Big Sur, by Edward Perry

07 Jan 2016 1:13 PM | Anonymous member
Three tribes of Native Americans—the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan—are speculated to have been the first people to inhabit the area now known as Big Sur.

The first Europeansto see Big Sur were Spanishmariners led by Juan Cabrillo in 1542, who sailed up the coast without landing. Two centuries passed before the Spaniards attempted to colonize the area. In 1769, an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá were the first Europeans known to set foot in Big Sur, in the far south near San Carpoforo Canyon. Daunted by the sheer cliffs, his party avoided the area and pressed far inland.

Portolá landed in Monterey Bay in 1770, and with Father Junípero Serra, who helped found most of the missionsin California, established the town Monterey, which became the capital of the Spanish colony Alta California. The Spaniards gave Big Sur its name during this period.  Along with the rest of California, Big Sur became part of Mexico when it gained independence from Spain in 1821.  In 1848, as a result of the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded California to the United States

From the 1860s through the start of the 20th century, loggers cut down most of the coast redwoods.  After a brief industrial boom faded, the early decades of the 20th century passed with few changes, and Big Sur remained a nearly inaccessible wilderness. As late as the 1920s, only two homes in the entire region had electricity, locally generated by water wheels and windmills. Most of the population lived without power until connections to the California electric grid were established in the early 1950s. The California coast south of Carmeland north of San Simeonwas one of the most remote regions in the state, rivaling nearly any other region in the United States for its difficult access.

The state first approved building Route 56, or the Carmel-San Simeon Highway,to connect Big Sur to the rest of California in 1919. Federal funds were appropriated and in 1921 voters approved additional state funds. San Quentin Prisonset up three temporary prison camps to provide unskilled convict laborto help with road construction. One was set up by Little Sur River, one at Kirk Creek and a third was later established in the south at Anderson Creek. Inmates were paid 35 cents per day and had their prison sentences reduced in return. Locals, including writer John Steinbeck, also worked on the road. The road necessitated 33 bridges constructed, the largest of which was the Bixby Creek Bridge. Six more concrete arch bridges were built between Point Sur and Carmel, and all were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. After 18 years of construction, aided by New Deal funds during the Great Depression, the paved two-lane road was completed and opened on June 17, 1937. The road was initially called the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, but was better known as the Roosevelt Highway, honoring the current President (Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Actual cost of the construction was around $10 million. The road was frequently closed for extended periods during the winter, making it a seasonal route. During World War II, nighttime blackouts were ordered as a precaution against Japanese attack.

The route was incorporated into the state highway system and designated as Highway 1in 1939. In 1940, the state contracted for "the largest installation of guard rail ever placed on a California state highway", calling for 12 miles of steel guardrail and 3,649 guideposts along 46.6 miles of the road. After World War II ended, tourism and travel boomed along the coast. When Hearst Castleopened in 1958, a huge number of tourists also flowed through Big Sur. The road was declared the first State Scenic Highway in 1965, and in 1966 the first lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, led the official designation ceremony at Bixby Creek Bridge. The US Government designated the route as an All American Road.

Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as Bixby Bridge, is a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge in Big Sur, California. The bridge is located 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmelin Monterey County along State Route 1. Prior to the opening of the bridge in 1932, residents of the Big Sur area were virtually cut off during winter due to the often-impassable Old Coast Road that led 11 miles inland. At its completion, the bridge was built under budget for $199,861 and was the longest concrete arch span at 320 feet (98 m) on the California State Highway System. It is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world and one of the most photographed bridges along the Pacific Coast due to its aesthetic design and location.

Edward Perry, Historian


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