How did Mercey Springs get its name? Why is it spelled two ways?

By Mariah Radtke / Ask Us wants helpApril 12, 2013 

Behind every school or highway, there is a story. The same is true with a road that is both well known and well traveled.

Mercey Springs Road runs the width of Los Banos. It gets its name from a secluded hot spring hidden in the hills just off Interstate 5 near Little Panoche Road.

Purchased in 1848 by John N. Merci, the property was acquired to raise sheep.

The Frenchman, in an attempt to assimilate, changed the spelling of his name to the more American “Mercy,” according to historical accounts. The springs were eventually sold to a San Francisco-based real estate developer named Fredrick Bourn.

After obtaining the hot springs, Bourn faced a difficult challenge. John Mercy held the rights to the name “Mercy Hot Springs.” As a result, the spelling changed a third and final time to Mercey Hot Springs. Water from the hot springs was even bottled under that label.

According to Gary Hutsell, assistant Public Works director for Los Banos, the correct spelling of a dedicated road is usually the person or place it is named after. In this case, it is named for Mercey Hot Springs.

Old-timers remember the roadway was sometimes spelled Mercy Springs Road, which is also how it’s indicated on old maps. Internet users can type in Mercy Springs Road and have no trouble finding an address; the websites automatically change it from Mercy to Mercey Springs Road.

One local business lists its address on its receipt as South Mercy Springs Road. And then there is Mercy Springs Church of the Nazarene.

Not too long ago, Los Banos Unified School District trustees decided to name its newest school Mercey Springs Elementary School. During the discussion, district officials pointed out the different spellings and finally settled on the same spelling as the official roadway.

Hutsell believes an early developer probably looked up the word mercy and spelled it the conventional way. Regardless, he said, both spellings are acceptable.

We received a question a few weeks ago that asked how Cherokee Road off Henry Miller Avenue near Santa Nella got its name. For the first time since writing this column, we are stumped.

Questions asked of a Merced County surveyor, a local historian, Gustine's historical society and others turned up no leads.

If you go down the two-lane avenue, however, you will see the Cherokee Road signs and postal boxes listing a Cherokee address. The unpaved road runs to a dairy off both sides of Henry Miller Road, but signs limit traffic to authorized vehicles.

You can also find maps showing Cherokee Road in a search on the Internet.

Yokut tribes inhabited the area, and the Cherokees were far away in Georgia, before being forced on the Trail of Tears to resettle in Oklahoma.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Ask Us staff.

"Ask Us" is produced by Tim McNally's Advanced Placement American government class at Los Banos High School. Do you have a question about the history of Los Banos? Submit it to Mr. McNally's class by email to tmcnally@losbanos, by phone to (209) 826-6033 or by mail to Los Banos High School, 1966 S. 11th St. Los Banos, CA 93635.

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