Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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Rock of Ages Re-Discovered!

It goes without saying that the Tulare County Museum at Mooney Grove Park is filled with relics of our past. But there is a piece of Visalia history that was almost lost forever right on the museum grounds.

When Visalia began, one of the first businesses established was Matthews Grist (flour) Mill. The Matthews family had a long history as millers. When they arrived in Visalia they were ready to establish a mill on Mill Creek having carried their millstone with them. The mill was set up at what is now the southeast corner of Main and Santa Fe streets.

The Matthews’ eventually sold their business and the mill change hands several times over the years. In about 1974 the site was excavated and what is believed to be the Matthews millstone was discovered. It had been broken into two pieces and was brought to the museum. Over the years grass and debris covered it. Haworth A. Clover, Ed.D., while doing research on the Matthews family, contacted his friend Troy Tuggle and asked him to try to find the millstone at the museum. And miraculously Troy found it, almost totally covered by grass.

Thanks to Dr. Clover and Troy, the millstone has been rediscovered and it now has an appropriate plaque, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Clover. He has written the Matthews story including the Visalia part, in a book called The Matthews Family—Community Builders From Coast to Coast. By the way, I am told the book is available through The Book Garden in Exeter. Also Troy Tuggle will be writing more about this remarkable story in a future issue of the Tulare County Historical Society newsletter Los Tulares.

Historic Machinery --- Part of the D├ęcor of a Visalia Church?

Savior’s Community Church, lead by Pastor Mark Condie, occupies a very historic building in Visalia…a building that for many years was The Visalia Planing Mill. The old brick structure is located at 515 E. Center Street and for years specialty wood products were manufactured there. Many older homes and business in Visalia have wooden doors, cabinets, trim, etc. made at the Visalia Planing Mill. When Savior’s Community Church bought the building, some of the old, impressive woodworking machinery was still inside and the church decided to keep the equipment in place.

They are proud of their home and now the church would like to gather more history of their building. Who knows, a book might be in the offing. The Pastor and Ken Mayer, one of the parishioners, would appreciate hearing from anyone with The Planing Mill history. Ken can be contacted at and please put on the subject line “Planing Mill history.”

Wow, how appropriate is that for a Christian church to have carpentry equipment inside? I’ll bet the divine spiritual leader of all Christian churches, also a carpenter, feels very much at home at Savior’s!

Civil War Comes to Visalia

Mary Miller asked that I include in this posting the Civil War Reenactment that is coming up again this year. It is the 19th annual reenactment and it will be at Mooney Grove Park on March 7th and 8th. It is always enjoyable and packed with history. All sorts of attractions are included and it is a good way to enjoy a weekend of history. Check it out and see the flyer by clicking on the photo here and it will enlarge to a readable size.

Interesting Visalia History Surfaces

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Kate Gibson-Cates. She and her husband Steve bought the house that belonged Steve’s grandparents, Ben and Patricia Owens here in Visalia. In the home were several interesting things she wanted to make sure got preserved. There were 2 large Bank of Visalia leather-bound ledger books both containing names of early Visalia residents, one dating back to the 1870s. Both are very good resource books. There was also some cardboard embossed newspaper plates from the Visalia Times Delta in 1939. But the item that is most intriguing to me is what looks like an old Chinese diary. It’s in very bad condition, falling apart and probably not complete, but it is filled with both Chinese or Japanese characters and symbols. Each page is a combination of these characters along with some English notations. I’m not certain at this point if it is even a Visalia related book, but very possibly is. I don’t see a date, but it is old. If it does have a Visalia connection, it could potentially be a very important find in preserving our history from a Chinese or Japanese point of view. Thanks to the Owens family and Kate for keeping all items and not discarding them as oftentimes people do.

Historic Progressive Dinner

In a previous Historic Happenings, it was announced that the Visalia Convention & Visitor’s Bureau was organizing a Historic Visalia Progressive Dinner. Erin Capuchino, the Marketing and Tourism Coordinator with the CVB, tells us it is now firmed up. On March 12, 2009, at 5:30pm, those who sign up will have appetizers and beer at Brewbakers, soup and salad at Lum Lum’s Market, main course at Jack & Charlie’s and dessert and wine at the Ben Maddox House Bed and Breakfast. Attendees will be driven by special trolley to each of the locations and historical presentations will be included at each site. Space is limited so contact Erin at (559) 334-0141 or email her at Sounds like an enjoyable evening at some very historic spots.

Visalia Then & Now—A New Pictorial History Book is Announced

For the past year I have been working with Arcadia Publishing Co. on a Visalia pictorial history book. It is now completed and will be available the week of March 9th. It is a “then and now” type of approach to Visalia history. It is packed with historical photos, placed side-by-side with current photos taken from the same vantage point so readers can not only see the historic photo but also see what is at the historic site now. The captions included present historical material about the photo. Arcadia paid for the cost of the book so as the author, I have to buy copies from them. I do, however, get a special discount. The book retails for $21.99, but I will have a limited number of copies available for $14.00 which includes sales tax. You’ll be hearing more about it, but just wanted to alert you that it is coming. I think you’ll find it interesting.


{{}} Thanks to Marian Cote for her unrelenting hunt for L. Guggenhime, the name painted on the old wall mentioned in the previous Historic Happenings. Marian is an avid genealogist and history detective, and she has been very helpful in the past on searches. Look out Mr. Guggenhime, Marian is on your trail.

{{}} Dallas Pattee has found another reference to a picnic at Mooney’s Grove. This time 1892—17 years before it became a park. It’s very interesting that the property owned by the Mooney family was a popular picnic ground long before it became a park. The article, dated June 1, 1892, from the Daily Morning Delta also ties to the St. Mary’s Catholic history project that is underway. It says, “The children of the Catholic Sunday School will have a picnic on next Monday, June 6th at Mooney’s grove. All the children and their parents are expected to attend.” The grove of oak trees was obviously very popular long before it became a park.

{{}} George Pope, who lives just outside of Visalia, is in love with carousels. In fact, he has one on his property that he restored. It’s a beautiful old carousel that once belonged to a traveling carnival on the west coast. George also reminded me that the old carousel that was once at Mooney Grove Park is restored and in the city of Hanford. Thanks for refreshing my memory on that, George.

"I am not one of those people who think because a man is a preacher he is necessarily a good man, or if a man is a gambler he is necessarily a bad man. I will go further, and say that I think a bad gambler is better than a bad preacher because a bad preacher pretends to be good and a bad gambler makes no pretences.” Daily Visalia Delta, January 10, 1906 – probably the words of Alonzo Melville Doty, philosopher and part owner of the Delta.

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