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Signed County Route J16

This past weekend I drove the entirety of Signed County Route J16.


Signed County Route J16 is the longest of the Signed County Routes in California at 75.74 miles.  J16 is an east/west route spanning from Interstate 5 in Stanislaus County to California State Route 49 in Bear Valley.  According to CAhighways.org J16 was defined in 1960.

CAhighways.org on Signed County Route J16

My route on J16 was eastward from I-5.  J16 begins at Howard Road at I-5 Exit 441 in rural Stanislaus County.




The first 4.11 miles of J16 are on Howard Road east from I-5.  Howard Road begins on a bricked roadway passing by several I-5 service stations before breaking off east into San Joaquin Valley.






Howard Road and J16 take a 90 degree turn into Westley where the route meets CA 33.  J16 crosses CA 33 and continues east onto Grayson Road.  Westley is a fairly recent rail siding which apparently dates back to the 1940s.







J16 continues 11.80 miles east on Grayson Road to Crow's Landing Road.  J16 first enters the community of Grayson which was once the location of a ferry crossing on the San Joaquin River dating back to the 1840s.  There is access to the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge from J16 northward from Grayson.  Despite what the signage along J16 states Grayson is not an incorporated town.




Immediately east of Grayson J16 on Grayson Road crosses the San Joaquin River.  There was a former bridge over a slough located to the north of Grayson but the current bridge over the San Joaquin River is at the same locale as former crossings.


J16 next crosses Laird Slough before straightening into a direct east alignment on Grayson Road.



At Crow's Landing Road J16 turns south for a mile to Keyes Road where it swings east once again.






J16 on Keyes Road continues 6.61 miles east to a junction at CA 99 in Keyes.  J16 on Keyes Road crosses CA 99 on an overpass.







From CA 99 in Keyes the alignment of J16 on Keyes Road continues 4.93 miles before meeting Signed County Route J7 at Santa Fe Avenue.  Oddly J7 isn't signed from J16.



J16 continues on Keyes Road another 12.35 miles to the Merced County.  The alignment of J16 begins to become hilly approaching the Merced County Line.  At the Merced County Line there is a noticeable different in the asphalt quality.





J16 continues another 9.65 miles eastward on Keyes Road to Montgomery Street in Snelling.  The terrain is extremely hilly and the asphalt quality is extremely lacking.  Getting around the heavy farming equipment entailed using the dirt shoulders due to a lack of room on the roadway.























J16 follows Montgomery Street another 1.06 miles into downtown Snelling.




From Montgomery Street in Snelling J16 eastward uses CA 59, Signed County Route J59, and Merced Falls Road to reach Hornitos Road 6.01 miles away.  Oddly J16 appears to be multiplexed with CA 59 through Snelling.

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.









East of Snelling J16 picks up Signed County Route J59.  The signage is surprisingly clear for a Signed County Route directing J16 traffic east on Merced Falls Road along the Merced River.



J16 on Merced Falls Road closely follows the alignment of the former Yosemite Valley Railroad, much of the grade can be seen north of the highway.


J16 enters the ghost town of Merced Ralls just before reaching Hornitos Road.  Much like Snelling to the west Merced Falls was a locale on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  Merced Falls obtained Post Office Service in 1856 and was named after a rapid in the Merced River a couple miles to the east which is now flooded over by the McSwain Reservoir.  Merced Falls had several ferry crossings of the Merced River on the Stockton-Los Angeles Road, the oldest being Phillps' Ferry dating back to 1851.  Merced Falls burned in 1895 but logging operations remained until 1943.  There is a small reservoir on the Merced River in Merced Falls and obvious ruins from the logging operation.








J16 turns east on Hornitos Road in Merced Falls and follows it 7.52 miles to Bear Valley Road in Hornitos.




J16 east on Hornitos Road is directed over to the south bank of Merced River via a bridge.  From the bridge crossing McSwain Dam can be seen which was constructed in the 1960s.





