Huddlesons, 18-year caretakers of Fresno Flats, ready village and park for Heritage Day

Bill and Laura Huddleson have been caretakers for the Fresno Flats Historic Park and Museum for 18 years.
Bill and Laura Huddleson have been caretakers for the Fresno Flats Historic Park and Museum for 18 years. Special to the Sierra Star

A full day of fun, food and a focus on the history of our Sierra Nevada foothill area is planned for Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 15. Following the 10 a.m. parade, Sal’s Taco Truck will be selling lunch items at Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park on School Road in Oakhurst as other activities begin.

“There will even be root beer floats for sale for those who want a refreshing treat,” said Brenda Negley, a Sierra Historic Sites Association board member and parade chair.

Fresno Flats recreates 19th century life as it was here at the southern end of Gold Country. The museum complex is built around two restored and furnished homes dating back to the 1870s.

The Laramore-Lyman House, built in 1878, is furnished with authentic 19th century furnishings. Debbie Sebastian Special to the Sierra Star

Laura and Bill Huddleson Fresno Flats Caretakers for 18 Years

Laura and Bill Huddleson have been the dedicated caretakers of the property for 18 years. They have taken an active role in “Saving the Past for the Future,” this year’s Heritage Day theme.

When the home they were renting 18 years ago was listed for sale, the Huddlesons began looking for a place to live. “We were asked [by Rusty and Sara Murphy] to be temporary caretakers [of Fresno Flats] while they looked for a permanent caretaker and 18 years later, we are still here,” said Laura. The Murphys owned the Met Cinema where Bill worked and Nearly Natural Wonders where Laura was employed.

Laura is legally blind making facial recognition difficult for her. “When I hear them, then I recognize them,” she said about repeat visitors.

Laura’s friendly demeanor makes visitors feel comfortable. “I see people in the park and say, ‘Hi,’ and find out where they are from and I just start telling them about the park…maybe the age of the buildings,” she said.

One of the most entertaining observations she has made about visitors are their comments about the hand water pump on the back porch of the 1878 Laramore-Lyman House, a two-story structure constructed with 1-inch-by-12-inch boards standing vertically.

“Oh, look, they must be rich because they have a pump on the porch,” visitors say.

Laura Huddleson shows how school children would have ladled drinking water from a common bucket in the Fresno Flat Museum’s school display. Debbie Sebastian Special to the Sierra Star

The house would be over water with a pump there,” Laura replies. “We have the pump there so children visiting the park can work the pump to see what it was like to have to pump your own water.”

Many school groups visit the museum and park, especially second-fourth graders, who get a peak into what life was like more than 100 years ago as they study California history. They come from local schools, Fresno, Madera and Salinas and senior citizen bus tours also schedule visits to the park and museum.

“Every three or four years, a group of about 20 members of the Taylor family show up,” said Laura. They visit the circa 1870 two-pen, dogtrot design Taylor Log House, the oldest building at the park. The family members want Laura to tell them a story about the family and she, likewise, wants them to tell a story they remember so that over the years many bits and pieces of the history of the family have been shared. One year, the 90 plus-year-old grandson of Boots Taylor, one of the area’s first forest rangers, stopped by taking time to visit with Laura.

About 13-14 years ago, a man visiting the park commented to Laura about the blacksmith shop on the property. “That is the old blacksmith shop,” he said. “I lived next door to it [when it was located in Fresno Flats on Road 425 B].

Another visitor touring the museum looked at a photo of the Cunningham School with school children standing in front of it. He recognized himself in the photo and reminisced about the school teacher picking up children in a sleigh when it snowed so they would still be able to get to school. The school was moved to the museum grounds from Nipinnawasee. It was the only building left standing in that area after the Harlow Fire roared through in 1961.

The Cunningham School, located on the grounds, will be the site of the silent auction, another Heritage Day event.

Not only has the historic park been home to the Huddlesons but also to their grandson, Sebastian Munvong, a student at Yosemite High School.

The Raymond Jail, constructed in 1890, was built with 2-inch-by-6-inch boards laid flat and anchored together with spikes at the corners. Debbie Sebastian Special to the Sierra Star

In addition to giving tours of the property, the Huddlesons perform a variety of tasks from small maintenance repairs to keeping restrooms clean and stocked. “Eighteen years ago I asked if I could put grass in the park,” Laura said. “I keep the grass mowed that’s inside the park. It’s my backyard.”

The feeling that they are sharing their “backyard” with visitors is evident when Laura describes the park.

“It is pretty much a time capsule because the buildings are set up in that time period,” she said. “The youngest building is from 1913 and the rest are late 1800s.” She has specific tours she gives kids. “If you’re the oldest, you get to clean out the chamber pots in the morning,” she tells them giving them a glimpse into life without indoor plumbing.

“If anybody wants to come by and take a tour, just come to the caretakers’ house and knock on the door and ask if Laura can give them a tour, especially if they have come from a distance” she invites. “Our best advertising is by word of mouth.”

Heritage Day Events

Heritage Day events will take place on the grounds of the park and include docent led tours of the buildings moved to the park from Fresno Flats that was located about a mile from the current location of the park and museum.

Shonna Alexander, a Chukchansi artist, painted this mural for the Fresno Flats Museum. The scenes depict significant events in the tribe’s history. Debbie Sebastian Special to the Sierra Star

Prior to 1912, Oakhurst was known as Fresno Flats. In 1970, a group, now known as the Sierra Historic Sites Association, met and decided that there was an opportunity to preserve the area’s history and a donation of several acres at the corner of School Road and Indian Springs provided the space to move a number of historic structures to one location.

Now two one-room school houses, functioning print and blacksmith shops, a museum, two jails and various other farm structures are located on the property. Of special interest are the two, furnished homes saved from demolition, moved to the property and restored by volunteers. These homes have been designated by the state of California as Points of Historical Interest as they feature two types of construction once common in northern California but relatively unknown today.

Following soap carving and tatting and weaving demonstrations, a chuck wagon style dinner of deep-pit beef BBQ, Santa Maria beans, potato salad, coleslaw, a dinner roll and old-fashioned cobbler will be served. Dinner tickets are $20 and are available by calling 559-683-3854 or 559-760-9108.

Vendor booths, a 4-6 p.m. wine and cheese tasting and musical entertainment are also included in the Heritage Day schedule of events.

For additional information call 559-760-9108 or email fresnoflatsmuseum@sti.net.