Sarah Lim: Exploring Merced County

08/18/2012 12:31 AM

08/20/2012 12:56 PM

Is Lake Yosemite's tower really haunted by the "Lady of the Lake?"

Was Arthur Bright's claim of having the oldest Averling and Porter tractor in his museum accurate?

How did a local youth escape from the Dos Palos jailhouse?

These colorful stories are told in a DVD produced by the Merced County Historical Society. "Exploring Merced County Through the Lens of Merced Camera Club" will be shown at the historic Merced Theatre on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5. Proceeds benefit Merced Theatre Foundation.

This picturesque journey with music and narration features over 175 artistic photos shot by members of the Camera Club.

The purpose of this DVD is to help acquaint visitors, students and residents with Merced County's rich local history through the photographic presentation of the sites and stories that have shaped Merced County's historic and cultural landscape.

The DVD begins with a general introduction of Merced County's physical landscape.

"The landscape of Merced County varies with the seasons. As storm clouds gather over the rolling hills of eastern Merced County, the winter storms nourish the countryside, producing a carpet of verdant green grasses and wildflowers in the spring."

This narration written by Ty Shaeffer accompanies Carlene Cunningham's "Approaching Storm in Eastern Merced County" photo.

This beautiful natural landscape also has served as fertile feeding ground as the Spanish explorers introduced livestock into California. In Jim Cunningham's photo entitled "Grazing," looking east toward the foothills, you see the snow-packed Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background and cattle roaming and grazing in the foreground.

On the west side of Merced County, Andy Tolsma's photo of the historic "San Luis Camp Adobe" offers a glimpse of how vaqueros worked and rested 300 years ago.

As Merced County began to take shape, narrators Maxwell Norton and Patti Kishi continue this pictorial tour at the county's original county seat, Snelling; then move east to the ghost town of Merced Falls that was once a thriving industrial center powered by the Merced River. Following the river to its bottom is the town of Hopeton, where you will find St. John's Catholic Church with its colorful past.

Going south on Highway 59, Merced is the next destination in the tour showcasing our magnificent historic courthouse, the recently renovated Merced Theatre, the solemn Merced Assembly Center monument and mysterious Lake Yosemite.

Leaving Merced traveling east on Highway 140, the town of Planada still has traces of hope and failure of its developer a century ago. Le Grand and Plainsburg are towns that are filled with stories of pioneer settlers who laid the foundations of one of our nation's most productive farm belts.

Returning to Highway 59 and heading south, the rural town of El Nido features the historic schoolhouse. Leaving El Nido and heading west on Highway 152, the city of Dos Palos is the home of the Jailhouse Museum.

Continuing on Highway 152 toward Los Banos, you will be surrounded by fields of corn, cotton and alfalfa. The history of Los Banos intertwines with the life story of cattle king Henry Miller who is now memorialized with a plaza as well as a statue in his honor in the city center.

Leaving Los Banos on Highway 152 and then heading north on Highway 33 to Santa Nella, the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery is final resting place for our brave fallen heroes.

Gustine, the next town on Highway 33, was named in memory of Henry Miller's daughter. It is also known for its annual "Our Lady of Miracles" celebration, the biggest gathering of Portuguese outside of Portugal.

Taking Highway 140 east toward Stevinson, George Hatfield State Park on the banks of Merced River features the oldest iron bridge in Merced County built in 1910.

Continuing on Highway 140 east and then taking Highway 165 north, you will reach the ghost town of Irwin City, which now is part of Hilmar. Hilmar was founded as a Swedish colony and the Hilmar Covenant Church enjoys a strong Swedish tradition.

Leaving Hilmar and traveling south on Highway 99 is the town of Delhi developed by the State Land Settlement program. The original Land Settlement Administration Office building is now a part of Delhi Community Presbyterian Church.

Livingston and its Museum is the next stop on Highway 99. The museum is housed in the building that was once a justice court and library dedicated by Gov. William Stephens in 1922.

Atwater, the last stop on Highway 99, has two wonderful historic treasures: the Bloss House Museum depicting the life of a Victorian era and the Castle Air Museum showcasing military aircraft that captures every visitor's imagination.

Winton, the last Merced County town in alphabetical order, happens to be the last stop of this pictorial tour.

The DVD ends with an image of a windmill in the sunset. The photo represents the interconnection of the past and present. An implement from the past is now an example of green energy of the present.

As Ty Shaeffer writes, "Harnessing the natural power of wind, the farmers, unknowingly, were forerunners of green energy as the windmill pumped groundwater into cisterns, providing water for their crops and animals. ...

"The windmill also reminds us of how critical green energy is for sustaining the present and building for the future."

Sarah Lim writes the Museum Notes column.

You can reach her at

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