Taking You Back in History
By Kathy Brown
Well known to “locals”, and often awe-inspiring and a challenge to travelers, is “The Grade”, the steep 1600 foot ascent connecting Moccasin at the bottom of Priest Hill to Priest Station and the rolling terrain beyond at the top. Priest Grade boasts two different roads - “Old” and “New” - on opposite sides of Grizzly Gulch.
This is Part II of Making the Grade. Our thanks to Kathy Brown and Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society for their regular contributions to enhancing local knowledge of our area's rich history.
In July 1912, Sal Ferretti, Tuolumne County Supervisor from Groveland, convinced other county supervisors to fund the road’s completion as a public benefit. In Oct 1912 a county highway was approved, and work resumed on the narrow roadway that had been created by local citizens. By 1914 a 14 foot wide road christened Priests Hill Highway, in honor of community leader Margaret Priest who lobbied hard for the road, was finished. It was widened in 1924, paved in 1925, and improved as State Highway 120 in succeeding years.
When the completion of the new roadway was assured, Groveland's Tuolumne Prospector newspaper, predicted the demise of Old Priest Grade. It is a prediction which has never come to pass. Both roads, on opposite sides of Grizzly Gulch, remain in use to this day. Local citizens have been calling the improved road on the north side of Grizzly Gulch “New Priest Grade” for over 100 years.
Groveland area men take a break while digging New Priest Grade in 1913. A few names are missing but identified are Charlie Baird (left, seated who transported the crew to the work site on his stage), Ed Watson, Burley Smith, Roscoe Gray (with pick and shovel), Jake Laveroni, Chester McCarthy, Joe Martinez, Cy Goldsworthy, Bob Nelson, Ed Harper, Sam Blagg.