South of the Merced River J16 east on Hornitos Road begins to ascend the Sierra Foothills and quickly crosses the Mariposa County Line.  The asphalt quality takes another drastic change entering Mariposa County.




J16 east follows Hornitos Road into the village of Hornitos where it turns on Bear Valley Road.  Hornitos Road continues all the way to CA 140 in Catheys Valley and is mistakenly signed on Google Maps as part of J16.








J16 continues another 10.70 miles east to CA 49 on Bear Valley Road.  Bear Valley Road and J16 traverse through downtown Hornitos.



Hornitos was settled in the 1848 as "Hornitas" by Mexican miners.  In the early 1850s Mexican residents of nearby Quartzburg migrated to Hornitos which dramatically increased the population of the community.  Quartzburg was a neighboring community of Hornitos and was located about 3.6 miles to the northeast on Bear Valley Road.  Hornitos received Post Office Service in 1856 and the community had a population of 6,000 by the end of the decade.

Both Quartzburg and Hornitos mined local placer and quartz claims but only the latter survived the test of time.  At it's peak Hornitos shipped about $40k in gold on a daily basis.  The official name of the community changed in 1877 to Hornitos and the community at some point incorporated which is notable since it was the only community ever to do so in Mariposa County.  Hornitos apparently had a population as high as 15,000 residents in 1879 before it started to decline.  By 1932 Hornitos apparently only a population of 60 residents.  The incorporation of Hornitos was abolished by state statute in 1973 and the community presently still has less than 100 residents.  Hornitos lies at an elevation of approximately 850 feet above sea level and is one of my favorite ghost town/Gold Rush communities in California.



Weird Fresno in 2011 covered the history of Hornito.  I had a link up but it was flagging as malware on some computers, it can easily being found on a Yahoo Search.

Hornitos has several notable structures to view such as the 1858 Ghiradelli Chocolate Store.




The 1873 Masonic Hall Number 98 has been restored.





The Plaza Adobe dates back to 1855.



Various other vintage structures line Bear Valley Road.




A General Store and vintage service station lie on J16 along Bear Valley Road north of downtown Hornitos.





J16 on Bear Valley Road heading east of Hornitos was damaged by storms and rock fall in early 2018.  Much of Bear Valley Road still had signage advising speeds of 25 MPH  but there was virtually no damage to be found aside from poor asphalt quality.  J16 on Bear Valley Road ascends rapidly to a summit of about 2,550 feet before descending briefly to it's east terminus at CA 49 in Bear Valley.


















Bear Valley was first settled as Haydenville in 1851 after gold claims were discovered at the Merced River.  The area Bear Valley is located in was part of Rancho Las Mariposas which was purchased by John C. Fremont in 1847.   John C. Fremont became wealthy from his mining claims along the Merced River and eventually became the first Republican candidate for U.S. President in 1856.  The modern name of Bear Valley was in use by 1858 and the community had Post Office Service on/off until the 1950s.  The Oso Hall was a hotel constructed by Fremont in the heyday of Bear Valley.








Oddly the J16 westbound shield in Bear Valley displays Merced County instead of Mariposa County.


Much of the alignment that became J16 is very old and can be spotted on various 1935 California Division of Highways Maps.

In Merced County Keyes Road, Montgomery Street, and Merced Falls Road all appear on the Division of Highways Map.

1935 Merced County Map 

Bear Valley Road and Hornitos Road both appear on the Division of Highways Map of Mariposa County.  Interestingly Quartzburg isn't displayed which begs the question on when the community went defunct.

1935 Mariposa County Map

Howard Road, Grayson Road, Crows Landing Road, and Keyes Road can be seen on the Division of Highways Map of Stanislaus County.  Westley is shown on the Stanislaus County map which suggests the community is far older than documentation I've seen dating it to the 1940s.

1935 Stanislaus County Map

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