by Dean Greenwalt
Many who enjoy Arrastre Canyon and Juniper Flats may not be aware that they are accessing via the historic Van Dusen Rd. route. The route went easterly from Hesperia along Rock Springs Rd. After dropping down towards Tussing Ranch Rd., it headed south into Arrastre Canyon generally along current Bowen Ranch Rd. At Rock Springs, the route veered southeast and climbed present Coxey Truck Trail (USFS 3N14) towards Oak Springs. Since Rock Springs afforded the last opportunity to water horse and mule teams before the climb up Sand Hill, an earthen dam was built on Rock Springs Creek at a natural constriction just north of the old Mark law Ranch (currently Rock Springs Ranch).
Richard D. Thompson, historian and past president of the Mohahve Historical Society (and the San Bernardino Pioneer and Historical Society) has provided information on Van Dusen Rd. including a map of the original route. It was built in 1861 in combination with a new toll road up the Cajon Pass (John Brown’s Turnpike). Together, they were to address “the increased trade to the mines and the need to transport heavy machinery to Holcomb Valley.” At the terminus was Belleville, one of the busiest towns in Southern California and leading contender for San Bernardino County seat (derailed by a “missing” ballot box). Van Dusen Rd. was built by subscription collected from Holcomb Valley miners for somewhat less the estimated cost of $2000, and was named after its builder, Bellville blacksmith Jeb Van Dusen.
On his excellent MojaveHistory.com website, Mr. Thompson writes, “Shortly after the completion of the turnpike and Van Dusen’s road, Mellus hired the freighting firm of Banning and Hinchman to move a boiler weighing 8,000 pounds from Los Angeles to Holcomb Valley. the boiler was to be used at the quartz mill, where they crushed the ore. There were differences of opinion on whether the monstrous apparatus could be hauled over the mountains, but under the direction of the capable Sanford, the feat was accomplished. The wagons left Los Angeles on the 17th of July and arrived at Holcomb Valley on August 13th. This had been the first major challenge fro Brown and his road, and he had done everything in his power to assist Sanford in his efforts. The Los Angeles Star, reporting on their success, said, “All wagons from Los Angeles and San Bernardino now go by the turnpike — the old Spanish Trail, made into a good wagon road, having grass and water within easy distances.”
This story was written by Dean Greenwalt for the Friends of Juniper Flats Newsletter March 2006. It was a huge loss when Dean was killed by a driver involved in a high speed chase in 2009. Dean was the previous owner of Rock Springs Ranch and although he lived in the city he spent much of his time on the ranch. He also spent time researching the history of the area’s various ranches. We will be reprinting those stories here. Olive Bowen was a member of Friends of Juniper Flats in the early 2000s, but since Dean’s passing we have lost contact.
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