Oakhurst's Little Church on the hill stands as a symbol of spirit

Nuggets from the Past

January 7, 2010 

In 2005, Dwight Barnes, who was the historian of Sierra Historic Sites Assn., produced a book titled "The Little Church on the Hill -- A Monument to Volunteerism."

The wooden structure stands brightly and proudly in the middle of the cemetery in Oakhurst, now more visible than ever before. Mountain residents owe it to themselves to become acquainted by visiting and by reading the most interesting history surrounding the structure. The following are excerpts from the book.

"For more than a century, Christ Church, more familiarly known as the Little Church on the Hill, has stood as a symbol of the spirit of the community now known as Oakhurst. Built some 115 years ago by a group of determined volunteers, it has been preserved and restored by volunteers."

The church was consecrated June 20, 1894.

"Everyone had a hand in its construction, including an accused stage robber who subsequently became a leading citizen. Years later another group of volunteers of such diverse interests as the local Grandmothers' Club and the fun-loving historians of the Grub Gulch Chapter 41-49...of E Clampus Vitus saw that the church was saved. The group restored so that it would stand for another 100 years.

"Originally located on what today is still called Chapel Hill above Fresno Flats Road (425B near Crane Valley Road 426), Christ Church served all the community, sometimes under the jurisdiction of the Episcopalians and others under the Presbyterians. Regardless of which faith provided the leadership, it truly was a community church. Family picnics and community potlucks were held on its grounds. The big old bell, which could be heard for five miles or more, tolled out the years of pioneers who died. It sometimes was rung as a fire alarm, and old timers reported it rang wildly all day Nov. 11, 1918, at the news of the end of World War I.

"It was Rev. D. O. Kelley, known as the 'Apostle of San Joaquin,' who first established the mission and started preaching in Eastern Madera County in 1886. In 1879, Father Kelley, then the Rector of All Saints Church in Watsonville, got in hot water with some members of his congregation because he was one of the signers of a published notice about unnamed patrons of a local house of prostitution. When several members of his congregation told the bishop they would withdraw their financial support, Father Kelley proposed that he take a month-long 'missionary reconnaissance by rail through the San Joaquin Valley'. He was so enthusiastic about the future of the Valley that ... in the seven years that followed, he established 11 churches..."

Although Rev. Kelley preached in this region for many years, the building of Christ Church fell to his Anglican missionary friend from Watsonville, Rev. James S. McGowan.

"The Little Church on the Hill -- A Monument to Volunteerism" is available at the Sierra Historic Sites Assn. (Fresno Flats on Road 427) and at the Coarsegold Historic Museum on Highway 41.

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