Siskiyou Mountain Wagon Road

If you blink, you're going to miss it. It doesn't matter how slowly you drive down the six miles of Old Highway 99, east of Ashland.

Except for a few old-timers and some families still living alongside the old thoroughfare, the historic marker, just downhill from the Siskiyou Summit, has pretty much been forgotten.

Placed by the Southern Oregon Historical Society's Trail Committee nearly 30 years ago, the rectangular brown metal sign stands in a field barely 5 feet west of the pavement.

During the summer, it's difficult to find, camouflaged behind the tall grasses that grow in the meadow. By winter, the grasses recede but winter snows are likely to bury the marker until late spring.

Although the road probably began as an American Indian trail between California and Oregon, this marker commemorates the Siskiyou Mountain Wagon Road, constructed 1858-60.

It was a toll road owned and operated by Lindsay Applegate until 1869, and later by James Thornton and Jesse Dollarhide.

Mark E. Lawrence, a key member of the SOHS Trail Committee, compiled information on the road for a 1982 report.

"Road construction was largely by hand with the aid of slip scrapers," he wrote. "This resulted in roads which often took circuitous routes to avoid serious obstacles, sticky bottoms and Indian encampments."

Although the road and grade were realigned and straightened numerous times over the route's 150-year history, you'll probably not believe it. A drive today along its steep and narrow twists and turns is sure to give you a taste of an 1860s stagecoach ride, without the swirling dust.

Though nothing is left, the actual location of the old toll station is about an eighth of a mile south of the wagon road marker. That site is now on private property and not available for inspection.

As the marker will tell you, the Pacific Highway replaced the toll road in 1915.

Jackson County voters had approved a half-million dollar bond issue to improve the road as part of a statewide plan with the motto, "Get Oregon Out of the Mud."

Historic preservationist George Kramer wrote a history of the highway in a 1995 article for the SOHS publication, "Oregon Heritage."

"The much-lauded Siskiyou Highway — although wide and gently graded — was still just a dirt road," he said.

"By 1921," he continued, "Jackson County was one of the first counties along the Pacific Highway offering a continuously paved surface from county line to county line."

In 1945, the state highway commission designated the Pacific Highway as Oregon's "official inter-regional north-south route through Oregon." It was all part of a projected system of national highways.

With federal involvement, the road was designated Highway 99, a name that had been growing in popularity.

Interstate 5 completely replaced the old highway by 1967, leaving it in bits and pieces across the state, including that six-mile stretch, east of Ashland.

Drivers zipping over the Siskiyou Pass have no idea of the history they're passing by — the history of a road Kramer remembered as "Oregon's Main Street."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. E-mail him at

Share This Story