Trip up old Kingsbury is ride down Memory Lane
At the foot of old Kingsbury Grade, you can hear the mountain stream that travelers in the last century heard as they paid their toll and headed up the one-lane road to Lake Tahoe.
At that same location, Pony Express riders and horses may have thundered through at any time in 1860. And, if the Cary Mill, Carson Valley’s first grist mill, was running, it would probably be a noisy place.
– Important road then. Before it was Kingsbury Grade, the road from the Carson Valley to Lake Tahoe was called the Georgetown Trail, named after a mining town near Auburn, Calif., which was a popular destination.
The name was changed to the Daggett Pass Trail in 1854 when C.D. Daggett acquired 640 acres at the bottom of the road and renamed it.
In “Carson Valley,” author Grace Dangberg reports George Goddard’s 1855 description of the Daggett Pass Trail: “Descending to the valley, the barometer made the height of this pass above Daggett’s, 2,407 feet, the distance is under four miles; the trail is in some places very precipitous, and winds along the steep sides of the mountain, where a false step would precipitate one into the rocky canyon 500 feet below.'”
In 1860, Daggett Trail became the Kingsbury Toll Road, named after one of its builders. The road cut off 15 miles from the trek between Sacramento and Virginia City and was apparently well worth the $17.50 round trip toll. In 1863, toll receipts were $190,000.
Dangberg also reports a story in the San Francisco Herald, dated Sept. 15, 1860.
“I have heretofore mentioned the new wagon road of Kingsbury and McDonald, extending seven miles in length, from Carson Valley to Lake Valley,” the article reads. “I have since had an opportunity of examining the work and could not but admire the skill with which these gentlemen have wound around seemingly impassable heights with a most excellent road. The distance to Placerville is now reduced some 15 miles and so far as the difference in time is concerned, everybody admits that to heavy teams, a day’s travel is saved. The rates of toll are reasonable.”
After it opened in 1860, the Kingsbury Toll Road was followed by the Pony Express, replacing the Woodfords Canyon route. A line of the Humboldt & Salt Lake Telegraph Co. also followed the road up the hill.
– What can you see today? The bottom of the old grade comes out on Foothill Road between Mottsville Lane and Muller Lane. At that location, Nevada Historic marker 117 tells the story. Nearby, you can read about the Cary Mill, which was near the road’s toll house.
The grade is now paved and the lower part of the original road is under private ownership and gated.
You can still experience the thrill of the old Kingsbury Grade, however, by going up the current grade exactly 4 miles from Foothill Road, turning left onto the turnout and you’re there.
A bike or hike up the 2.6 miles would be fun. Crumbling asphalt, potholes and erosion underneath the road make it one that a vehicle can pass with caution and good clearance.
Toward the top, which exits through a road maintenance yard to your right back to new Kingsbury, large granite boulders make passage a little tight, but our all-wheel-drive Ford van made it just fine.
You’ll find lots of wildflowers, birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Don’t forget that this is bear habitat, too. But it’s the views that will take your breath away, the same vista that early settlers here must have seen, save for a few buildings and roads down in the Carson Valley.