ruin in the brush next to the roadway. 




I got some amusement out of the "no parking x number of miles" signs littered all over North Fork Road.  Clearly the road isn't patrolled all that much as it has become the dumping ground for automotive carcasses like this.




The paved section of North Fork Road is in terrible shape and is only 8-10 feet in places.  Encountering another vehicle coming the opposite way would require someone backing up.  Its no wonder traffic eventually routed one-way uphill the Colony Mill Road and down on the Middle Fork Road.  




Just like much of the rural paved roadways in Tulare County the Mountain Road 357 Postmile paddles are well posted.




At the bottom of the downhill grade North Fork Road widens back out to a generous approximate 20 feet. 




Surprisingly enough the post office from Kaweah is still around and dates back to 1890.  My understanding is that Advance also had a Post Office but it shut down right after Sequoia National Park was formed.   For some reason I guess the Kaweah part of Kaweah Colony stuck and that's what the area is now is generally known to be part of Three Rivers.





As stated above the Colony Mill Road and presently North Fork Road end at CA 198.






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