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History of the Living History Community

Modern Settlement: The Boom Days

It has always been the elements that have determined where people can live. However, the lure of wealth can be just as important.

In Mineral King, a harsh mountain climate and fickle weather patterns have played a major role in the community's settlement patterns. But during its boom days, the natural elements were often defied as gold and silver seekers rushed to claim the area's touted riches.

Harry's Bend

Before there could be a community, there had to be good access to the Mineral King Valley. In the fall of 1872, ignoring the coming of winter, the merchants of Visalia raised $3,000 to create a decent trail up the east fork of the Kaweah from the end of the county road at Three Rivers. Mineral King's first community enclave was built six miles below the valley proper when John Meadow's trail crew was forced by early snows to stop and build shelters at what they named Silver City.

After the trail was completed early the next summer, other cabin groupings began to appear. Al Weishar of Visalia hauled mill equipment up the new trail by mule back to a site above Silver City to furnish lumber for the cabins being built. From Barton's Camp just above the "Falls Below the Gate" where John Lovelace had erected his fence, to Harry's Bend and on up "the Flats" to the foot of Lone Horse or Farewell Canyon, miners and entrepreneurs, often with their families, began the rudiments of a mountain community. By the fall of 1873, more than sixty claims had been filed by nearly one hundred people, the majority businessmen and ranchers from Tulare County.

They couldn't wait for the summer of 1874. As early as March, the first miners entered the valley on snowshoes and several were camped just below snowline. By the first of June, Silver City boasted a population of fifty to sixty people and it was announced that a school would be opened there around June 15th.

It wasn't until May 25 that the trail was opened to Harry's Bend. But even before that the Davidson and Thurmond saloon and the Watson and Thurmond store were under construction. With the trail opening the Smith House Hotel, two more saloons, a second merchandise store, a hotel addition to the Watson and Thurmond saloon, three assay offices and several cabins were completed. By June 20, the Tulare Times reported several gardens were being planted.

The extent of family life in the Mineral King Mining District was reported in the Visalia Times in 1874. In August, at the height of the mining season, J.P. Ford hosted a party in his "... snug, commodious dwelling-house in the heart of the district, the principal rooms of which were well-lighted, filled with ladies and gentlemen... enough to dance a double quadrille, or two sets at one time."

The community was broken into camps: Silver City; "The Gate" or Barton's Camp; Harry's Bend; Sunny Point; Beulah; Ford's Camp; and White Chief Camp up the hill. By the end of summer, a population of 500 people was reported.

1875 saw more construction and another camp called Harmonville was settled at the southernmost end of the valley. A separate camp accommodated the forty Chinese laborers who worked the New England Tunnel at the base of Lone Horse Canyon below Farewell Gap. Several people resided year long in the valley.

With the failure of the New England Tunnel and Smelting Company to produce paying ore from 1876-1978, the community lost some of its population. Still, 43 claims were filed in 1877, a mail delivery was initiated, and a large number of the "fair sex" was reported to be bringing a "refining influence in this quarter of the world."

With Harry O'Farrell's sale of the Empire Mine to Tom Fowler in 1879, the community flourished again. The trail from Three Rivers was expanded into a toll road bringing in more people, amenities and supplies. By fall, Mineral King was claimed to have a population as large as that of Visalia which had 3,000 people. It was reported that 1,500 men were working at one time in the mines. And 600 "houses" were counted within the mining district.

By this time, there were six two-story hotels, thirteen restaurants and thirteen saloons; a barber shop, livery stable; a shoemaker, three butcher shops, three assay offices, several merchandise stores and even a dairy. A stamp mill, retort works, blacksmith shop, coal house and warehouse were in operation. Three lumber mills furnished boards and shakes for all the structures.

Dances were held. Baseball games were played. Community picnics and hikes were organized. Politics flourished. Preachers preached. A full time physician was in residence as whole families settled in to escape the low-land heat and summer diseases of the San Joaquin Valley. More vegetable gardens were tended with home grown turnips, radishes, lettuce and potatoes gracing residents' tables.

These were the halcyon days of the Mineral King Community. They were the years that developed the unique atmosphere, the legacy of families that were never to leave, the close bonds and intense community pride that still exist today.

(Acknowledgements to John Porter's "Silver Rush at Mineral King" and Louise Jackson's "Beulah" for much of the material included here.)

History of the Living Historic Community
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