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Freddy Griffes with pet fox at the Oriole Lake road apply orchard, ca 1915.


The old Apple Orchard House on Oriole Lake road. Built ca 1885 by J.W. Griffes.


1883 Surveyor General's
Office Map

 

Milk Ranch

A short distance up the road from Oak Grove, a dirt side road announces "No Outlet". Rutted and steep, this road veers up the hill to the north. Looking up, one sees an evergreen forested ridge. That forest holds a grove of Sequoia trees, remnants of an old trail, a lake, and a small subdivision of private homes. But in the past, it held much more in the way of dreams.


The Milk Ranch trail ran up the knoll on the left from the river and across the ridge.

The first historic trail up the East Fork of the Kaweah River ran a route up the north side of the canyon to a cattle range high on the ridge called the Milk Ranch. The Works and Lovelace families of Three Rivers ran their cattle there. In the 1860s, John Lovelace and Pleasant Works extended the stock trail along the forested ridge to higher grazing grounds. A Surveyor General map of 1883, shows the trail dipping down from the ridge to Oriole Lake. From there it continued over the ridge to Redwood Creek and on to the area of Atwell Mill. This was the trail the first adventurers and miners took to get into the Mineral King Valley.

Oriole Lake

It wasn't long before Oriole Lake became more than a spot on the Lovelace/Works stock trail. Nestled below the forested ridge at a 5,000 ft. elevation, the area has sunny slopes and shaded flats that from prehistoric times has enticed settlement.

By the 1880s, several campsites had been established on the lake's shores. A man named Arnold homesteaded a ranch there and soon a wagon road wound its way up to the lake from the Mineral King road. Around 1885, J.W. Griffes built a two-story house on the property and planted nine acres of apples and berries. By 1890, more than a dozen plots of land were subdivided for residency, several structures were erected, and more apple orchards were planted.

But the quiet, secluded beauty of the area seemed destined for bigger schemes. In 1909, several Exeter, Visalia and Three Rivers merchants joined with officers of the Visalia Electric Railroad Company to explore the potential of a "modern" destination mountain resort. On February 28, 1910, Articles of Incorporation for the Oriole Lodge were filed with the Tulare County clerk. The company was capitalized at $50,000 with $18,630 actually subscribed by 36 interested backers. Several of those backers were the same people who had invested in the Mineral King mines three decades earlier.

"It is the purpose of this corporation to build a resort unequaled in all the state for beauty and comfort," the Visalia Delta announced on March 1, 1910. "Everything in connection with it will be first class and guests may have all the comforts of their homes and yet be in the heart of the Sierras... It is said that along the whole extent of the Sierra Nevada Mountains there is not to be found a more beautiful spot for the location of a summer and winter resort."

The entire area's points of interest were advertised. Both the Kern River Canyon and Giant Forest were only a day's travel on horseback. Mineral King was only half a day away. Castle Rocks, "Where the most beautiful view in all the mountains can be obtained," was only 5 miles distant. Half-day foot walks could be taken from the lodge even by the ladies and children, one of great interest being one to the newly discovered Paradise Cave.

"The lodge will be ideal in this respect, for while men can be as strenuous as they like, the ladies and children may remain in the cool comfort and enjoyment of the good things of life."

In the plans was a power plant which would light the hotel, cottages, grounds and pavilions with electricity. It also would furnish power for a refrigerating plant, laundry "and other uses". Each cottage would have a suite of rooms, a private bath, and all other conveniences. Because it was the desire of the management to have everything in perfect order before opening, the resort would not be open for business for another year.

There also was the matter of access.

"The lodge is only about ten miles from Three Rivers and, as a large part of this distance from the terminus of the railroad can be covered in an automobile, is easily accessible and can be reached in half a day."

What the articles didn't divulge was the need to switch to horse and buggy or wagon, in order to maneuver the tortuous old River Hill Grade. But that was soon to be solved. On the 4th day of June, 1910, a petition was filed with the county for re-routing the Mineral King road from Red Hill to Oak Grove to make it more suitable for automobiles. On the list of petitioners were the signatures of the Visalia Electric Railroad Company manager and the president of the Oriole Lodge Corporation.

In a March 7, 1911 supplemental petition, the points of interest listed for the proposed new road were "Sequoia National Park, Paradise Cave, Castle Rocks, Mineral King, Kern River, Mt. Whitney, and Oriole Lodge Summer and Winter Resort, now in the course of construction and when completed will be one of the most beautiful summer resorts in California."

To encourage a quick road construction schedule, the Oriole Lodge Corporation offered 100,000 feet of free lumber to construct bridges and culverts. But the new "highway" was not completed until the summer of 1913.

By then, whole hillsides of cedar and pine trees had been cut by the Oriole Lodge Corporation. By the time automobiles could make their way up to the lodge, there were other more posh resorts that had become popular. At one point an airstrip graced the maps of Oriole Lake, but "one of the most beautiful summer resorts in California" never took shape.

Today, a gate protects a small enclave of private properties. The road to it is rocky and often washes out during winter. The old Lovelace/Works trail is lost in undergrowth. A few apple trees survive on the hillsides and perhaps a few berry vines can be found. A fire burned portions of the beautiful forest in the fall of 2003. In spite of all the big plans and projections, Oriole Lake still remains quiet and secluded, another promoter's dream that was lost.

(CREDITS: Visalia Delta, March 1. 1910, "Beautiful Summer Resort Planned"; Photo of the "Old Apple Orchard House" at Oriole Lake, ca 1885; "No Apples for the Teacher" by Frankie Welch, The Kaweah Magazine, Nov. 1960; Maps of Oriole Lake Subdivision, Courtesy Sequoia National Park archives; Petition for New County Road, June 7th, 1910; Supplemental Petition, March 7, 1911; Agreement between Oriole Lodge and County of Tulare, Oct. 6th, 1911; With thanks to the Tulare County Surveyor's Office, the Visalia History Room of the Tulare County Library, and Ward Eldredge, Archivist, Sequoia National Park. Photos from Three Rivers Historical Society and Sequoia National Park files. Compilation by Louise Jackson. Webmaster, Jill Brown.)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
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