Sierra Star: Oakhurst prepares for 100th birthday

Tiffany Tuell
(Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 5:14 PM)

It was almost 100 years ago that a newcomer to Fresno Flats decided to forever change the history of the gold mining era town by giving it a new name -- that name was Oakhurst.

Originally established as Fresno Flats by the post office on Aug. 18, 1873 by John E. DeLong, the name would remain so for the next 39 years.

However one infamous train robbery began a string of events that would lead to eventually change the town's name. On May 22, 1885, a stagecoach was held up at gunpoint on its way to Yosemite National Park. No one was injured, but soon after Charley Meyers and Willie Prescott were taken into custody for the crime. After three mistrials, the county (Fresno Flats, now Oakhurst, was located in Fresno County at the time) didn't want the expense of a fourth trial so they let Meyers and Prescott walk free.

Their reputation as stagecoach robbers followed them wherever they went so they decided to leave the area. Meyers and his wife moved to Portland, Ore. until his wife (Prescott's sister) divorced him. He moved to Seattle where he remarried in 1899.

Meyers, and his new wife Kitty Wittle, moved back to Fresno Flats after his father died and he was left the family land. But the area was still known as the home of Charley Meyers -- stagecoach robber.

Wittle didn't like the negative association between her husband's name and Fresno Flats, so she decided to do something about it -- and she would do everything within her power to succeed.
Wittle was a member of women's club where she mentioned her plan to change the name of the town from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst and the meeting disrupted in anger when the "old timers" -- people who had helped build the town -- objected to the proposed name change.

But Wittle and her newcomer friends were persistent. They silently passed around a petition for a name change until they got enough signatures to send the petition to postal authorities. Since the name Oakhurst hadn't been used, the post office basically said, "Why not?" according to Roger Mitchell, archivist for Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park Research Library.

Official name change was on Feb. 28, 1912

Affective Feb. 28, 1912, Fresno Flats became Oakhurst. Many residents didn't even know of the change until they were alerted by the post office that they now resided in a town named Oakhurst.

One of the old timers and his friends were upset and began a counter movement in May, 1912 to have the name changed back to Fresno Flats.

They presented their petition and all their signatures May 20, 1912 but by then the post office had had enough. After changing the name once, the post office wasn't about to change it again so the name Oakhurst remained.

No one knew that exact date of the town's name change until July of this year when Mitchell began researching the date for Oakhurst's 100th birthday next year. He looked high and low for about three months and even made some phone calls to the state capitol.

"We originally understood that it was presented to the state legislature and that they made name changes, but that doesn't make sense and is erroneous," Mitchell said.
He then began looking at postal records and he found two sources. Mitchell and his wife, Loris, traveled eight hours each way to the post office's Desert Archives in Goffs. It was there that he found a letter from the post office that gave the date as Feb. 28, 1912.
Celebration plans underway

To celebrate the town's 100th year of being Oakhurst, 2012 will be full of events, celebrations and reminders.

The 2012 Sierra Telephone phone book and the 2012 Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce membership directory will have historical photos of the town, as well as history of the area.

The Golden Chain Theatre will have host a melodrama centered around the name change from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst exactly 100 years after the name change -- Feb. 28, 2012.

"A Fastidious, Finagling, Fiasco Fixin' of Fresno Flats" will tell the story of Charley Meyers from robbing the stage to his socialite wife changing the town's name. The melodrama is written by Roger Clugston.

In addition, the special traveling celebratory melodrama can be hired by clubs and organizations all year long. The production will appear at Sugar Pine Railroad two times during the year.

The celebration committee is producing a 2012 calendar with historic photos, and is considering a 100-year time capsule, children's poster contest and a commemorative medallion.

Editor's Note: Historical information was derived from "Perilous Trails, Dangers Men," by William B. Secrest as well as documents from Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park Research Library and Sierra Star historical articles.


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