Monthly news & updates
February 1, 2021
Photo Credit: February 1916. Image courtesy of the Pop Laval Foundation.
Dearest Friends and Supporters,

An archive is a place where history lives on in spite of and despite what anyone around today has to say about it. There it sits, on the shelf, in a box, under tables, on a computer - just waiting to share its own stories. Despite being filled with memories, often very personal, an archive is alive. Whomever goes to view the items, documents, photos and diaries stored and preserved, will undoubtedly interpret what they are seeing from the perspective and vantage point of time gone by. No one sees history in the same light. That is the whole point.

History is most truly in the eye of the beholder; judged from a different place and, hopefully, with knowledge acquired along the pathways of time. Better judgement can be applied yet hindsight does not see clearly with twenty-twenty vision. While there are many, many occurrences, events, policies, decisions and so much more that we in 2021 would never agree with, the fact is that history happened. In its time and place, it existed. We must learn from the past; good and bad, inspiring and even evil. One thing must be said out loud – erasing history does not serve the greater good. Evolving to better reflect current times can only take place from the context of the past. One of the ways that this continues to be done so well is through celebration.
February is Black History Month, and your Fresno County Historical Society is proud to showcase, not just for 28 days, but always, an outstanding collection of images and oral histories that present, not interpret or alter, the African American experience in our own region. Most certainly, our archive is not comprehensive, and we welcome all additions, either through donation or our own gathering.
If you visit, the stories of people such as WWI veteran, Sergeant William A. Bigby. Jr. and Fowler native, Esther Brooks – their own words memorialized in the late ‘70s – will come to life. This month, we are genuinely thrilled to release a series called African American Voices, an oral history collection from 2004 - 2006. Even better, become a fan at and enjoy special segments from our Tour Guide, Candice Hill Troutman, each Saturday at 1:00pm. 

We also remember the birthdays of two presidents this month, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the contributions of whom will always stand the test of time even as aspects of their legacies are, perhaps properly, revisited. And some of you will observe the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, better known now as St. Valentine’s Day – history proves this sweet extravaganza of love had its roots in some very unsavory practices – but we still love to love!
All the while, we hope you are staying well as we battle through what should be the backside of the Covid-19 pandemic. Imagine what those in 2121 will think of our past 12 months! Only the archive will know by then…
Warmest regards,
Elizabeth Laval
President, Fresno County Historical Society
Big Creek Ice & Snow Festival
"Fresno Trainload Had A Snow Ball at the
1916 Huntington Lake Carnival"
The snow fields of the mountains lying east of the San Joaquin Valley have tempted residents of the Valley for many years but did you know that at one time, Huntington Lake and its environs were being marketed as the Alps of the West? In 1916, Fresno’s Commercial Club, an early version of the Chamber of Commerce, made plans to go as a group for an outing billed as the inaugural “Big Creek Ice and Snow Carnival.” 
This was to be the first of a series of “snow carnivals” to be held at this spot. There were about 65 people in the final group who made the trip which began with a journey on the San Joaquin and Eastern Railroad, originally built to get men and supplies to the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project sites. The 55-mile track was constructed for just over a million dollars and was known as “the crookedest railroad in the world” featuring 1,073 curves.
As the snow enthusiasts began the climb, leaving the fog of the Valley behind, they passed through Auberry where Shay engines were utilized to more effectively navigate the circuitous grades. Reportedly, they were afforded a dazzling panoramic view of the area as far as the Coast Range Mountains.
The final destination was Huntington Lake Lodge, four miles above the railway’s terminus so the intrepid travelers switched to unique conveyances known as “Sierra Planes” invented specifically for the transportation of this party. Louis L. Ellis invented the contraption and created a sled shaped like a rowboat with the bottom and outside of the vehicle covered with zinc which was pulled by four to eight horses. The city-dwellers, dressed in wool skirts and suits, were bundled onto the Planes and safely deposited at the door of the Lodge.
The next few days were filled with snowball fights, tobogganing, skiing and, perhaps most intriguing, snow tennis, with competitors using their snowshoes as racquets and pinecones as balls. Each member of the party was free to follow their own inclination to partake in the wonders of the winter. Word has it that the toboggan slide became popular in the evening and the trip was taken by single individuals, doubles and often as many as the sled would hold. Every overturn brought hoots and howls. 

Our own Claude C. “Pop” Laval made photographic souvenirs for the intrepid group and also directed a long-lost film, titled “The Ubiquitous Mother-in-Law” he had written featuring his sister, Lorraine Laval, local beauty queen, Netta Sunderland, Ray Cooper and Leon Perraud. The movie was made to show that the delights of the recently completed Huntington Lake in winter could be as enjoyable as in the warm months of the year. 
However, as you may have guessed by now, there was not a second annual Ice and Snow Carnival in 1917. Perhaps it was the war, or maybe the Sierra Planes proved too daunting. Whatever the case, 105 years ago this February, another chapter was made in local lore.

Images courtesy of the Pop Laval Foundation. Taken at the Big Creek Ice and Snow Festival by Pop Laval in February 1916.
While the COVID-19 Pandemic has closed the Fresno County Historical Society's doors to the public over the last 11 months, we have worked to bring the charming, moving and historic stories of Fresno County to the public through our website and Facebook page. Visit us at each week to enjoy photographs and stories from the Archives of the Fresno County Historical Society and our partners. Recently, the page has featured a Roots of the Valley series of stories on the floods that plagued the City from the 1880s through the mid 1900s. This month, we will feature a new oral history from the African American Voices collection recorded between 2004 - 2006 each Saturday at 1:00pm. Like the page today and return often!
This February offers an opportunity to celebrate Black History Month amid an unprecedented moment for our nation as former California Senator Kamala Harris became Vice President of the United States of America and Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber was nominated to become California’s first African American Secretary of State.

In a continuation of our Archives Outreach Initiative, we have released the recently digitized oral histories from the African American Voices Collection on the Fresno County Historical Society's website. The project was coordinated by community volunteer, Nancy Whittle, from 2004 - 2006. Eleven oral history recordings were collected through interviews with leading members of Fresno County’s African American community including: Sgt. Jack Kelley, founder of the African American Historical and Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley, Dr. Edward Mosley and Pastor Jimmie D. Adams. Business owners Mack Haynes and Charley Scott contributed stories of West Fresno and Goldie Jones and Edna Reid shared family histories that detail their agricultural heritage. These oral histories include recollections from the Civil Rights Era as they document the lives and experiences of the generation after those recorded in our Ethnic Oral History Project, 1977 - 1978. 

Stay tuned for more news from behind-the-scenes of the FCHS and check for updates on reopening for in-person research. The archives are open via email - please send research requests to

Photo Credit: Jack Kelley, first African American Sergeant in the Fresno Police Department.

To keep our community safe, tours of Kearney Mansion Museum & Gallery were suspended on November 13th in compliance with COVID-19 Tier 1 requirements from the Fresno County Health Department and the State of California. We will reopen the Mansion for tours once we return to Tier 2. We continue to hope to see you soon!

We are grateful to the many longtime members of the Fresno County Historical Society who have continued to renew, and even increase, their membership support for the Society during this challenging and historic year. Additionally, we would like to welcome the many new members who have joined over the last eleven months. Your financial investment in our organization has allowed us to maintain our staff and helped us to pivot to virtual and remote services as we continue to fulfill our mission to preserve and protect the history of Fresno County and the Central Valley. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining today.