Debbie Croft: History comes to life at Oakhurst museum, park

September 13, 2013 

DEBBIE CROFT

— Walking through history, stepping back to another era, touching what time preserved. This is what a tour of Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park offers modern-day visitors.

The park is in Oakhurst, and dedicated docents such as Nancy Bednar contribute to the preservation of buildings, wagons, and antique furniture and household items from a previous century.

Bednar is a retired schoolteacher from the Valley, who believes history is anything but dull.

“I haven’t been bored since I moved here,” she said.

On guided tours, visitors will learn much about the daily life of California’s pioneers during the late 1800s and early 1900s. From the original braided rugs stitched from strips of old clothing to a contraption resembling a small bicycle that was used for sharpening tools, seeing life as it used to be is an education in itself.

The nonprofit organization Sierra Historic Sites Association saved the buildings from demolition, through the efforts of its volunteers and concerned community members.

The charming two-story yellow structure, known as the Laramore-Lyman House, was built in the late 1870s. Being the only two-story home in the area, it became known as the “Queen of the Valley.”

Inside, although wallpaper is faded and furnishings are worn, a sense of refinement is still apparent. An old Victrola sits in the living room, as well as a pump organ and writing desk. The fireplace is the centerpiece of the spacious room.

A narrow staircase leads up to the bedrooms, where quilts, books, toys and personal items are displayed. A group photo of officers from the 64th Pioneers military regiment, taken in 1921, hangs on the wall in the upstairs hallway.

The other former residence on the property is the Taylor Log House. Fashioned as a two-pen dogtrot, a breezeway runs between the two sections with a full-length front porch and an attic across the top.

William and Margaret Taylor’s son, Boot Taylor, was the region’s first forest ranger.

The west pen is arranged as a living and sleeping area. The east pen is set up as the ranger’s office.

In the old tack house and print shop, a Mergenthaler Linotype machine sits ready to mold lead into letters for typesetting. Tickets and fliers are still printed in this working museum.

The Raymond Jail is no longer in use, but the wagon shed and blacksmith shop are.

The Cunningham School House was built in Ahwahnee in 1913. It was moved to the park sometime after 1961, after the Harlow Fire.

“Because the schoolchildren had played and tromped all around the building, there was no vegetation to burn, and it survived the fire,” Bednar said.

The Nathan Sweet Memorial Museum is housed in a building (circa 1874) that served as a Madera County school. In later years it was used as county offices, a justice court and a library.

Besides a gift shop and bookstore, the museum includes replica exhibits of a school room, doctor’s office, telephone office and a general store.

One exhibit is dedicated to Sam “Long Knife” Clark, a local legend. Clark’s lengthy career as mountaineer and U.S. park ranger may have been the inspiration for the cartoon character Yosemite Sam.

In its early days, Fresno Flats was a way station on the stagecoach route, and a supply camp for miners and loggers.

Inside the Dupzyk barn is an exact scale model of the Nelder Grove Sawmill. Outside visitors can see a section of the original flume that stretched more than 50 miles. Connecting the lumber mill to the railroad in Madera, workers would actually ride the flume to reach the Valley.

Mountain Heritage Days is an annual fund-raising event sponsored by association, and will be held at Fresno Flats on Sept. 20-21. This event is free, but some charges do apply for tours and meals.

Beginning at 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, refreshments will be served, along with an ice cream social and silent auction. On Sept. 21, activities start with a parade at 10 a.m. During the afternoon, 19th century demonstrations will take place, including blacksmithing, basket weaving, lace tatting and wood carving.

A wine and cheese reception will be held on Saturday afternoon, and a barbecue rib dinner that evening. For details and directions, call (559) 683-6570, or visit www.fresnoflatsmuseum.org.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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