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Ghost Town Tuesday; Millerton, California and the Stockton-Los Angeles Road


Back in 2016 I visited Millerton Lake in Madera County to view the 1866 Fresno County Court House which was located in Millerton on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.

Millerton traces it's origins back to the founding of Fort Miller during the Mariposa War in May of 1851.  Fort Miller was a fortification on the south bank of the San Joaquin River originally designated as Camp Barbour but was renamed in 1852.  The community of Millerton came to grew around Fort Millerton and remained even after said Fort was abandoned in 1858.  In 1856 Fresno County was created from parts of Mariposa County, Merced County, and Tulare County.  Millerton was selected as the original County Seat of Fresno County due to it's ferry location on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road at the San Joaquin River.  Milleton's ferry was located on a narrow canyon above the San Joaquin River which made ferry crossings ideal due to the predictable width of the waters.  Later ferries such as Firebaugh's Ferry to the west in San Joaquin Valley had unpredictable crossing width due to the water flow out of the Sierras easily creating wide flood plains.

The Fresno County Courthouse building pictured above was constructed in 1866 and opened in 1867.  Millerton being located on then free-flowing San Joaquin River was subject to sporadic and heavy flooding.  In December of 1867 Millerton suffered a major flood which would trigger a decline in the community.  By 1872 Millerton had been bypassed to the south by the newly created Central Pacific Railroad.  A small rail siding by the name of Fresno Station began to attract residents away from Millerton due to it being located on the Central Pacific and above the flood plain of the San Joaquin River.  In 1874 Fresno County voters decided to move the County Seat to Fresno Station which eventually grew into the City of Fresno.

Madera County was split from Fresno County in 1893 which included Millerton.  Millerton continued to decline through the rest of the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century.  In 1940 construction of the Friant Dam began which led to Millerton being dismantled.  The 1866 Fresno County Courthouse was moved to a bluff above Millerton Lake which was completed by 1944.

 
As stated above Millerton was an important locale on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road (sometimes alternatively called Millerton Road).  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road came into use after the 1853 Kern River Gold Rush began.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road was a replacement of the earlier El Camino Viejo.  Unlike the El Camino Viejo the Stockton-Los Angeles Road avoided the dense Tule Marches in San Joaquin Valley.  The Stockton-Los Angles Road stayed close to the Sierra Foothills near the new claims on the Kern River watershed.  The earlier El Camino Viejo on other hand had spur routes that traversed around Tulare Lake via the Diablo Foothills to the west and the marsh lands to the east through Kingston.

The popularity of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road began to decline rapidly as the Central Pacific Railroad through San Joaquin Valley was built through the 1870s.  Farm diversions for irrigation in San Joaquin Valley and the presence of various rail sidings along the Central Pacific Railroad spurred infrastructure development which made development through previous wetlands easier.  Eventually this development led to Legislative Route Number 4 being routed next to the rails in 1909 which became part of US Route 99.

CAhighwaysorg on LRN 4

While researching the topic of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road I was able to find an 1857 map of California which showed the complete route.  Said 1857 map of California can be viewed below and displays all the major wagon routes of the time.

1857 Map of California

The path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road followed the general path below: 

From Stockton in San Joaquin County the path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road traveled southeast to Heath & Emory's Ferry where it crossed the Stanislaus River into Stanislaus County.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road next crossed the Tuolumne River on Dickinson's Ferry where it continued to the Merced County Line.


In Merced County the Stockton Los Angeles Road next had a major crossing in Snelling at the Merced River.  Much of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road became the boundary of Merced and Mariposa County south of Snelling to the Chowchilla River.  At the Chowchilla River the Stockton-Los Angeles Road crossed into Fresno County on Newton's Crossing.


Snelling has been occupied since 1851 and was the Merced County seat from 1857 to 1872.  Snelling was an important locale as it became a way point and river crossing on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  Snelling declined in importance after the Merced County seat moved but the village lingered on mostly due to the avert Yosemite Valley Railroad which traveled through the community.  Today Snelling is generally accessed on an alternate route to Yosemite National Park from San Joaquin Valley via CA 59 and Signed County Route J59.  There are still trace remains of the heyday of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road as the 1857 Merced County Courthouse sits alongside CA 59.





South of Snelling there is a historic marker alongside CA 140 east of the City of Merced at the Merced County and Mariposa County Line marking where the Stockton-Los Angeles Road once crossed.  Its not too difficult to envision the ranch road off the north side of CA 140 carrying wagon traffic.  The historic marker uses the name "Millerton Road" instead of Stockton-Los Angeles Road.




In Fresno County the Stockton-Los Angeles Road crossed the Fresno River at Fresno Crossing.  From Fresno Crossing the route of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road continued to Millerton where it crossed the San Joaquin River as described above. The next major crossing along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road was on the Kings River at Campbell's Crossing a couple miles north of modern day Reedley.


Campbell's Crossing was named after nearby Mount Campbell which can be seen from much of the Fresno Area.  Centerville was founded in the 1850s as an alternate crossing of the Kings River on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  Mount Campbell is best observed from CA 180 east of Minkler.



South of the Kings River the Stockton Los Angeles Road continued into Tulare County where it bypassed Visalia to the east.  East of Visalia the Stockton-Los Angeles Road crossed what was known as the Four Creeks of the Kaweah River into Woodville.


From Woodville the Stockton-Los Angeles Road continued south into Buena Vista County (modern Kern County) to the Tule River where a trail station operated by Peter Goodhue on the site of present day Porterville was located.  South of the Tule River the Stockton-Los Angeles Road crossed the White River where it crossed on Stickney's Ferry.


South of the White River the Stockton-Los Angeles Road next crossed Poso Creek where it continued to the Kern River.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road crossed the Kern River at Gordon's Ferry which was located in what is now the eastern outskirts of Bakersfield in close proximity to China Grade Road. 


South of the Kern River the Stockton-Los Angeles Road would ascend into the Tehachapi Range via Grapevine Canyon to Fort Tejon in Los Angeles County.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road split into two routes; one that followed the rough alignment of modern day I-5 and the former Ridge Route to CA 138 via Tejon Pass while the other split east towards Old Tejon Pass.  Old Tejon Pass was the original path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road and the Tejon Pass routing was surveyed in 1853 when it was known as Castac Pass.  Tejon Pass had been surveyed by Robert Stockton Williamson of the U.S. Army as a possible route of a Transcontiental Railorad.  Both routes of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road converged in Antelope Valley.  Old Tejon Pass had a higher elevation of 5,285 feet above sea level which was unfavorable modern Tejon Pass which is located at 4,144 feet above sea level. 


From Antelope Valley the path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road split through into the Sierra Pelona's via San Francisquito Canyon southward to Rancho San Francisco.  From Rancho San Francisco the Stockton-Los Angeles Road would follow the general path of the later US 6/Sierra Highway over San Fernando Pass (modern Newhall Pass).


South of San Fernando Pass the route of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road continued southward through San Fernando into Los Angeles.


Much of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road south of San Joaquin Valley eventually was replaced by what became LRN 4, the Ridge Route, and US 99 south of San Joaquin Valley.  In San Joaquin Valley the general path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road became part of the southern half of California State Route 65.  Had the unconstructed section of CA 65 been built it would have functionally been a revival of almost all of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road right-of-way in San Joaquin Valley.  The unconstructed section of CA 65 can be viewed on the 1964 State Highway Map.

1964 State Highway Map

Aside from Millerton there are various trace remains of what the Stockton-Los Angeles Road. 

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