Highway 17's Mountain Charlie



This is a sample section from the book Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz by Richard Beal.

Just west of Highway 17, off Summit Road, Mountain Charlie Road was once part of the McKiernan Toll Road from Scotts Valley to the summit. What remains of that original road, built in 1868, is now officially called Mountain Charlie Road. The next chapter will have more information about the early mountain roads, but one famous mountain personality needs to be introduced now.

Charles Henry 'Mountain Charlie' McKiernan was the second white man to live in the Summit area (settling in 1851). The first was a hunter called Daniel Post. Born in Ireland in 1825, Charles travelled to Australia while in the Army. When his enlistment was up he headed for the California gold strike. After a year in the mines, he came to the Santa Cruz Mountains and homesteaded a home, initially living alone. He hunted, tried raising beef and even did some gold mining without luck.

McKiernan is most famous for his losing fight with a grizzly bear. In 1854 while hunting with a friend, he was surprised by a 1,000 pound mother bear with two cubs. Mountain Charlie was seized by the bear, which crushed the front of his skull. The other hunter eventually managed to distract the bear. McKiernan recovered but had a metal plate, made from two Mexican dollar coins, temporarily fitted into his skull. At age 26 he married Barbara Berricke Kelly, an Irish nurse who had nursed him back to health after the nearly fatal grizzly bear attack. Barbara bore him 7 children.

There are many other bear stories in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but by the late 1800s most of the bears had been killed.

In the 1870s McKiernan started a stage coach business and later became one of the most successful businessmen in the area. McKiernan's cabin near the summit was often a stopping spot and became known as Halfway House or Station Ranch. Barbara cooked meals for the stage coach passengers while Charlie helped change horses on the wagons. After the new railroad diverted the toll road's business, Charles and Barbara moved to San Jose in 1884 where Charlie eventually died in 1892

Life in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1800s was very wild. Small time bandits used the area as hideouts - picking on travellers as well as making forays into the 'big' towns. Local historian James Addicott records:

In 1982 a plaque was installed at the northern most end of Mountain Charlie Road (near the Summit Road Overpass) stating: Mountain Charlie Road. In 1858 the Santa Cruz Turnpike Company issued a contract in the amount of $6,000 to Charles Henry 'Mountain Charlie' McKiernan and Hiram Scott for the construction of a road. The road from the Scott House, located in what is now Scotts Valley, to the Summit was later known as the McKiernan Toll Road. It subsequently became part of the Santa Cruz County road system on August 27, 1878 when the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors issued a warrant for $600 to Charles McKiernan in consideration of such abandonment by him. Dedicated October 9, 1982. Mountain Charlies Chapter No. 1850, E Calmpus Vitros, 'Right Wrongs Nobody'

All that is left of Mountain Charlie Road is a 5.2 mile section of a beautiful narrow road that goes from the Summit to Glenwood Highway, and a 2 mile section that goes north from the Summit to the old Santa Cruz Highway.





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