From 5 Views, An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California (California Department of Parks and Recreation Office of Historic Preservation, 1988):
Del Norte County is isolated from the rest of California by mountain ranges, and in the early days, its chief link with San Francisco was by sea. An overland route was needed to ensure continued growth and development of the county. The Gasquet Toll Road provided the transportation linkage between Del Norte County and Oregon.
The Gasquet Toll Road is a corduroy road, with a bed composed of timbers laid across its width and a surface of dirt and gravel. A newspaper of the time described it as a “wagon road leading from the forks of the Smith River up the middle fork of said river on the left hand bank thereof about four miles, thence across the same; thence to the mouth of Patrick’s Creek; thence up Patrick’s Creek to Shelly Creek; thence to a point on the state line between California and Oregon, about three miles east of the ‘Robin’s Nest,’ being about twenty miles in length and intended to be a toll road.”
Although the road may have been repaired or resurfaced with dirt and gravel in subsequent years, it has largely retained its original composition and construction. It can still be used, but it is narrow and winds through the mountains. Most traffic to the Oregon border is now on Highway 101 or Interstate 5.
The Gasquet Toll Road was planned by a French immigrant, Horace Gasquet, and was built by Chinese American workers. The road was begun in 1881 and completed in 1886.
On May 15, 1881, petitions were circulated among the citizens of Del Norte County in order to document their endorsement of the plan and ask for approval by the board of supervisors to construct a new road. The May 15, 1881 issue of the Del Norte Record quotes Gasquet: “Understanding this great work, I consider myself the servant of the people interested and a full accounting shall be made of all expenditures and progress.”
Horace Gasquet immigrated to Crescent City, California, in 1855. In 1857, he purchased 320 acres of land at the north and middle forks of the Smith River, and set up the village of Gasquet, with a hotel, bar, store, barn, blacksmith shop, winery, and other small buildings. Around 1860, he completed one of the first mule trails to the interior and to the Oregon Territory. Later, he had a mule trail built to Happy Camp on the Klamath River, where he opened another mercantile store, in addition to his mining activities there. Then he opened a store at Waldo, Oregon.
Gasquet’s stores at Waldo and Happy Camp, his mining activities, his road projects, and his farm at Gasquet were all handled with Chinese American workers until 1886. Anti-Chinese agitation peaked in 1886, when virtually all Chinese Americans in Del Norte County were expelled. Numerous Chinatowns throughout the county were torn down, and evidence of Chinese American contributions to growth of the county destroyed. Only the roads built by Chinese American workers remain.
In addition to driving the road, visitors can also visit the Smith River National Recreation Area for its ample recreation opportunities.
Submitted by: H Kwan, USFS