Celebrating heritage

The 19th annual Heritage Days event kicks off the evening of Friday, Sept. 18, at Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park on School Road (425B), with vendors, food booths, a silent auction, and a free concert by The Bryan Vickers Band.

The highlight of the weekend will be the Heritage Days Parade - the theme is “Mountain Memories” - with the Yosemite Mounted Rangers, floats, fire engines, marching school bands, equestrian groups, vintage cars, and clowns, which will take place at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 19.

The parade route travels approximately 1.5 miles from Yosemite High School down School Road, turns right onto Crane Valley Road (426) then right again onto Golden Oak Drive, where it finishes.

Colette Goga, president of the Sierra Historic Sites Association board of directors, is serving as coordinator and believes this year’s event will be unlike any seen before. She said a big addition to the parade will be the addition of bleachers for better viewing in the Sierra Star parking lot.

“We are also planning a very special reenactment utilizing the Fresno Flats Jail that people will enjoy,” Goga said.

Immediately following the parade, a variety of activities and pioneer demonstrations will take place at Fresno Flats, including gold panning, blacksmithing, quilt making, pine needle basket weaving, and broom making. A free eight-hour classic country and rock concert, with different groups, will begin at noon.

There will be food, entertainment, booths, silent auction and demonstrations. The day will end with a community dinner, cost of $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12.

The event benefits the Sierra Historic Sites Association and the upkeep of Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park, which captures the flavor of life in the 19th century when settlers came to this area to build their lives, raise families, and make their livings as farmers, miners, loggers, and merchants.

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 (now where Sierra Star is located). In 1966, it was again moved to Sierra Telephone property across Crane Valley Road (426) 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.

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.

In earlier years, the parade route was on Highway 41, starting north of town, and traveling south. In the last few years, the route now runs from Fresno Flats, down School Road to Crane Valley Road, and ends at Golden Oak Drive.

Back in its heyday (in 1967), there were 138 parade entries and 13 bands. In last year’s parade, there were about 50 entries, but the parade and event is growing again in popularity and is expected to become bigger and better each year.

Support needed

Fresno Flats was built around two restored and furnished homes, 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, $50 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 on Thursdays for researchers from throughout California.

Call (559) 683-6570 in advance.

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.

Details: (559) 683-6570.

Staff report