Monthly news & updates
March 1, 2021
Dearest Friends and Supports,

As your Fresno County Historical Society prepares to celebrate its 102nd birthday later in March, we have all decided that this month is going to be really good and positive. Should the Covid numbers break in the right direction, we could be allowed to open the Kearney Mansion back up for tours which would certainly be a gift well received. Also, the Society is planning some new and exciting tours and experiences as soon as we are able – including Mystery Dinners at the Mansion, local farm tours and walking tours around Kearney Park. Our next exhibit in the Mansion Museum is under development and, before too long, we plan to open the third floor to guests with an ongoing and innovative visit back to the days of M. Theo Kearney himself. The best way to keep up-to-date, as always, is on our website – – and through our very active Facebook page.

Also in March, America, along with Great Britain and Australia, commemorates Women’s History Month. The origins date back over a century to 1911 but, its current iteration as a national celebration began in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields. 
Well, naturally, we look forward to showcasing some of our own local legends this month beginning with Minna Eshleman. One of Fresno’s most influential leaders, Minna Eshleman Sherman was a significant figure in the region’s farming and the civic life from the 1890s through her death in 1913. Her famous Minnewawa estate developed into one of the most admired agricultural operations in California, and the Emperor table grapes and olive orchards grown on her property became famous throughout the area. 
Minna was most respected, however, as a dairy authority. Her weekly column in the popular farming journal California Cultivator provided practical advice for farmers throughout the state. She also championed and popularized progressive farming techniques including the proper feeding and care of livestock, sanitary conditions and humane treatment of animals. The advanced scientific processing of milk used in her dairy helped to wipe out cholera infantum, a disease that had killed many Fresno babies.
In addition to her career in agriculture, Minna was one of Fresno’s leading crusaders for social reform. Through her leadership in two of Fresno women’s organizations, the Wednesday Club and the Parlor Lecture Club, she sounded a strong voice for community improvement, civic pride and social justice. Leading the “City Beautiful” movement in Fresno, she advocated the planting of trees, parks, paving roads and improving Mountain View Cemetery. From her desire to help Fresno’s working women and poor, Minna founded the Fresno Social Betterment Association, establishing the first settlement work in the city. The Association offered classes, located jobs and clothing for needy families, and housed a daycare that provided childcare for poor working women.
The culmination of Minna’s work was her nomination to the Board of Regents for the University of California. Unfortunately, she died just over a month after the appointment without ever attending a meeting.  Minna is just one of the incredible females of impact you will meet throughout March and beyond. 

Finally, thanks to an amazing partnership between the Fresno County Historical Society and the California Revealed project, we were able to preserve a number of home movies from the Eaton Family Collection that have now been digitized and made a part of the FCHS archive. 

California Revealed is a State Library initiative to help California's public libraries, in partnership with other local heritage groups, digitize, preserve and serve online historically significant Californiana. We are so grateful that historical footage such as this has been preserved through their important work. One of these films is of a major flood on the West Side of the Valley that tremendously impacted both Fresno and Merced counties. The excerpt of the story was taken from the archives of The Fresno Bee on February 24 and 25, 1936. As you watch, you will see something we will be examining more deeply in the future; the Dust Bowl migrants, who made up a large part of the affected workforce. 


“Merced River Inundates Large Portion of West Side; Bear Creek Recedes After Rampage; Clovis Territory Is Under Water”

“With the unprecedented two-week storm apparently at an end in the San Joaquin Valley, residents of Merced and Clovis and a vast area of western Merced County this morning found themselves still almost shut off from the outside world by flood conditions…

“The rampaging Merced River broke its bounds in the vicinity of Cresset late yesterday despite the efforts of a large group of ranchers from various West Side communities who rushed to the aid of the Livingston firemen in their effort to build a levee high enough to keep the waters in their channel. The river is a mile wide at this point as a result of the overflow.

“Thousands of acres of West Side land lie under water this morning, enormous damage having been done to young onions, carrots, lettuce and other Spring truck crops.

“Close to twenty families have been forced to flee their homes in the vicinity of Cressey, scarcely having had time to snatch their personal belongings in their haste to escape the roaring flood that rushed through the break in the river bank.”

“A watery sun shone on scenes of havoc wrought by floods in California’s vast central valleys to-day, while health officials warned against typhoid danger, one river continued to rise and new storms brewed off the coast.
“Refugees numbered more than 500 in the 100-mile-long stricken area, and damage to crops and buildings was unofficially estimated at more than $1,000,000.

“Farmers gloomily surveyed the lakes that covered their crop-laden fields, and housewives braved water and mud to return to abandoned homes to save what possessions they could."
An important note to the above collection – Mr. Edwin Eaton and his family have long been generous and loyal patrons of the Fresno County Historical Society. As we begin our 103rd year, we honor their contributions which have made so many of our accomplishments possible. Mr. Eaton served as President of the Fresno County Historical Society Board from 1955 until May 1966, when he resigned only due to ill health. His name became almost synonymous with the Society and during his presidency, the organization nearly completed the restoration of our current home, the M. Theo Kearney Mansion and numerous historical items were collected for the planned Pioneer Village, one of Eaton’s particular enthusiasms. Edwin was an avid advocate for Fresno and one of the region’s preeminent native historians, having been born in 1890 in a two-story home where the Hardy Theater would eventually be built. I look forward to sharing more about this outstanding patron soon.

