The Visalia View

Visalia History Comes Alive for Foreign Travelers

Sequoia Entrance Sign Renovated 2018

Newly restored entrance sign

About 400,000 or so of the 2+ million visitors to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are from outside the United States. Places like Germany, France, England, and Asia – and also the Netherlands, as is the case of Marianna Metcalf. She was recently in Visalia as part of a trip to the Parks and spent several days exploring Visalia.
I enjoy meeting people from all over the world and hearing their impressions of the US, of California and particularly of Visalia. In Visalia, they love strolling Main Street in our historic downtown, shopping the boutiques and dining in the many restaurants. In fact, sit in one of the restaurants on any given night and you’re sure to hear several different languages coming from nearby tables. I am amazed at how much they love seeing our National Parks. Although these other countries have preserves and parklands, I think the US National Park system is unique with its emphasis on education and protection, are some of the most beautiful places in America. Plus our Rangers are awesome, too!
So, back to Marianna’s interest to learn a little more about our area. Visalia is the oldest city between Los Angeles and French Camp and was settled by many different cultures. I suggested she visit the oldest County park in the state of California: Mooney Grove. Are you surprised to learn that it is located in Visalia? It was established in 1909 on a site that was – and still is – rich with towering Valley oak trees. For almost 110 years families and friends have gathered for a leisurely day spent on the rolling lawns under the oaks. It has a boat house at the duck pond with paddle boats, beautifully restored arbors with picnic tables, and hand stacked low stone walls that encircle the park and line park roads through the park.

Mooney Grove Pond

Mooney Grove Pond

Mooney Grove is also home to a wonderful museum that illustrates Visalia’s growth from a wild west outpost in the mid-1850’s to the ‘Jewel of the Valley’ that it is today. On display are historical artifacts of the pioneer era, agriculture equipment, restored buildings and many other treasures that tell the history of Tulare County. Most notable, it contains one of the largest Native American basket collections in the state of California. (Click here if you are interested in exploring more Native American artifacts.)
The newest addition to the park is the History of Farm Labor and Agriculture Museum, where each cultural group and their contributions to farm labor and agriculture is featured. The museum aims to educate visitors on the importance of the area and its history with the hope of recognizing the unique roll it has played in California History.
For a foreign visitor, Marianna was quite impressed by seeing the historic artifacts in person. She grew up watching American Cowboy movies that did not portray the reality of the early days of California. When she stepped into the museum with its historic buildings like the Surprise School and the jail house, and displays of corsets and shoes she felt like she had stepped back in time to the early 1900’s.

As she said:

'I saw constricting clothes that one had to wear . .'

‘I saw constricting clothes that one had to wear . .’

“I got hooked into the outdoor museum with buildings from the early nineteen hundreds. I was in that cabin, I saw the first house, I saw the constricting clothes that one had to wear to be ‘of good reputation.’  It looks so natural in the movies, but being in this climate and surroundings, I go cross eyed at the thought of rashes, insect bites, and just a weekly (?) bath.”

The Cowboy movies made it look much less painful to be a woman back then.
She was stunned by the 2 story house that was built from one tree. Although not a palace or castle, like what you might see while traveling through Europe, it was impressive none the less.

Marianna said:

“I am not at all done experiencing this gritty, down to earth, totally eye-opening reality that I was never aware of. Visalia gives me that opportunity and I absolutely love it.”

We enjoyed having Marianna for a visit and look forward to meeting all our visitors and hearing your impressions of this vibrant and historic city of Visalia.

Click for additional information on topics like Native American artifacts including basket weaving, historic information or events, or Valley oak trees.