Oakhurst Cemetery brings history to life

Community CorrespondentJune 24, 2014 

In the shade of the Little Church on the Hill, foundation board members Suzanne Harvey, Kay Good, and Adele Bartholomew scooped ice cream from three-gallon buckets to honor the 120th anniversary of the dedication of the landmark church. When given the choice, Kaia Agee, 3, great-granddaughter of John and Fern Facchino, did not hesitate when choosing "vanilla" over chocolate.

The tall oaks of Oakhill Cemetery shaded some 100 guests from the warm sun as they gathered from 4-7 p.m. June 20. Not only were they celebrating the anniversary of the Little Church but also the 140th birthday of Oakhill Cemetery where the Little Church now stands.

One of the tall oaks had to be cut down a number of years ago and cemetery foreman, Robert Ellis, cut and milled the wood from that tree and kept it until it was pulled out of storage, recently, to be used in building a replacement threshold for the church.

While some guests enjoyed the music of Tim Johnson on the fiddle and Arnie Johnson on the guitar, about 60 of the anniversary participants took a tour of the historic cemetery guided by Ellis. Gravestones of the famous and the infamous were visited during the tour, and Ellis gave informative narratives of some of the lives of those buried there.

Among the graves visited on the tour were those of Stanley Morner, also known as Dennis Morgan, who was an actor in the 1930s and 40s. Next to his grave is that of his wife, Lillian. The couple had a ranch in Ahwahnee and Ellis recounted "riding horses and shooting guns on the ranch as a child."

Ellis also noted that three Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery. One of those is Frank Femmons who owned a ranch where Sierra Telephone and the Sierra Star now stand on Crane Valley Road (426).

Logging is an important part of the area's history and tied with that history was the job of flume tender. Flumes, some more than 50 miles in length, used flowing water to transport lumber and logs from the mountains to sawmills in the Valley. The flume tender had to clear log jams in the flume when they occurred. A flume tender, Alfred Le Gras, who was born in 1886 and died in 1978, is buried in the cemetery.

Robert Laramore, buried in the cemetery, was thought to be a construction foreman on the flume, was a rancher and owned a store, according to Ellis.

"He did a number of things to make a living," Ellis said which was not unusual for the times. "He maybe supervised construction of the Little Church."

History buffs can find the yellow "Laramore –Lyman House" in the Fresno Flats Historical Park on School Road (427).

Other family names, many familiar to area residents because their names are attached to mountain ridges, developments, and other Mountain Area landmarks, are found in the cemetery including: John (Jack) J. McGurk (1856-1944), whose cabin still sits along Glacier Point Road, and J.P. Beasore. A trip to Beasore Meadows and the Jones Store above Bass Lake is an annual trip for many during the summer.

B.C. Thornberry is buried in the Oakhill Cemetery. His cabin was moved and now is the museum at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad in Fish Camp, Ellis said. Malcom McLeod, Jr., a U.S. Forest Service ranger, who invented the McLeod combination hoe and rake that is still used today for raking fire lines and trail shaping, was also laid to rest in the cemetery.

Following the first tour of the cemetery, The Little Church on the Hill was rededicated in a short service led by Father Gordon Kamai of Christ Church Anglican and Rev. David Sebastian of Oakhurst Lutheran Church.

Following the rededication, Johnson led the crowd in song with a line from "Little Brown Church in the Vale" replaced with "Little White Church on the Hill."

The Little Church Foundation board is made up of nine members: Jackie Mallouf, Belva Bare, Kay Good, Suzanne Harvey, Father Gordon Kamai, Bruce McNichols, David Nemeth, Rev. David Sebastian, and Adele Bartholomew.

Michael Costa, who is the Little Church on the Hill honorary mayoral candidate, was on hand dressed to represent Father D.O. Kelly who is credited with establishing the Episcopal mission that was first Christ Church and later became the Little Church on the Hill.

The Yosemite Jazz Band provided entertainment until the end of the evening.

Additional information on the fundraising activities the foundation has for completing restoration of the Little Church can be found at savethelittlechurch.org.

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