"This historic trail leads upstream along the north side of the Tuolumne River from the Kirkwood powerhouse for 4.2 miles to Preston Falls. Nobody seems to know who Preston was or why he built a homestead here."
That cryptic last sentence in the trail description was the spark that set off my research project in early 1997. I had just retired from active work, and was looking for something to study or investigate while I got caught up on all the incomplete repairs and smaller projects that needed doing around my home.
I had been introduced to this book by Frank Oyung, a local Groveland member of the Sierra Club, who leads the regular Thursday morning hikes that meet at Wayside Park in Groveland. It contains guides to many other interesting hikes in the area, but none with the same provocative comment about the naming of the location.
There are two aspects to the issue: (1) the origin of the name for Preston Falls itself, a waterfall on the Tuolumne River a few miles below the Hetch Hetchy Dam; and (2) the origin of a curious 30x60 ft concrete slab, a few hundred yards from the end of the trail and the falls, that has a hearth made of stone and terra cotta flue pipe on its Eastern third. Locals sometimes refer to this slab as the remnants of the "Preston Homestead". It is still not clear to me that the name Preston Falls is related at all to what I refer to as "the slab".
Further complicating any understanding of the data surrounding the project is the fact that the small waterfall commonly called Preston Falls at the end of the popular trail is a bit short of the location of the legend Preston Falls on area topo maps. I have pressed beyond the eastern end of the trail and found that there is a series of perhaps six more falls of similar size, separated by beautiful pools, extending upriver for 0.75 miles. The name Preston Falls may describe them all as a group.
I have divided this project into two major lines of investigation. The first deals with the name Preston, and the second deals with the origin of "the slab".