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Honoring when a ferry and hotel operated along the San Joaquin River near Los Banos

A plaque dedication will be held at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Sunday for the Dickenson Hotel-Chester Ferry.
A plaque dedication will be held at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Sunday for the Dickenson Hotel-Chester Ferry.

Residents of Los Banos will have a chance to re-live Westside history on Sunday, Sept. 8 when an important local 19th-century historical site is commemorated.

At 10 a.m. Parlor 206 of the Native Sons of the Golden West, in association with the Los Banos Milliken Museum and the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, will install a plaque at the location of the former Dickenson Ferry and Chester Hotel along the San Joaquin River north of Los Banos.

The installation ceremony is open to the public. Anyone interested can gather at 9:30 a.m. at the Visitor Center of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, located on Wolfsen Road, approximately eight miles north of Los Banos. Cars will caravan to the ceremony site, located roughly three miles from the visitor center.

This site was of special significance as it served as a hub in connecting Los Banos and the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley with Merced and the Eastside via a route and means of crossing the San Joaquin River.

The opening of this route and ferry in 1878 helped the growing numbers of settlers of the Westside transport goods and services to and from the railroad stop in Merced. In 1884, a wooden turnstile bridge was constructed to replace the ferry.

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COREY PRIDE/cpride@losbanosenterprise.com Milliken Museum Society member Dan Nelson tends to the operations of the local keeper of Los Banos’ history. COREY PRIDE Enterprise file

Not only was the crossing of the river important to the area, but there also existed a flourishing steamship freight and passenger service linked to this site. With all this commerce came the construction of a full-service hotel, post office and community gathering spot for special events and dances.

Periodic flooding proved a problem, and aided in the construction of more reliable routes across the river. The Dickenson Ferry/Chester Hotel site was abandoned in the early 1900s, and today, all that remains are some of the original wooden turnstile bridge pilings.

Over the years, the Los Banos parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West has undertaken numerous projects to commemorate and highlight some of the important and colorful historical sites found in the Los Banos area and the Westside.

Some examples of these include the San Luis Camp adobe, the Lone Willow Stage Station, Pacheco Pass, and the Miller & Lux Canal Farm Ranch.

Los Banos Milliken Museum Society supports projects like these and other events keeping local history alive. The society is a 501 (c3) nonprofit organization formed for the purpose of maintaining and administrating the Milliken Museum.

The museum is in Pacheco Park on Pacheco Boulevard, between 7th and 9th Streets and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. (phone number: 209-826-2393). The museum relies entirely on volunteers and donations.

If you go

To get to the San Luis National Wildlife Visitor Center from Los Banos, take Highway 165 (Mercy Springs Road) 6.4 miles north of Pacheco Boulevard, then turn right onto Wolfsen Road and continue for 2.6 miles. The center will be on the left.

Dan Nelson is the Chairman of the Los Banos Milliken Museum Society Board of Directors. He has been a resident of Los Banos all his life and has been part of the Milliken Museum Society and a volunteer at the museum for more than 25 years.
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