It’s going to be a big time in the old town as Oakhurst celebrates the 21st Annual Mountain Heritage Day at Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park, Saturday, Sept. 16. It’s a day when the museum and park comes alive with many activities to celebrate the heritage of Oakhurst dating back to the 1800s.
“This is a wonderful family and community event, and it’s absolutely free,” said Brenda Negley, Heritage Day parade coordinator.
Keeping with the theme “Saving the Past for the Future,” the event kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. with a parade led by the Yosemite High Cadet Corps. Attendees will also be treated to marching bands, vintage cars, floats, fire trucks, and an appearance by the Tehran Shriner Clowns. Parade winners will be announced at 2 p.m. at the historic park.
Following the parade, over at Fresno Flats, there will be food booths, drink booths with a separate beer booth, other vendors with items to purchase, demonstrations to take you back to the 1800s (gold panners will show how it was done back in the day, and you may even want to smile for that mug shot while sitting in jail). Docents will offer tours and live entertainment will be provided by the Yosemite Jazz Band (11 a.m. - 2 p.m.), the Phil Miller Band (2 - 5 p.m.), and Wack-A-Mole (5 - 8 p.m.). A silent auction will take place throughout the day.
Visitors will notice something new underway in the museum.
“A Chukchansi grant covered the cost of a museum mural currently being painted by Shonna Alexander, a local talented Chukchansi Miwok artist,” said Tony King, Heritage Day coordinator. “When completed, it will be a welcome addition to our current Chukchansi display showcasing their history and stories.” Guests will have the opportunity to visit with Alexander while she works on the mural.
Live music will begin around noon and play throughout the day. A wine and cheese tasting in the Beulah Mills Garden will be held from 4 - 6 p.m, and the evening will come to a close with a chuckwagon style dinner - chili, corn bread, salad and a lemon cake dessert. Adults $10, children $5.
“I’m happy to do this for Fresno Flats, where I’ve been a lifetime member since eighth grade,” Negley said. “Preserving the history is important to me so I feel honored to help the park and the research library.” She also writes the monthly Fresno Flats Gazette newsletter (an email with historical information about the area).
“This is a very unique event showcasing our beautiful history of the mountains,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of Visit Yosemite / Madera County. “We want people near and far to come out and immerse themselves in all the wonderful activities and take home with them a little piece of history.”
Sierra Telephone has been a major sponsor every year for this event. Many other organizations and area businesses have also offered support with donations and/or assisting on the day of the event, including the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Citizens on Patrol (COPS), the Mountain Amateur Radio Club (MARC), Sunrise and Noon Rotaries, Kiwanis, Soroptimist, Bass Lake Lions and Leos.
About Fresno Flats and Sierra Historic Sites
Sierra Historic Sites Association, Inc. was founded in 1968, and the first buildings were placed on the property in 1975. Oakhurst was originally named Fresno Flats; the name was changed in 1912. The museum and park are run and maintained by volunteers.
Fresno Flats was built around two restored and furnished homes - the Laramore-Lyman House and the Taylor Log House - dating back to the 1870s. These homes were saved from demolition, relocated to the historical park, and restored by SHSA volunteers. Other restored buildings include two one-room schools and two 19th century jails.
With no county or state funds, SHSA has maintained Fresno Flats since 1975 with community donations and volunteer labor.
With several of the buildings in need of major repairs, SHSA is looking for sponsors to “adopt” them. Annual memberships are also available: $25 for individuals, $35 for families, $100 for businesses, $500 for life memberships, $100 (minimum) for patron memberships, and $1,000 for sustaining membership. Because SHSA is a non-profit, educational association, membership dues and other donations are tax deductible.
SHSA Research Library
Personal stories of early foothill and mountain settlers have been preserved in the research library, located across the street from the village. The library offers a wide collection of journals, early-day photographs, old maps, oral history recordings and books relating to the history of the region.
The library is open 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays for researchers from throughout California. Call in advance for an appointment.
Tours at Fresno Flats village and grounds are open dawn to dusk for self-guided tours. Museum and guided tours are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
Brief history of Heritage Days
In 1996, because no event was planned, at the last minute residents banded together for the impromptu Mountain Harvest Festival at the Oakhurst Community Park. It was because many said they missed the fun and camaraderie of Mountaineer Days, that Heritage Days came into being in 1997.
In the 60s, a small western town with booths was set up in the meadow on the northwest corner of Highways 41 and 49 (where Raley’s shopping center is now).
In 1965, it was moved to Crane Valley Road behind the Oakhurst Shopping Center, and in 1966, it was again moved to Sierra Telephone property across Crane Valley Road from the current Sierra Star. Finally, in 1967, it moved to Oakhurst Community Center, where it remained until the last Mountaineer Days in 1995.
Back then, there was a beard-growing contest, pie-making competition, and some years, a carnival. During the earlier years, there was also a rodeo - the jackass or donkey rodeo - near the community center. In earlier years, the parade route was on Highway 41, starting north of town, and traveling south. Even the time of year has changed. The event was originally held in May, then moved back to June, and now Heritage Days is held in September.
Back in its heyday (in 1967), there were 138 parade entries and 13 bands. While not at that level yet, the parade and event is growing in popularity, and is expected to become bigger and better each year.