A wave of relief must have swept over early day motorists when they negotiated their way to the top of the windy old Tollhouse Road and Cressman’s at Pine Ridge came into view.
The historic rest stop—an oasis in its heyday—owed its existence to a post-Gold Rush lumber industry boom in Fresno County. Cut lumber was a necessity for growing towns and businesses in the Valley and beyond, and there were fortunes to be made.
Pine Ridge, eight miles east of Auberry, became the epicenter of the timber trade when the first sawmill was built there nearly 150 years ago.
One of the main challenges for lumbermen was transporting their timber to market. Old Indian trails were first used, with great difficulty. Eventually a road was hewn out of the wilderness. It became a toll road, known as the Toll House Road.
The early toll road was nicknamed the “beast killer” for good reason. The climb was so steep, twisting, narrow and rough that wagon passengers often walked rather than run the risk of toppling over the edge. Riders on horseback routinely fought to stay in the saddle. The descent was every bit as dangerous. Logs were often tied behind wagons to slow their speed coming down.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, a young Pennsylvanian, Ammon Cressman, and his bride, Nellie Hall, who hailed from Nebraska, came looking for work supporting the logging industry. She got a job in a saloon at the top of the toll road, and he as a butcher at a ranch near Shaver Lake.
Around 1904, they bought the old saloon and added a general store and cafe. Upon their arrival, early day travelers were met by large shade trees, cool water and, finally, a level spot. A pair of swings under one of the large trees got plenty of use as car radiators cooled down. The general store was also busy with travelers packing up essentials. Area historian Ed Selleck surmised that one reason travelers stopped on the way back down was to “psych themselves up” for the return trip. But lodging was also available for folks who needed to stay the night.
Today, the historic rest stop on Highway 168/Tollhouse Road lives on under different ownership, with the old general store and gas station still furnishing the needs of travelers. It also serves as an informal museum with relics and photographs from Cressman’s early days. The barn is said to be one of Fresno County’s oldest.