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River crossing inspires name for Lockeford

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POSTED March 2, 2013 12:09 a.m.

What’s in a name?

It depends who you ask. Or, realistically, where that person you’re asking is really from.

Entire sections of America can trace their roots back to events of historical significance – whether it was Texas winning its independence from Mexico or the original colonies holding strong against a far superior British Army.

New England. It’s still called that to this day and it’s a nod to the revolutionary heritage and spirit that came from the men who had the vision for a more perfect union – a place where the will of a single man or a single church couldn’t trump the spirit of an entire people.

But what about here in the Central Valley? The Yokut Indians were here first, but how did some of the communities that dot the landscape get their names?

Here’s a breakdown of a few communities and settlements that were historically significant to California’s history and the people behind designating their title:

• Lockeford – It’s actually a man and his actions that yielded the name of this foothill community where Highways 12 and 88 intersect. Dean Jewett Locke – who settled the area with his brother Elmer in 1851 – focused his efforts on the ranch that he started before he would go on to lay the framework for the first town in the region. The name “Lockeford” wouldn’t come until 1859, however, when Locke’s wife Delia coined the phrase – a reference to the family’s last name and the ford that he constructed to provide access across the Mokelumne River.

Today the community is home to more than 3,000 people, and is a popular stop for people heading up to Jackson Rancheria casino off of Highway 88.

• Banta – Ask anybody what they know about Banta, and you’re likely going to get the same answer – The Banta Inn. The rustic bar and grill – a onetime stagecoach stop and bordello in the community that was long known as the confluence between the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific railroads. Named after Henry Banta, the whistle stop was a stop along the Transcontinental Railroad route that went through the Altamont Pass and Nile Canyon before Central Pacific realigned the route to send its traffic on a more direct route from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Today the community remains an unincorporated part of San Joaquin County, but served as the onetime home of both former United States Congressman Richard Pombo and former Journey front man Steve Perry. Banta Elementary School District, which serves the area, will operate the new school site at Lathrop’s River Islands.

• Mossdale Crossing – The train bridge is legendary. Its towers can be seen from miles away off of Interstate 5, and is easily identifiable by nearly every resident in San Joaquin County.

But its history is extremely significant.

While the Transcontinental Railroad was intended to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the initial phase of construction only connected Omaha with Sacramento – creating a pipeline from California’s bountiful Central Valley with the heartland.

Getting it to San Francisco, however, would require a very specific route and a bridge across the San Joaquin River.

It might be “the golden spike” that gets all of the credit when it comes to the completion of the cross-country route, but it was actually the bridge – finished in September of 1869 – that was the last piece of the Transcontinental Railroad constructed. As a vertical lift bridge it allowed ships traversing California’s second-longest river the chance to make their way to the Bay Area and forever solidified the region’s historical impact.

— JASON CAMPBELL

209 staff reporter

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