Dorrington is a tiny town with a population of less than one thousand, located in Calaveras County along Highway 4 in the central High Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is Sierra “Gold Country,” an area filled with dozens of small gold rush “boom towns,” all with an interesting history and a story to tell.
Originally known as Cold Spring Ranch until 1902 (because of an icy spring), the town sits on State Highway 4 and historically was a stopping point along the toll road between Murphys and Ebbetts Pass, often serving as a resort for visitors to what is now Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
The town's name changed upon establishment of the post office in 1902. The name Dorrington was the maiden name of the first postmaster's wife. The post office was discontinued in 1919, but re-established in 1921 and closed for good in 1934.
Dorrington is on the way to Bear Valley, known for its exceptional skiing in winter, and hiking, mountain biking, rafting and camping in summertime. Dorrington is also near the Stanislaus National Forest and the Mercer Caverns, and is approximately a two-hour drive to Yosemite National Park.
Blood's Toll Station & Hotel were built on the present Bear Valley Meadow site and were run by his wife, daughter Reba and the family Chinese cook. Legend has it that the red-haired Reba would "borrow" freshly baked pies cooling on the windowsill to take to the survey men working on Ebbett's Pass. In appreciation, the men named a prominent mountain after Reba. The Bloods ran the toll station until 1887 when their contract expired.
It’s a spectacular area, filled with rivers and waterfalls, forests and redwoods, and home to Ebbetts Pass, the one of the highest Sierra Nevada mountain passes (that’s on a paved road,) The road over this pass is usually open only a short time in summer, due to heavy snows that start early and end late in the season (but the view over the pass is worth the wait.) The town of Dorrington is also near the Calaveras County Big Trees State Park, which contains Redwood trees more than 2,000 years old, and offers hiking and backpacking, camping (both primitive and campgrounds.)
HISTORY: Jedediah Strong Smith appears to have been the first Euro-American to enter the region. From his camp on the lower Stanislaus River, Smith and two companions traveled eastward, upstream, and crossed the Sierra Nevada in eight days during May of 1827. It is thought that the path traveled by Smith and his fellow trappers may have paralleled the present Highway 4. The Bidwell-Bartleson party, touted as the "First Immigrant Train to California," although leaving their wagons behind on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, entered California and traveled down the Stanislaus River drainage in 1841.The Sierra Nevada trails became popular after the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848, precipitating a worldwide rush of peoples to the Sierra Nevada foothills.
"Major" J.A.N. Ebbetts claimed to have led a group of miners and mules east over the Sierras in 1851, using a snow-free pass at the headwaters of the Mokelumne River. Later, in 1853, he led a railroad survey team across the Sonora Pass region. From a high peak just east of Sonora Pass he pointed north to the pass he thought he took in 1851 to George Goddard, a mapmaker. In 1854, Ebbetts died in a steamer explosion. In memoriam, Goddard placed the name Ebbetts Pass on the map he completed in 1856, approximately in the region he thought Ebbetts had pointed out.
One of the more interesting chapters in the history of the route involves the exploits of John A. "Snow-Shoe" Thompson, who delivered mail from 1856 to 1876 along two routes. Johnson was famous for having made skis, like those from his native Norway, which he wore when delivering mail across 90 miles of snow-covered trails and passes.
Photographs courtesy of the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Highway