Sunday, July 08, 2012

History of the "Ridge Route"


Call it an "alternative" to taking Highway 70. The "Ridge Route" begins in Oroville, moves on to the Bidwell Bar suspension bridge, Berry Creek, Bucks Lake, and on to Quincy. The roadway has had a checkered history, at one time forming a vital link to Oroville as emigrants arrived at Quincy from the eastern US, at other times lying in disrepair.

Independent researcher David M. Brown has drawn on a wealth of documentation to tell the tale of "The Oroville-Quincy Ridge Route: Development, Eclipse, and Renewal of a Transportation Artery" ($20 in paperback from the Association for Northern California Historical Research, It includes maps, black-and-white and color photographs, and an extensive bibliography.

Though a work of historical scholarship, the book can be enjoyed by anyone with a hankering to travel what used to be part of the old Beckwourth Trail in the mid-1800s. To that end Brown devotes a chapter to 34 "places of interest," beginning in Quincy "where Main Street, Crescent Street and Court Street come together. This intersection has been the route's beginning since the Quincy & Spanish Ranch Wagon Road was constructed" in 1855. (That part of the Ridge Route was a private toll road.)

Brown writes that "after its first few years of prominence, the Ridge Route experienced a gradual change in use and a fairly steady decline in importance for about 130 years, eclipsed first by usage of competing wagon roads and later by rail and motor vehicle roads through the canyon of the North Fork and East Branch of the Feather River. ... Road improvements beginning in the early 1980s, following an upgrade of Big Creek Road for use by trucks and recreational vehicles, re-opened the Ridge Route to the casual user and made it viable for more commercial usage."

Speaking of commerce, "Charles E. Boles, alias Black Bart, appears to have made two heists on the western side of the route." There were always challenges, especially from the weather. The winter of 1889-90 brought ten-foot snow depths in Quincy and today the road is passable only six or eight months a year. But Brown is "cautiously optimistic" about the route's continued scenic and recreational value.

The road, it turns out, is 66 miles long. We have our own "route 66."

No comments: