Balch Park: So much history in the mountains

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Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:00 am

SPRINGVILLE -- Not everyone can turn an arrowhead into a museum, but that's what Wava Myers did.

Myers, an artist and teacher out of Tulare, found the arrowhead about 10 years ago during a camping trip at Balch Park. The park is located at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the mountains above Springville.

"I had a vision," she said. "It made me realize there is so much history in this area. I wanted to have something up here that would show people that history."

After obtaining permission from park officials, Myers transformed a small, rustic two-room building -- formerly park headquarters -- into the Balch Park Museum.

The arrowhead is now displayed in a glass case alongside rusted spikes, nails and horse rigging, some of it dating back to 1910.

Old photographs, like one of nearby Mountain Home taken in 1897, adorn the museum walls.

"Today, Mountain Home State Forest contains a minimum security prison," said Myers, who spends much of her time researching area history and serves as museum guide. "But in 1897 it was a country club for the well-to-do seeking relief from the valley heat."

The resort, which eventually burned down, offered Saturday night dancing, Sunday fishing, sight-seeing, berry picking and croquet. The photo shows a group of 19th century high brows dressed in their finery, playing a game of croquet.

Other photos show men sawing through giant redwoods and early logging methods used to haul the wood down the mountain.

Also featured are photos of the park's original owners, John J. Doyle and A.C. Balch. Doyle, the park's first recorded owner, built a summer home there in the late 1800s.

In an effort to promote the area and sell lots, he produced a flier now displayed in the museum.

"The most picturesque summer resort in the Sierra Nevada range," the flier says. "Hunting and trout fishing in abundance. Good stage roads and fine accommodations."

Doyle also planted apple trees, and stored the apples in a fallen, hollow redwood log to keep them cool.

The log, which is 75 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, was featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not many years later as a "hollow log used as a garage for automobiles in Porterville, California."

Myers denies that was ever the case, although motorists throughout the years enjoyed posing with their cars parked at the mouth of the giant log. The fallen redwood is a popular park attraction.

The park derives its name from its final owner, A.C. Balch, who in 1923 gave the land to the county.

Myers each weekend verbally guides close to 200 people through a pictorial history of the park.

"Most are in awe when they see these old photographs," she said. "Most have never seen them -- and many don't even know the museum's here."

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. It opens each year on Memorial Day and closes Labor Day.

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