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A Brief History of Highway 128

In the early days quite some time before Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers perfected their inventions, transportation throughout this part of the country was a great task. There were many things that needed to move in and out to other parts of the county such as lumber, split products, wool, hops, grain, etc. But the roads did not make it easy to move. 

In 1859 two men named Charles Cooley and Daniel Sink took on the task of building the first road from Cloverdale to Ukiah via the Mountain House Road to Hopland. This road was just barely better than a trail. It would accommodate a horse and buggy, however, if two of them would meet, one of them would have to back up to where they could pass. This road remained in use until around 1913 when the State of California and the US Government allocated money and bought right-of-way to widen the road and accommodate the increase of automobiles at that time.

On May 1, 1913, the citizens of Cloverdale put on a huge celebration for the opening of the new highway north via the Mountain House to Hopland route and other points in Northern California. That afternoon a barbecue was held at Prescott Park in Cloverdale where Bud Beaty, J.E. Helm and Jake Vassa cooked 1524 pounds of beef and 565 pounds of mutton. This celebration was the opening of the new “Redwood Highway.” It is still called the Redwood Highway today. At this time the road from Cloverdale to Mountain House to Hopland became Highway 101.

Then in about 1931 or 1932 a new highway was constructed from Cloverdale to Hopland along the Russian River. Upon its completion the road from Cloverdale through Anderson Valley became Route 28 and the road from Mountain House to Hopland was turned over to the County of Mendocino.

In 1859 the Mountain House area was owned by a family named McDonald who had built a multi-room hotel in the area so that people traveling north and south could stay overnight and rest.

This was also where the road forked — the East Fork went north to Hopland and the other fork went west through Anderson Valley and on to the coast. This part of the road got the name McDonald To The Sea Highway. This highway was never purchased for right-of-way by the state. Instead, it was given an easement by the land owners along the route. It was given the number 28. It remained Highway 28 until sometime around 1945 when the state changed it to number 128. For the most part the highway from the junction of 101 to about two miles east of Yorkville is still pretty much in the same location as when it was first constructed.

There is one exception and that is just east of the Mountain House where it runs down a pretty steep grade. The original road was across the canyon from where it is today. 

Since then, from just east of Yorkville through to Flynn Creek and the junction of Comptche Road the highway has undergone many changes via reconstruction, widening, relocation and improvement. Today the section through Anderson Valley is a pretty good travel way while both ends are pretty crooked.

Going back to the far west end of Highway 128 at Flynn Creek. At that point the road left the valley and ran up a steep grade to the top of what was called the Navarro Grade. This was a very steep grade and in the winter it was almost impassable to travel on because it was very soft and muddy and the wagons would get stuck in the mud. It eventually came out on the coast south of Salmon Creek where it is now called the Navarro Ridge Road. 

Later around 1922 or 1923 a road project was started just beyond Flynn Creek and the junction of the Comptche Road to build a road along the North Fork of the Navarro River to the junction of the main Navarro River where the Paul Dimmick State Park is located. The roadway was built on the north side of the river all the way to the mouth of the Navarro River where it would eventually joined Highway 1 running north and south along the coast. This is the point where Highway 128 originates. Before this road was constructed there was a large trail down the North Fork of the Navarro to the main river and I was told by some old-timers that the trail crossed the North Fork about eight times.

That concludes the discussion of Highway 128 in Mendocino County. However, it also continues east to a small town in the Sacramento Valley named Winters.


  1. George Hollister December 3, 2020

    Great writing Mr. Smoot. I hope we have a chance to read more of your writings. I have a question; on the East side of 128 going from Boonville to Cloverdale, on the final grade going down there are is a set of switchback turns. These sharp turns are problematic, which leaves me wondering how come 128 doesn’t continue down at an even grade before the top turn in the set of switchbacks? There appears to be enough flat road below to accommodate an even grade road, with no switchbacks. Is there a cliff? A big hard rock?

  2. David Iverson December 8, 2021

    My ancestors, The Hiatts, owned the Mountain House Ranch from 1910 until 1972. Great story Wes. My mother went to school with him. I met him in April 2021.

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