Yosemite Roads and Bridges
Yosemite National Park, California
In 1864 the federal government established the Yosemite Grant, a natural preserve administered by the State of California; the area became a national park in 1890, Since the 1850s people had been visiting Yosemite Valley to see its "scenes of wonder and curiosity." The journey was extremely difficult, however, as no roads yet existed. Early visitors had to endure many miles of travel over primitive trails, and often arrived too exhausted to enjoy the glorious landscapes awaiting them.
Hoping to capitalize on tourism, citizens of Mariposa and Tuolumne counties sought to entice Yosemite-bound visitors by constructing toll roads through their jurisdictions to the Valley. In the early 1870s construction began on toll roads from Coulterville, Mariposa and Big Oak Flat.
A road-building race ensued, with each community hoping to finish its road first, and thereby capture the main part of the tourist trade. Dr. John Taylor McLean completed his Coulterville Road ahead of the others, and the first carriage entered the Valley on June 17, 1874.
Only 29 days later, the Chinese Camp and Yo Semite Turnpike was completed from Big Oak Flat, running slightly north of the Coulterville Road. Due to the proximity of the two roads, neither generated a profit. The Big Oak Flat Road managed to break even, but the Coulterville Road proved a financial disaster.
To the south, Albert Henry Washburn and his partners pushed a road forward from Mariposa to Big Tree Station (now Wawona) and on to Yosemite Valley in 1875. The Washburn group did well, running their own stage line on the route and attracting visitors to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias near Wawona.
These roads were all built by hand labor across extremely mountainous terrain, the only tools being picks, shovels and blasting powder. The construction of the early Yosemite road system ranks as a major engineering feat of the 1870s.
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