They Called it the “Sky-Line”

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 1/1990

Ever wondered where the “Skeggs” in “Skeggs Point” came from? Perhaps you imagined Skeggs as one of the early Mountain pioneers I babble about.  No, Major John B. Skeggs was the State’s Highway Engineer and they named it after him (maybe he named it after him) shortly after Skyline was built in 1924. Before that the rough Old Summit Road stopped at Kings Mountain Road. There was no through ridge route south of it.

Ironically, Skyline wasn’t built until after all the pioneer population that might have used it had left.  From 1855 to 1900, with the mills, dairies, inns and a menagerie of hermits, Kings Mountain was bustling. But as with the Van Winkle family, discussed in recent articles, the lure of emerging urban infrastructure-based Comforts was too great for our pioneers and by 1920, when the last mill closed, essentially all but the hermits had left for more civilized ways on the flats.

But hermits rarely make history.  So, much less is known about the Mountain during the next 30 years than during the earlier, busier era. There were few all-year residents. The Mountain’s main use was light recreational, primarily summer use. Why, then, was Skyline Boulevard built in 1924 if there was no one here to demand it? Amazingly, the first urgings came from the military. The thinking ran like this: “With a good road down the ridge, we can quickly place heavy armorments anywhere best suited to stop a Pacific Coast invasion.”  They thought invaders would have difficulty fighting uphill against well positioned artillery.  They called it the “Sky-Line.” Funding came from Federal, State and local sources who got into the act on June 16th, 1916 when supervisors from San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties met and agreed the road would be mutually beneficial.  The Skyline was to run from San Francisco south.  San Francisco took the lead, both at that meeting and later by paying more than its share of construction costs, arranging the financing, the route, and, of course, by arranging for its Spring Valley Water Company, the biggest landowner affected (now the Game Refuge/Watershed), to give the necessary easements.

It took until 1922 to actually get going and by Christmas, 1923 they had finished Skyline from San Francisco to today’s “pass” at Hwy 92.  The route up today’s Hwy 92 required almost no work. The basic roadbed was carved decades earlier, and had been re-surfaced completely in 1916.  Note the contrast with what you see on Hwy 35 Hwy 92 winds around the hills. In many places on the more modern Hwy 35 you actually drive through the hill and have cuts on both sides of you the sign of having tractors available when the roadbed was laid out. But Hwy 92 is of the older style where via dynamite and hand shovels they “edged” a flat cut for a road around the hill and cut as little as possible.

As you drive up Hwy 92 there are three places where the road isn’t original. You can see them all easily.  Once you’re above the quarry, the first sharp curve swings to the right, then there is a curve to the left. As you come out of that second curve you can see the old road by looking uphill to your right.  It is just beyond the green Game Refuge fence.  Around the next curve, (again swinging to the right), on your right, you can see where the old roadbed wound around, away from the current road, and slightly above it, into the hill and then came back to meet the existing road classic old style so only a minimal cut into the hill was necessary.  Just west of that, on the right of the road, up the hill about eight feet, you can still see the old asphalt road surface.  In essence they cut down to straighten it out.

But Hwy 35 looks far different. Imagine its evolution, replacing the Old Summit Road which, in typical old-road fashion, wound slowly around the knolls, as a one wagon-wide cliff-hanger.  Whenever erosion washed it out, they pulled more dirt down from above to fill the gap, and horsed on which was fine for 70 years. But it was narrow. Most of it involved small cuts or no cuts at all, being created originally by horse hoofs and wagons pulled over what was then open mainly grassland. You get a glimpse of the old road with no cuts running over grassland–near the top of the first long straight stretch and about 50 yards to its right.  Again, at that point, note that the old road wants to wander around the hill, whereas the present Skyline cuts through it.

But most of our old road is no longer visible simply overgrown and obliterated by six foot-tall sagebrush and poison oak.  There is another visible stretch just where the second curve to the right above the pass straightens out.  You can see it to the east, going uphill and out of eyesight as it disappears into some young trees.  Just past where it disappears, it is washed out completely the risks of “edge” roads and then resumes and edges around the hill to the south and back up the hill toward Skyline, straight toward Carol Forster’s house (11200 Skyline) from which you get a great view looking downward on one of its cuts.

The construction itself involved about 250 men, four steam shovels, eight tractors, 20 trucks, 250 horses, and 45,000 cubic yards of surfacing rock. Below, I’ve shown pictures of actual equipment used here on our Kings Mountain, Skyline Road. The men slept in rolling tent trucks – a sort of mobile construction camp which was moved almost daily to where the next road section lay. While the idea for Skyline may have come from the military, even before it was completed it was a recreational curiosity and ushered in our long summer cabin area.

IRONING OUT THE ROUGH SPOTS – Road roller are even to be found on the new road over the mountain tops. Here is road roller putting the finishing touches on the new Skyline boulevard. 

THIS HUMP-BACKED TRUCK plays an important part in the construction of the Skyline boulevard. After the top dressing of crushed rock has been put in place this truck, with a series of drags behind it, tours the road, the drags trimming of the high spots and dragging the rock into the low spots.