Before we had Caltrans

Buggy on Bald Mountain Road

Buggy on Bald Mountain Road

I went down to Sonoma County to visit family this weekend.  It took about 4 ½ hours and felt much longer.  When I hit Windsor, I ran into an awful mess.  Caltrans is widening the highway to three lanes, which is desperately needed, but until it’s done, oh boy ! 

Over the years, my growing interest in Humboldt history has prompted me to look at many of the things around us with new eyes.  The buildings, the bay, the people.  But the roads, up until the other day, remained unnoticed. 

When the settlers arrived, the county was ribboned with Indian trails, but none would have accommodated the wagons hauling families, woodstoves, pianos and other accoutrements desired by the pioneers trying to carve homes and communities out of the wilderness.   

In October of 1853, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors imposed a road tax.  All able bodied men between the ages of 18 – 45 were required to contribute five days labor on public roads.   In 1854, the Supes bumped the age to fifty, but within a week of imposing the tax they added an addendum; men could work five days on the road, or pay the same in cash at $4 a day.  Guess not everyone felt like picking up a shovel.

In August of that year, the first wagon road from Union to our place near Blue Lake was started, and in October they finished construction and declared the road a public highway.

The same year roads were built from

  • Bucksport to the forks of Elk River
  • The Slide at Eel River to the crossing at Yager Creek
  • The house of Mr. Dudley at Eel River to the crossing at Salmon Creek
  • Grizzly Bluff to Cape Mendocino, where Joe Russ had a place. 

 In October, James Light, the road supervisor for Union reported 155 ½ days of labor worked on the roads, 33 of which were done by Light himself.  He also spent $120 on lumber, which included building a bridge on the west side of Union at Butcher Slough. 

Folks in Eel River dedicated 277 days with no delinquents, and those in Eureka 334 1/2 days of labor with 59 delinquents.

In 1855, the road tax stuck at $4, but the supervisors created separate funds for each district, and in ’55, the tax was reduced to 3 days labor or $3.33 per day.

 Over the years, citizens petitioned the County Supervisors for more roads, and the road tax, and road construction, continued.


4 Responses to Before we had Caltrans

  1. Steve says:


    I’d enjoy seeing more old photos and some historical discussion of Bald Mountain Road. I gather that it was the first wagon road to the Trinity River country from the Arcata area, before SR 299 was built, and I think there is a somewhat garbled narrative description of travel on Bald Mountain Road in the book In the Land of the Grasshopper Song. I ride my bike up there frequently (most recently last weekend), and it steep, deteriorated, remote, and very beautiful.

    Do you have any historical information regarding travel on Bald Mountain Road, or any more photos?

    • lynette77 says:

      Hi Steve,
      I’m guessing that you’re talking about the road that goes east out of Orick and comes down into Weichpec?
      The hills east of Arcata were also called the Bald Hills, which causes some confusion.
      Please clarify when you have a moment, just so I know I’m looking in the right area for you.

      I can’t think of anything off the top of my head to share, but I’m sure I’ll be able to dig up something….

  2. Steve says:

    Hi L

    Sorry for the delay. Bald Mountain Road begins about 3 miles past Korbel on the Maple Creek-Blue Lake Road. Korbel is a mile from Blue Lake, which in turn is about 8 to 10 miles from Arcata.

    This is different from Bald Hills Road, which as you note is further north, up by Orick. Both Bald Hills and Bald Mountain have lovely oak savanna prairies that served as important sources of acorns for American Indian residents prior to white conquest.

    My understanding is that Bald Mountain Road was the first wagon road connecting Arcata/Blue Lake to Bair Ranch and ultimately to Hoopa and the Trinity River country. I suspect before that it was actually the mule train route connecting Arcata and supplies to Trinity River mines, and before that an indian trail. The Indian Arrow Tree is nearby, a historical marker indicating the border of Wiyot and Chilula tribes. Bald Mountain Road became obsolete when Highway 299 was built.

    Bald Mountain Road still exists, however, though in very rough shape. Many of us ride our bikes to the top ~ 3000 feet for the great vistas to the ocean and north. Beautiful wild country.

    • lynette77 says:

      Ha !
      I never caught the difference between Bald Hills and Bald Mountain. It has confused me for the longest time :-/…
      I’ve been up both and both are GORGEOUS.

      OK, if you’ve never seen it, you may want to get the Doolittle Map of 1865. I know they have them at the Ferndale Museum (and likely other places). It shows all the old trails.
      The road/trail out of Arcata at Fickle Hill was the “”Old Trail from Arcata to Bald Hills”, which meant south east toward Iaqua Buttes & Bridgeville. There was a fork in the trail that cut north before it hit Redwood Creek, and intersected the main trail to the mines around Bald Mountain, which was near Camp Anderson at Redwood Creek.

      The main trail to the mines was out of North Arcata along (ish) West End Road to where the ferry was at Essex. Once on the north side of the Mad River, you followed along where Glendale Dr. is now, until you hit Liscom Hill. The Liscom Hill Rd is the old wagon trail, and used to go all the way over into Redwood Valley (Bair’s place) and over into Hoopa.
      The county Board of Supervisors authorized the building of this route as a road in the mid 1850s…

      The route out of Korbel up into the Maple Creek area (and past the Arrow Tree) isn’t even shown on this map, so probably wasn’t much more than an Indian trail at the time.

      Oh! Just checked the map more carefully. You were right in that the road out of Arcata lead to the Trinity Mines at Weaverville, though you had to go through Iaqua and Shower’s Pass… It shows a proposed wagon road cutting from the road to Weaverville over to Redwood Valley, but it probably was only a trail then.

      Fun stuff ! Thanks for the question.


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