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The Mineral King Road Corridor is not just a road. It is a pathway through history with many fascinating stories to tell. Some of those tales reside in the memories of families that have lived them. A few have been recorded on tape and on paper. Most have been lost with the passing of the "old-timers" who created them. What information has been retained of some of the major points of interest along the road will be related in this series.

1913 Three Rivers StoreThe old store at Three Rivers operated, by Frank and Noel Britten, 1913. This store was one of the stops for the horse stage Mr. Griggs operated from Exeter to Three Rivers from 1902 through 1906.

For most travelers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Mineral King road began at Britten's Store and Post Office in Three Rivers. There was no highway from Visalia. There was no Generals Highway through the Park. By 1890, there were roads winding up the lower reaches of each fork of the Kaweah River to different ranches that had been settled. The road up the North Fork ran farther than the rest, all the way into the forested regions of the Kaweah Colony lumber mill. By 1903, that road had been extended to the Giant Forest by the army.

There was a shorter road, too, up the Middle Fork of the Kaweah. It was built by the Mt. Whitney Power Company and was replaced three years later with a bridge across the river to the Mt. Whitney Power House No. 2. It continued up the canyon to the No. 2 dam, ending two or three miles above Hospital Rock. But it didn't reach the high country.

It wasn't until 1926, after the Mt. Whitney Power road had been improved for autos, that a new two-lane Park road was completed from Hospital Rock to Giant Forest. Until then, the Mineral King road was the main access to the back country of Sequoia National Park. Before the advent of the automobile, it was a long ride from Exeter, Visalia, or other central valley communities to Three Rivers. Britten's store was the staging place for the long haul up the Mineral King road. From Visalia to Mineral King, it could take three days.

Noel Britten settled on the South Fork of the Kaweah River in 1888 to raise cattle and hogs. Realizing the need for a store in Three Rivers, Noel and his brother, Ernest, built Britten Brother's General Store. In 1909, Noel became the Three Rivers Postmaster and relocated the 1879 franchised post office to their store. He and his wife, Nellie, also operated the Three Rivers Hotel.

"The active center of Three Rivers was Britten's Store and Post Office," recalled traveler Alice Crowley, a fifteen year old girl in 1909. The large country store was stocked with everything imaginable in her young eyes.

"This welcome merchandise was hauled in by heavy freight wagons, which took a long, full day to make the trip from Visalia," she wrote in later years. "Noel Britten was storekeeper and post master. We children considered him the most important person in all Three Rivers country."

"Near Britten's store was the hotel, a blacksmith shop and a place where the Giant Forest and Mineral King Stages stopped to change horses, drivers, and to take on passengers, mail and baggage."

There was a dining room in the hotel where stage riders could eat a mid-day meal. Customers washed off the dust of the valley ride on the pack porch of the dining room under the welcome shade of some sycamore trees.

"A pump was on the low parch, flanked by a long, water-worn bench on which were the wash basins, tar soap, and a single gourd drinking cup. A framed, bleary-surfaced glass mirror hung on the wall of the porch. A roller towel, already much the worse for use, was beside it. . . damp, musky, whiskey-odored, perspiration impregnated.

"We ate our mid-day meal in the dining room. It was served on a long table running almost the length of the room. In the middle... was a small, circular revolving table on which anything extra for the meal was placed. Most of the diners were unacquainted-a motley group of travelers, stage drivers, a rancher or two, packers, cowboys. It was a strangely quiet meal except for a request now and then to pass the this or that, thank ye, Ma-am! Everyone seemed in a hurry to get the meal over and be about his business."

By the 1920s, automobiles had taken the place of horse-drawn stages. The improved roads were making it possible to get to Mineral King in one day. Tourists had less reason to stop in Three Rivers but often they did because Britten's store still held everything imaginable.

"The definition of 'store' covered many things other than food stuffs," long-time Three Rivers resident Thelma Crain recalled. "There were such things as coal oil, chicken feed, lanterns, coal oil lamps, shoes, work clothes, etc. Some staples in larger amounts were kept in the back room such as hair ribbons, lace and eyelet for trimming by the yard, and perhaps some boxed candies to be used as gifts, and sometimes an odd assortment of toys left over from the previous Christmas season."

Noelie, as Noel was affectionately called, moved more slowly as the years passed, plucking requested purchases off the shelves at a shuffling pace, frustrating some of the customers. In 1935, Nellie succeeded him as post master, and his brother, Harry, ran the store and hotel. In 1937, Richard Britten bought the store and hotel. He and his wife lived in a small apartment connected to it, until they built a new Three Rivers Market that still stand today. The old hotel burned in 1948.

(CREDITS: : "Heading for the Hills" by Alice Crowley Jackson; Buzzards and Sunbeams, by Thelma Crain; Mary Bronzan papers on the history of Three Rivers; "Three Rivers Historical Time Line", Tulare County Historical Library; Papers and Diary from the Britten family file, Three Rivers Historical Society. Compilation by Louise Jackson. Webmaster, Jill Brown)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
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