A visit to Kings Canyon and its rich history
November 9, 2008
While traveling up Kings Canyon Road a few weeks ago on an Indian summer afternoon outing, I discovered that it is part of the Pioneer Lincoln Highway. There are meadows and old Lombardi poplars. We couldn’t go too far up the mountain though; the road is no longer maintained, and at one point higher in the mountains, the road has washed away. An old truck lays in the valley below as if it had fallen off the cliff.
In the early days of Carson City, King Street leading to Kings Canyon was a main thoroughfare. The Supreme Court Building wasn’t at the end of the street, and you could see King Street and Kings Canyon from the State Capitol building. A lot of the businesses in Carson were located on that street ” the post office, the Catholic and Presbyterian Church, the Brewery and many other businesses such as Rosser’s grocery store and the King Street Restaurant (J. McKinley, proprietor).
The editor of the Carson Morning Appeal of July 9, 1865, published a note (most likely an advertisement) which reads: “Fruit and Confectionery ” We can recommend fruits and confections furnished to customers at Lamar’s Refectory on King street. He sent us a generous supply of apricots, plums, pears, bakes and ice cream yesterday, for which he will accept our acknowledgments.” Peter Cavanaugh also had a bakery of King Street.
Also on King Street (corner of King and Curry) is the E. D. Sweeney Building that was built in 1859-60 by Peter Cavanaugh (who also built the State Capitol). Offices were housed on the ground floor and offices or apartments on the second floor. Later this building housed a saloon. Sweeney was a native of Ireland and came to Nevada in 1857. He was considered a “constructive, energetic and patriotic citizen” and supplied the town with water as well as wood and lumber. The Sweeney Building still stands today as a testament to the past (” Information from Robert A. Nylen Sites Inventory).
During the 1850s, part of the Kings Canyon Road was called the Lake Bigler (Lake Tahoe) Toll Road, the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road in 1863 and in the1920s Kings Canyon was also called Ostermann’s Grade. Kings Canyon was once the location of not only a toll road, but flumes and, at one time, a resort and tavern.
King Street and Kings Canyon were named after Dr. B. L. King. He and his daughters had a resort in Kings Canyon. “Dr. King opened a brewery at his ranch home on King’s Canyon Creek, and kept a tavern there … Dr. King settled on his ranch in the King’s Canyon Creek meadows in 1852. He cooperated with Frank and W. L. Hall and the Barnard brothers at Eagle Ranch Station in grading a road up to the south fork of King’s Canyon Creek …” according Nevada State Library and Archives files.
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Our early pioneers needed a way to get from Carson City to Lake Tahoe. A road was built by the Lake Bigler Toll Road Company. Imagine how difficult it must have been to build a road without today’s modern technology. They had to use horse- or oxen-drawn scrapers to make the roads, which averaged 20 feet in width. Oxen, horses and mules were the power behind the equipment, along with men and their picks and shovels.
The contrast of what it was like in the 1860s is almost unimaginable today, as stage companies and freighters used this road. According to Thompson and West “The Lake Bigler Road from Small & Burke’s Station, on the southern shore [of Lake Tahoe], and entering Eagle Valley via King’s Canon, was completed in 1863, and was a very important improvement to the county. The length was twenty one and a half miles, and the heaviest grade was eight feet in 100 …”
Of course, this work was expensive and was paid for by toll fees. “The rates were fixed by the County Commissioners, July 9, 1863 … Wagon with two animals, $2; each additional animal, 25 cents; empty wagons, half rate; buggy and two horses, $1.50; buggy and one horse, $1.00; horsemen, 50 cents; pack animal, 25 cents; loose animals (each) 121⁄2 cents (one bit).”
The Monitor Mill also was erected in King’s Canyon in 1863 and did a large business sawing lumber and square-set timbering, and there, “were half a dozen others in that neighborhood, they could hardly supply the extraordinary want of lumber for mining, milling and building purposes” (Thompson and West). The lumber was transported by a large V-flume “… which ran from this site to a lumberyard and cordwood dump located along a siding of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, about 1⁄4 mile north of the big curve west of Carson City, where the tracks turned north and away from their east-west alignment along Washington Street in Carson and headed toward Lakeview Summit (” from Nevada State Library and Archives files). Kings Canyon also had a flume and according to an 1865 Carson Morning Appeal, “We noticed a train of eight cars of wood from the old King’s Canon flume yesterday.”
There are many landmarks along Kings Canyon Road, long lost to history. Among them is Barrel Springs (Heidenreich Dairy Ranch). They are called so because at one time there were two large wooden barrels that had been sunk into the ground at the lip of the side hill that furnished, “… drafts of sweet, cold water to those passers-by who are fortunate enough to know of their whereabouts” (Nevada State Library and Archives). These springs were once used for thirsty oxen, mules and horses in the days of the Lake Bigler (Tahoe) Toll Road. After the days of the Lincoln Highway, these same springs were used to cool down radiators that had overheated in the old automobiles. Today, you still may see some remnants of the Heidenreich orchards. Along this route there is now a monument acknowledging the “Borda sheep ranch” and the fact that these lands were donated to Carson City.
Treadway Park had competition in the period 1865-1890 from Thorne Ranch, which was located across King’s Canyon Creek. In the King’s Canyon-Ash Canyon Creek Meadows was a picnic grove and place of relaxation. Transportation was made by wagon or carriage from Carson City. Graves of two ranch family members also are there.
This is just a glimpse into the tremendous history and what King Street and Kings Canyon meant to Carson City in the early days.
– Sue Ballew is the daughter of Bill Dolan, who wrote the Past Pages column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006. She is past president of the Carson City Historical Society.