Bear Valley (No. 331 California Historical Landmark)
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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Bear Valley is located 11 miles northwest of Mariposa and the site of Colonel John C. Fremont’s headquarters. He arrived there after the close of the Bear Flag Revolt that resulted in taking California from Mexico at the end of the Mexican American War. He bought a 44,000-acre parcel of the Mexican land grant, Rancho Las Mariposas, and claimed it as Bear Valley. Before he arrived, the area had been called Johnsonville, Haydenville, Biddle’s Camp, Biddleville and Simpsonville to honor former residents of the area. At its peak, Bear Valley was home to 3,000 people. At the time of the 2010 census, the population of Bear Valley decreased to 125.
Fremont was granted official title in 1859. His mines were reported to have yielded $200,000 worth of gold within four months. Fremont built a two-story hotel and later a store and home, “The White House,” on his property. Ruins of the Bon Ton Saloon, Trabucco store, Odd Fellows Hall, school house and jail built in 1850 are still visible. The elegant Oso Hotel that Fremont built along with his home and other structures burned in 1888. His initial $3,000 investment yielded a huge profit when Fremont eventually sold the property in 1863 for $6,000,000.
Evidence of mining can be still seen on the road from Mariposa to Benton Mills, which was once the largest of Fremont’s mills along the Merced River. Remnants of a thriving Chinese community are still standing on the road to Coulterville. Along the drive to Coulterville and looking down the ridge is the center of the area known as Hells Hollow. A carpet of purple godetias blankets the canyon in the springtime. The drive that winds down the grade passes several of Fremont’s mines, including those at Horseshoe Bend, Split Rock and Sherlock Gulch. Nearby Exchequer was a mining area on the way to the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The Exchequer Dam created Lake McClure for the purpose of providing water and electrical power to Merced County farmers.
The marker is located on State Highway 49 (P.M. 29.2), Bear Valley.
The wonders of the Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs lie in eastern Mariposa County. The small settlements in the western foothills of the county sprang up during the Gold Rush. The people in these early mining towns made many decisions affecting statewide mining law.
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