“Fire and Ice,” First Friday Fresno Flats Lecture

Fish Camp (1919) (Bruce and Catherine Wade, Sierra Star)
Fish Camp (1919) (Bruce and Catherine Wade, Sierra Star) Special to the Sierra Star

The history of the Summerdale/Fish Camp area will be presented by California State University, Fresno, anthropology professor Dr. John Pryor at 6:30 p.m. for the Fresno Flats First Friday lecture on July 12 at the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park in Oakhurst. The lecture is moved to the second Friday to avoid Fourth of July festivities.

Oakhurst, Fish Camp and the Sierra National Forest Summerdale campground blur together as one approaches the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park along Hwy 41. As the result of environmental impact studies done by Pryor and a group of his students, Pryor has had the opportunity to learn about the history of the Fish Camp/Summerdale area.

Environmental Impact Study Sheds Light on Past

“In the Summer of 2018, my students and I started to learn this story through an archeological project at Fish Camp, CA.,” Pryor said. “I was asked to monitor the grading as part of the environmental impact process for the Silvertip Hotel Complex for the Pacificus Real Estate Group.”

The environmental impact study “has provided a rich real-world learning experience through internships and a lab class,” Pryor said. “Our field work between 2018 and 2019 produced a rich treasure trove of artifacts that spans the 5,000 years that the site was occupied by both Native Americans and Whites.”

“This project (Silvertip Hotel Complex for the Pacificus Real Estate Grou)] has had a bit of a long, torturous history dating back to 1988,” Pryor explained. “I was brought in somewhat late in the project. Previous archeological work focused exclusively on the prehistoric site. They dug 9 1x1 meter test units and as a result had rather limited recovery. I proposed a different approach that minimized cost and maximized data recovery. This was done with a partnership between students and Native Americans. I am working closely with the North Fork Mono, Chukchansi and the American Indian Council – Miwuk.”

Transformation of the Summerdale Area

“The community of Summerdale was a stage stop for travelers,” Pryor said. “There was a store and hotel there dating back to 1882 run by Albert Philp.” But the influence of the area’s growing lumber industry around 1900, signaled the transformation of Summerdale into a company town for the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. That lumber company has been a previous Friday lecture topic.

Pryor’s archeological and archival research, in addition to his collection of oral histories have produced evidence of Native American presence along the banks of Big Creek going back 5,000 years. “Their trade with Native Americans on the east side of the Sierra is evident in the numerous flakes of obsidian,” Pryor said.

“While historical accounts all too often suggest that the Native Americans disappear with the coming of (white people), they continued to play a role in the location and their story of survival and adapting to the White dominated world is an important part of our research,” Pryor said.

“With the shutting of the mill, the property was acquired by Charles Beery and became a resort (1925),” Pryor said. “The building of Hwy 41 in 1931, transformed the largely summer resort into a winter playground as well. Numerous incarnations of lodges were built and subsequently burned. The last, the Silvertip Lodge, burned as the result of arson fire in 1981. Today’s proposed Silvertip lodge is just the latest in this rich history of hospitality.”

Lecturer Dr. John Pryor

Pryor received his PhD. in anthropology in 1988 from the State University of New York at Binghamton. His dissertation was the study of style in Northern California Indian baskets, specifically Pomo baskets. He received his BA in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz in 1979 and he is currently one of two archeologists on the CSUF staff.

Pryor’s 45-plus years of field experience, mostly in California, began with traditional academic archeology, followed by work in Cultural Resources Management and for the last 15 years, he has worked as a consultant for Native American tribes in California.

“Our ultimate goal is to combine archeology, archival research and oral history to produce a definitive history of Fish Camp/Summerdale that will tell the story of this place for the enjoyment of the general public,” Pryor said.

Lecture Details

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m the evening of the lecture. “The lectures have generated a large following resulting in seating filling up by 6 p.m.,” a Fresno Flats spokesperson said. Those who arrive early may use provided “seat saver” signs to save their desired seat(s) while they visit one of the historic buildings on the grounds with a docent present to share the history of that building. The museum on the grounds will be open to the public at 5:30 also. Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park recreates 19th century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park is located at 49777 School Road in Oakhurst. The lectures are free, but donations to the Sierra Historical Sites Association (SHSA) will be accepted. SHSA is a 501(c)(3) organization.