This location was originally known as Ridleys Ferry, for Thomas E. Ridley who operated a ferry here from 1850 to 1852. Around 1860, the name was changed to Benton Mills, after Frémont’s father-in-law, Senator Benton of Missouri. A report published in 1859 stated that a sixteen stamp mill was crushing 130 tons of ore every day and a forty-eight stamp mill was under construction. The ore from a number of surrounding mines was crushed here during those years, when the town of Benton Mills contained barn-like mill buildings, boarding houses, saloons, cabins, and a store “finely situated on both sides of the river.”
In 1890 the town was renamed Bagby, in honor of a popular hotel owner, when the post office was established. The town prospered later when it became a scheduled stop of the Yosemite Valley Railroad, which began operation on May 15, 1907 with its first full-length scheduled run. Visitors could take the train up the Merced River canyon to El Portal, and from there continue on to Yosemite Valley by stage.
Bagby is located just off Hwy 49, where the highway bridge crosses the Merced River. There is a nice pull-off from Hwy 49 where you can get a good view of the river and the former mining camp.
A few Mill Foundations are all that is left of Benton Mills today. Constructed of flat-laid slabs of serpentine—California’s state rock—set in a lime mortar, they have managed to survive over the years and are visible during times of low water. The entire area is presently known as Bagby Recreations Area.