Lots of history to share this month – good thing we have 31 days!
Warmest regards,
Elizabeth Laval
President, Fresno County Historical Society
The Barton Opera House
Theaters have been a major subject of discussion in our area the past few months and we will highlight some of the earliest in the the weeks to come. But before motion pictures emerged, stage shows became a popular Fresno County attraction. The first were touring companies of actors that came to gold mining camps in the Sierra Nevada foothills and played in halls with a stage at one end. After towns became established on the valley floor, enterprising promoters built optimistically named “opera houses.” Melodramas were fashionable, although early audiences tended to be rowdy, calling out comments to the actors. As communities grew and the populace became more sophisticated, so, too, did the opera houses and their entertainment. The Barton Opera House in Fresno, the Reedley Opera House and the Unger Opera House in Selma offered first-class actors in good plays. The connection between actors and audience rarely failed to create magical moments that live on long after the curtain falls.
Opened on September 29, 1890 by Robert Barton, a local vineyardist, the Barton Opera House was a state-of-the-art facility. Located at the northeast corner of Fresno and J (Fulton) streets, the Opera House had a capacity of 1,600 seats and a plush interior with many small lights on the high-domed ceiling. The box seats on each side of the stage were lavishly decorated. The three-story building was also occupied by the Fresno Armory. 

The Barton’s first production was the play Adonis, which debuted to a house crowded from pit to gallery. Mr. Barton was given a standing ovation by the crowd. During its quarter of a century career, this venue hosted the most dramatic, operatic and theatrical attractions, and Fresno achieved the reputation of being one of the most appreciative theatrical towns in the California circuit.
During Fresno High School’s early years, graduation exercises were held in the elegant Barton Opera House as well. 

Naturally, there had to be a little scandal associated with such a venerable venue. Tragedy struck behind the Barton In the wee hours of the morning of October 10,1907 when sixty-year-old night watchman, Lucius C. Smith was walking his beat in downtown Fresno. He checked on things at the stables of the Grand Central Hotel at Mariposa and J (now Fulton) streets and then walked to the alley behind the Opera House. 

As he turned into the alley, Smith saw a man exiting a transom window at the rear of the building. The man dropped to the ground. According to men who were working in the undertaking parlor across the alley, Smith called out to the man, many shots were fired and the sound of someone running echoed down the alleyway. The men ran outside to find Smith lying dead in a pool of blood. He was the third law enforcement officer killed on duty in an eight-month period. 

Once again, shock and grief filled people's hearts. Lucius Smith was a familiar figure in Fresno. He was said to be the first uniformed officer and the first street car driver in the city's history. He was well liked by all who knew him. His faithful dog, Jim, who walked his beat with him every night, was with him when the shooting took place. According to those present, after the shots were fired, Jim ran to the Central Hotel stables and back to his master's side refusing to leave even after Smith's body was removed. The next evening he wandered Smith's beat over and over as though in search of his master. By now, the police and sheriffs department began to wonder if the killer of Smith might not also be the killer of the other two men, Harry S. Van Meter and Joseph D. Price. An all-out effort was made to find the culprit or culprits. But ail to no avail. The case, like the others, was never solved and remains a mystery in the tales of our Valley.
On Saturday, February 27th Tour Manager, Candice Hill Troutman, led a virtual tour of the Kearney Mansion Museum & Gallery for Valley PBS Family Circle members. The video premiered on the Valley PBS Facebook page where families were able to view the tour and ask questions LIVE through the comments section. The tour was hosted by Anthony Gonzales and filmed by Matt Drake from Valley PBS.

Participants were treated to a guided tour of the Children's Room, Music Room, Lady of the House’s Room and the Estate Office in the Mansion. They learned the history of the house and Fruit Valle estate and were given a glimpse into life at the turn of the 20th century. The video tour will be available to watch until March 7th on the Valley PBS Facebook page. Follow the
link to enjoy the tour.
Plan to celebrate Mom on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at the Kearney Mansion Museum with a traditional tea party. The planned event is scheduled to be held on the Mansion's veranda with tables well spaced apart. The event offers two seating times for tea at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM and is expected to sell out. In the event that Fresno County is not in Tier 3 by May, this event can be held virtually with beautiful tea boxes packaged for enjoyment at home during an online program.

Don't miss this special day. Ticket includes traditional tea service, a tour of Kearney Mansion, passes to view the current exhibition in the new Museum Gallery and a 10% discount coupon for use in the Museum Store.

Secure your tickets HERE to
During the Covid-19 pandemic, your FCHS has been working to ensure our students are still connecting to history and social studies lessons! Although our FCHS annual Living History event was not able to be held in 2020, the Society, along with our generous sponsors, is able to provide the School Days experience through an exciting array of online digital curriculum. Twelve immersive and unique lessons will take students on a journey to the America of the 1800s and will share the story of Fresno County in the 19th century though activities, video presentations and connecting with historical figures of the time. Please check our website for exact dates and times for this extraordinary, interactive experience. 
This project has been made possible by: Educational Employees Credit Union, Clovis Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District, Assemi Group Inc, The Smittcamp Family Foundation, The Bonner Family Foundation and California Bank and Trust, with additional support from the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools and Bank of America.

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!

If the last twelve months held a lesson for us, perhaps it is that understanding and remembering our history is as important to our present as it is to our future. For nearly 102 years, the Fresno County Historical Society has been an irreplaceable public resource, shared and supported by our community.  

The FCHS Archives hold personal diaries, recorded oral histories, thousands of photographs and a wealth of wisdom gained by the generations that came before us. These treasures tell us who we are as a community.   

The agricultural knowledge and innovations that have positioned our county to be the most productive land in the world are kept in this wide-ranging Archive, along with over 140 years of our daily lives through the pages of the Fresno Morning Republican and Fresno Bee newspapers, which we have preserved.  

The poignant stories of our community, funny and heartbreaking, personal and global, are protected because of the investment made by the members of the Fresno County Historical Society.

At a time when being able to reflect on our collective past has become so important, we invite you to make a difference by becoming a member of the Society today. With your vital contribution, our invaluable work, only made possible by the support of our membership, can continue for the next century.