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Part of a mural created by Shonna Alexander for Fresno Flats

Fresno Flats: Restoration and Cross-Cultural Collaboration

OAKHURST—In early 2023 the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) awarded Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park a $174,500 grant. That was the easy part. Now the hard part is underway—the implementation. It’s no small feat to pull everything together within the remaining two-year term allotted. The project consists of major renovations to existing features of the park. It will include the creation of indoor and outdoor exhibits as well. In addition, the grant provides an opportunity for Fresno Flats to recognize the cross-cultural connections the town of Fresno Flats, now Oakhurst, shares with our indigenous neighbors and the Chinese community. 

Building Restoration

Taylor Cabin. In front of cabin sits Taylor Cabin bird house created and donated by Kathy Zingrich.

When Fresno Flats submitted the grant application, they designated half the monies to go to building restoration. The Sierra Historic Sites Association plans to hire a contractor to complete a major renovation to the Taylor Cabin as part of the grant. In reality, all of the structures at Fresno Flats are in need of rehabilitation, given their age. 

Speaking of age, this year the museum and schoolhouse buildings at Fresno Flats celebrate their 150th anniversary. Paul Adelizi, president of the Sierra Historic Sites Association board of directors, says the historic park plans to commemorate that important milestone in the fall as part of Mountain Heritage Days. 

New Exhibits

The balance of grant funds are earmarked for renovation of existing exhibits and creation of new ones.

A diorama, or miniature 3D model, of the mill at Nelder Grove has been moved to Fresno Flats, where it is being reworked to make it interactive. When finished, visitors will be able to view it from all angles, with interpretive signs to describe each element. 

New exhibits also demonstrate the history of local forest management and fire ecology.

Cross-Cultural Connections

The town of Fresno Flats not only bears the influence of the pioneer society who lived here, but its roots go even deeper in the indigenous societies who trace their history back thousands of years. Not only that, the Chinese played a not-well-known part in the area’s development. New exhibits focus on combining all of these aspects of Oakhurst’s history.

Native American Collaboration

A mock-up of the carving Alex Lewis plans to donate to Fresno Flats.

Fresno Flats has established a working partnership with the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, the North Fork Rancheria of the Mono Indians and the North Fork Mono Nation to accurately tell their history as part of the museum exhibits, dating back thousands of years.  Shonna Alexander, a member of the Miwuk and Chukchansi nations, painted murals that tell their creation stories. Alex Lewis has created a mockup of a statue he intends to carve and donate to Fresno Flats.

The Chinese Contribution

The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California is collaborating with Fresno Flats and has made contact with Norman Lum, a fifth generation Chinese American resident in Oakhurst. Fresno Flats intends to make known the amazing role immigrant Chinese played and what effect their presence had on the local community.

Chinese altar dedicated to Guan Yu.

A Chinese religious altar has been donated to Fresno Flats, and as we conducted this interview, a Taiwanese family stopped by the museum. Although closed for the day, Paul invited them in to view the exhibit. They were able to add information, including that the altar was dedicated to the god Guan Yu.

Audio and Video Exhibits

New museum exhibits will feature video and audio recordings of interest. In an example of cross-cultural collaboration, a just-concluded interview features Brenda Negley, who actively involves herself with everything Nelder Grove. She just recorded a video with David Boomer about her great-grandfather who played poker with Ah Chu at Sierra Sky Ranch. Ah Chu, a prominent Chinese farmer and Teamster, lived in Cedar Valley. Chu Ranch Road bears his name.

Volunteer Opportunities

Fresno Flats can always use more volunteers. There are never enough hands to do the work and a multitude of ways to get involved. According to the Fresno Flats’ website, you can choose many ways to help. Do historical research, preservation and display of buildings and artifacts, interview pioneer families. You can also assist with community relations or arranging special events. You might even become a docent or tour guide. It’s a way to learn more about your community while giving back to it at the same time.

Volunteers from the Coarsegold 4 H Club, supervised by Paul Adelizi and Kathy Zingrich, spruce up the grounds outside the Silver Knob Cabin.

According to Adelizi, Fresno Flats needs a steady income stream to fund its ongoing maintenance. Volunteers hope to do that by creating a vacation rental space out of the building currently called the “Silver Knob Cabin.” They are refurbishing the cabin separate from the grant funds. They hope to incorporate elements that add to the pioneer flavor of the cabin. Fresno Flats aims to have the cabin ready for rental by Memorial Day weekend. 

To get more information about Fresno Flats and ways you can assist, contact Paul via email or phone him at 559-683-6570 for more information or to sign up.

Photos by Judi Hussain

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