Tollhouse, California

Tollhouse has changed little in fifty years. Same store, same rugged individualist shopkeepers, the same landmark granite dome that climbers traverse, sometimes in a wedding dress or roller skates.  There are no Starbucks or McDonalds. But, there is a museum up the road that will  inspire appreciation for the people and the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada mountains.

The town has a past of some notoriety.  In the 1860s there were bears and panthers in the foothills and the Monache people, Piute on the west side of the Sierra Nevada, numbered in the hundreds.  Elijah Sarvers, a solitary goat herder, for whom Tollhouse Peak was originally named, was the first non-Indian to arrive. Six years later the Wood brothers started trapping and hunting along the Indian trails, but the stands of pine were so great that they soon took to splitting roof shake.  As immigrants began pouring into the San Joaquin Valley and building houses, legendary amounts of lumber came down the treacherous road from the brothers' operation at Pine Ridge. At first they hired the Mono Indians to carry bundles of shake down the grade.  Then in 1867 mill operator J. Humphreys employed a "gang" of Chinese laborers, 2,000 men strong to build a road and they charged people a toll:  ten cents per head of loose cattle, horses, or mules, fifty cents for a horse and rider, one dollar for a buggy, and $1.50 for a wagon with a span of oxen, horses, or mules, loose sheep or hogs, two cents a head. 

A village grew up around the toll house and then a boom town.  J. Morgan opened a blacksmith shop, Chuck Yancey built a hotel for the teamsters, and by 1916 there was a livery stable, a general store with a lunch counter and soda fountain that sold produce from the vegetable garden, and a bar. Famous for its steep east grade, many a coach driver would ask its riders to get out and walk. Later it took a so-called muscle car an hour and half to go eight miles without vapor locking.  Ski busses from the valley heading to China Peak would have to back up the first of the hairpin turns. Eventually California State Route 168 was redirected to the four lanes, fifteen minutes from top to bottom, and by-passed this pioneer community.          

Thanks to the renovation efforts of the current proprietors, the town, albeit smaller, is still serving its foothill customers.  In Tollhouse Market in a knotty yellow pine update of the old general store has a new stainless steel kitchen which serves grilled burgers, onion rings and shakes.To one side, almost overlooked, is the humble post office with its copper and brass letter window in operation from 1953-1960.  Walk next door to G. I. Jim’s military surplus store for rugged outdoor gear and an earful of modern and bygone lore, or down to Big Dry Creek.  It is rumored that there is a 300 year old tree near Tollhouse Road, still standing.


Latitude: 37.0183915 Longitude: -119.3977898 Elevation: 1944 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Susan Leeper


yes, tollhouse has not changed for a long time. I know i grew up here and lived here off and on. The past of this place is still present and the landscape is proably the same as it was over a hundred years ago. But i believe that is what gives this place its appeal, it is untouched by big businesses and city living.

ken rhoan, 1/9/2013

GI Jim's has moved to nearby Prather

Jim , 1/17/2013

My grandmother, Clara E. Kelley, lived off Peterson Rd. She was the cook at the two room Pineridge Elementary School for a number of years. The trip up Tollhouse Grade was always an adventure.

Linda McGuffey, 12/14/2013

My dad Coral Hammond graduated from the Tollhouse Seirra Union school about 1934.

Don Hammond , 7/5/2015

I recently bought a small silver pendant at a village antique market in England - on the back it says: Tollhouse Cup 1925. There seems to have been some car rallies in those days, can this be related I wonder...

Caron Joubert, 7/26/2015

I am the great great granddaughter of the Widow Waite who owned Mountain Rest. Would love any stories. My grandmother was Frances Glass and grandfather was Steve Antonucci. He also lived in this area.

Eileen Sanchez, December 12, 2016 , 12/12/2016

I am Eloise Chadwick Whiton (Cole) Granddaughter. My mother was Marilyn Whiton. Frank E Whiton was my Grandfather. He owned a pony ranch out on Copper in the early 1930s and they lived on a ranch purchased on Tollhouse Rd that was home to my grandmother for 60 years. My grandfather won the house in a poker game in 1934 and moved the structure by team of horses up the old townhouse grade. It was the old Friant Bar and Dance Hall. My grandfather passed leaving my grandmother to support her and my mother by opening the Shady Rest on Tollhouse Rd. She closed it after 25 years. Does anyone recall stopping by?

Julie Handley December 29,2016, 12/29/2016

I went to Sierra Elementary and Sierra Joint Union High School in Tollhouse. We had a ranch up on Black Mountain, which is now part of one of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy Preserves. It is wonderful to know that one of the most beautiful places is still close to perfect.

Hallie, 5/31/2017

I grew up in tollhouse about a 1/2 mile past the store and use to work there during high school. I went to Sierra elementary and Sierra high. My dad use to climb the rock. I moved away in 1993 but moved back in January of this year after being gone for 24 years. I live in the house across the street from the store now which is built where the old hotel once stood. We ride our horses up to the rock on the original old grade which is now an overgrown steep trail. I'm looking for more information on the old hotel and livery we are uncovering interesting things as we clean up the property and pasture.

Brook DeLany, 10/1/2017

Julie Handley, I write a column for The Fresno Bee answering readers' questions. I'm researching a question about Shady Rest, which a reader recalls. Please call me at (559) 313-0762. Paula Lloyd (2/1/18)

Paula Lloyd, 2/1/2018

We lived in Big Creek and my dad Frank Holm worked for the Edison company. We travel the toll house grade at least once a month in the 1940-1950 and I to recall our car over heating and boiling over. We had to stop, let it cool and sometime put in more water in the radiator. I knew there was a toll in the old days, but didn’t know the fees so thank you for the great recall of Tollhouse History.

Raymond Holm, 7/10/2018, 7/12/2018

my grandma was max yancey's daughter we still have a bunch of old pics of tollhouse

barry, 1/5/2019

hello all, does anyone remember hearing of the Giboney's (Robert & Birdie) owning "Mountain Rest" that their business card lists in Tollhouse circa 1930? The business card states that they offered food, gas, oil.

P. Tenhet, 4/16/2019

Every year when I was a little girl our folks took us to Yosemite, but we always stopped to see my great- great uncles Laife and Clinton Kirkpatrick: two old bachelor brothers. They lived on the site of the original tollhouse, and the house that they lived in was never painted. They had an outhouse and a half wolf/dog. For most of my growing up they drove a Model-T (or Model-A) Ford to town and back. The last time I saw them they had a modern car and I remember my Dad (Leonard Fly) was astonished and disappointed to find that his unique great uncles finally succumbed to the modern era. That was in 1970. We are visiting Yosemite this week and plan to visit the original site. P. Clevenger, 6/3/2019

P. Clevenger, 6/3/2019, 6/3/2019

Where was the Pleasant Vale school located in Fresno County? Where are the school records now? My Great Grandmother Anna Marie Mc Fadden graduated from there in 1903 per her diploma.

Anna A. , 10/28/2019

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