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Ebbetts Pass Route (No. 318 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Ebbetts Pass Marker

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

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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Ebbetts Pass—a high mountain pass of the Sierra Nevada range in Alpine County—was once used only by the Miwok and Washoe Native Americans of the area to cross the mountains. In 1827, this trail was used by famous trailblazer and cartographer, Jedediah Smith, to leave California at the urging of Mexican officials. It wasn’t until 1850 when John Ebbetts—Captain of the Knickerbocker Exploring Party of New York—crossed this pass with a large train of mules, guiding a party of miners into the then gold-frenzied California.

John Ebbetts saw the trail as a suitable route for the installation of the Transcontinental Railroad; mostly due to his observations of such little snow. This, however, was likely an anomaly, as today the highway is closed from November through May due to excessive snow accumulation transforming into a winter wonderland. In 1853, Ebbetts returned to this area while leading a survey party for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, who were researching possible routes for the Transcontinental Railroad. He recommended this route to his friend—and lead surveyor of the party—George H. Goddard, whom later named the pass Ebbetts Pass in his honor.

The route was eventually determined unsuitable for a train and Ebbetts made plans to return and survey it for the installation of a road instead. However, in 1854, while traveling to Petaluma aboard the steamboat Secretary, John Ebbetts was fatally injured in a boiler explosion. No emigrant train ever used Ebbetts route, but a toll road was established there in 1862 to serve the then booming silver mining region of Silver City. Today, visitors appreciate Ebbetts Pass for its leisurely-paced drive, unique and beautiful scenic vistas, access to the Pacific Crest Trail, and historic relics.

A marker is located along Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway (State Highway 4), on the left when traveling east (18 miles southwest of Markleeville, at post mile 18.5).

Alpine County

High in the Sierra Nevada along the eastern edge of California, Alpine County is sparsely populated. In 1844, John C. Fremont’s expedition, accompanied by Kit Carson, passed through the area and over today’s Carson Pass. The Overland Emigrant Trail passed through this county, and is marked today by yellow painted iron markers and plaques.

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