A Perfect Ride Into The New Year

(Sunday January 4, 2009)


Bonnie McGuire


After attending church we stopped by Subway's shop and picked up a sandwich and drink to take with us on our spur of the moment drive to Downieville. Mel's original comment was, "It's stupid to take a summer drive in the winter." I couldn't help but laugh, because it was a typical husband-wife joke. He's so logical, but I've never seen Downieville in the snow, and it's always been my favorite drive from the days when we rode there on our Harley.

I like seeing all the old towns like North San Juan ahead, and reading their history. The unique feature of the original town in the picture below was the two big overhead flumes running through the middle of town.

North San Juan was settled in the spring of 1853 by Jeremiah Tucker and Christan Kentz who developed rich diggings west of the present town site. Legend states that Kentz was a member of the Mexican expedition under General Winfield Scott who landed at Vera Cruz. Kentz fancied that the hill he was mining greatly resembled the castle of San Juan d Ulua which guards the entrance to the port of Vera Cruz. Kentz built a hotel near the present town site and named it San Juan. The town grew and in 1857 the residents applied for a post office. The name San Juan had already been claimed by a mission settlement and the Post Office Department required a new name. A heated public meeting was held, and after the smoke cleared, the majority of the citizens favored the prefix "North" be added to San Juan. From 1860, until forced to suspend operations, North San Juan was headquarters for many hydraulic mining companies, and ditch companies that supplied water to the mines. The town was served by five different stagecoach and express lines and boasted the refinements befitting her title, "Queen of the Ridge." Today, North San Juan is a peaceful community with a static population. (Every time a baby is born, a man leaves town). Many of the historical buildings still remain, and in several cases are still in use. (I got this historical information from Toki's Fountain menu).

When the middle Yuba Canal was completed in the spring of 1854, it provided a more reliable source of water enabling hydraulic mining operations to begin working on a large scale. During 1859, a three hundred mile long flume was completed to North San Juan from the lakes around Bowman Lake. This marked the beginning of a decade of prosperity for the town and its several thousand inhabitants. The water was vital to hydraulic mining, and the town soon became the headquarters for numerous water companies that supplied the mines. The town went from boomtown to quiet town when hydraulic mining ceased in 1884.

In North San Juan we enjoy visiting our friends Bill and Toki...and  love her Japanese cuisine, like her Pork Yakisoba pictured below.


Not far from North San Juan, after crossing the Yuba River, we turn onto the old Alleghany road where we plan on eating our lunch by the creek. The road through the Oregon Creek Bridge is closed because of needed repairs. Mel wanted to take a picture of it today, because they may build a new bridge. This 100 foot long bridge (also known as Freeman's Crossing) was hand built in 1860, making it one of the oldest covered bridges in California.

The Oregon Creek Covered Bridge was washed downstream by the flood waters when the English Dam broke in 1883. It was restored to its former place by using ox teams and log rollers, but during the process the bridge got turned around so that it  wound up being installed backwards, inspiring the nickname "Backward Bridge."

We've driven through it many times.

It's a nice, quiet place to enjoy our lunch.

We're on the road again headed for Camptonville. Now we're getting into some snow. Judge Cleveland Avenue reminds me of an experience Mel had when we were in the trucking business. He was hauling logs in the area  when a highway patrolman weigh-master pulled him over to weigh the load. The truck was in a bad position and the officer seemed to be having trouble. His scales said the truck was over-weight, so he wrote out a ticket. Then he weighed it again, when the truck was in the normal position. His scales revealed  the load was legal. Mel asked him to nullify the ticket, but he refused, jumped in his vehicle and headed for Sacramento. When he got to a phone, Mel called the Nevada County District Attorney to see if they would stop him. The DA refused...adding that "we were on the other side of the fence."

Camptonville's Judge Acton Cleveland (right) was very nice, and told Mel that if he ever had any trouble in the future to call him and he'd come down to mediate. The fine was $700, so we wrote to Governor Edmund Brown to see if he'd investigate the problem. We never heard anything from him, and paid the fine. Later another highway patrolman kept harassing Mel when he was on the road. He'd pull him over and try to find something wrong. Finally Mel blew up and asked him what was going on. He replied, "You tried to get my buddy's job." Typical of human nature to always blame someone else for consequences when we make bad choices. What goes around comes around. Evidently, Mel wasn't the only victim of the wayward officer who cost us so much grief and money. The officer was eventually barred from the area.

The Jacks had their restaurant here for many years after they left Nevada City. Someone else now occupies this  historic building. Below is a photo of the Hotel Francis that used to be in Camptonville.

That large red object in the yard is a band saw from the late 1800s.

Bye folks...Come back again!

We only saw one person in the many camp sites along the river. He was warming himself by a campfire.

Can you see the third deer?

When Mel used to haul logs through here, this part of the road was narrow and went over to where you see the snow along the edge. Beautiful view of the river just below here.

I'm told Coyoteville wasn't a formal settlement, but rather a group of tents. It  was called that because of the vertical holes the miners dug in the ground looking for gold was like the burrowing by coyotes.

Downieville, County Seat of Sierra County, was founded in 1849 open discovery of gold near the confluence of the North Yuba and Downie Rivers. First called The Forks, it was renamed Downieville after Major Downie, who is said to have offered to throw a pan of gold dust in the street if the town were named after him. In 1852 the town had a population of about 3,000. The placer mines in the area were fabulously rich, one site reportedly yielding $300 to the pan for a brief time. The Tin Cup Diggins which was located on the right bank above the second bridge was said to have been so rich that the owners worked each day until they had a tin drinking cup full of gold. Downieville has had its share of tragedies. The town suffered disastrous fires in 1852, 1858 and 1864, and a raging flood in 1938. Many of the original buildings, however, still remain. The above picture is a detailed drawing made by a Forest Service illustrator from a photograph taken in about 1880. In the drawing, note the absence of trees on the hillsides around the town. The forest was cut by early day settlers and miners to meet their needs for fuel and construction materials. In the meantime, with a little help and fire protection from man, Nature has since reforested these early day clear cuts.

Carriage House Inn web page gives a great view of Downieville.

This was a narrow, sharp turn  for trucks before they improved the road.

Most of the bad icy spots were heavily sanded. That made our summer drive in the winter safer. We made it home just before dark. It was a perfect way to start out the New Year.