The Road to Historic Designation
The loss of old comunity structures in the Mineral King Valley always has been a threat. Time, natural forces, government policies and commecial considerations, all take their toll. Conservation movements begining in 1874, work to preserve all natural resources, often to the detriment of the cultural resources contained on the same lands. In Sequoia National Park, the preservation of natural resources is paramount to any other consideration.
In the beginning, there had to be a town to preserve for historic designation. By the mid-nineteen thirties, the original mining community of Mineral King was nearly gone.
“Ross moved the little old butcher shop,” resort owner Arthur Crowley lamented in 1930. “One of my old landmarks gone.”
Not only were crushing snows, avalanches, wet year bogs and fires taking their toll on the old buildings. Increasingly, the changing concepts of a younger generation were threatening the then sixty -seven year old community. What had been right for an eighteen-seventies mining settlement no longer was acceptable for a twentieth century resort and vacation town.
Private enterprise and government oversight both were threatening the heritage of the past. Three of the four unpatented mill sites on which most of the Mineral King community first lay had been reclaimed by the Forest Serivce and permits issued for cabin occupancy under the 1915 Term Occupancy Act. Many of the old cabins and mining era structures had been torn down and their materials used for new buildings. Not only were the old cabins being renovated, but several of their lots had been subdivided and new lots opened after a 1924 land survey.
But it wasn’t just new building policies that threatened the existence of the already historic community. Since its growth into a busy recreational enclave in the eighteen-eighties, conservation forces had expressed their own interests in protecting the area as a natural preserve rather than as a cultural heritage.
The trend toward conservation began in California in 1874 at the height of the first Mineral King mining boom. In that year, the California legislature made it illegal to damage any Sequoia big tree over sixteen feet in diameter. The lumbering of Sequoias for shakes, rails and timbers for the Mineral King mines was not affected by the grandiose proportions of the limits, but the state law came as a harbinger of future restrictions.
By the beginning of the second mining boom of 1879 other forces were working to protect the big trees and wilderness areas of the Sierra Nevada. The first efforts of George Stewart of the Visalia Weekly Delta and a group of other concerned citizens that began a movement that finally resulted in the 1890 creation of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks.
While several proposals between 1879 and 1890 had included Mineral King in the scope of the new park, because of its mining potential and private community, the valley was left out. However, immediately, Sequoia’s first superintendent, Captain Joseph Dorst, recommended in 1891 that park boundaries be extended to include Mineral King and vast areas of the wilderness high country.
Such recommendations were to continue throughout various Sequoia Park administrations. Worried that inclusion in the park would stop any possibility of future mining activities, and aware of a park antipathy toward private enterprises on public lands, the people of Mineral King fought any attempts to include them in the park. In an effort to influence park policies in 1894, Arthur Crowley had a petition signed by dozens of Visalia citizens requesting he be designated, “Guardian of the Sequoia National Park.”
However, the park was not the only worry the residents of Mineral King had. A year earlier, Mineral King had been included in the newly formed Sierra Forest Reserve, and the Department of Interior began to look at possible infractions of mining and homestead laws. In 1904, Forest Reserve Superintendent, Harrison White, recorded Crowley’s misuse of the Empire Mine mill site as a resort.
Unwilling to accept defeat, Crowley took his case to court and four years later was granted full title to the land, assuring continuation of his resort. Unfortunately, the rest of the community could not be granted such peace of mind.
With the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, conservation of both natural and historic sites and objects on public lands was mandated. However, from the beginning, Sequoia National Park policy made it clear that the preservation of natural resources was paramount to any other consideration.