John Craycroft

John Shaver Craycroft | Shaver Ranch, Pine Ridge

August 25, 2022

 

Shaver Ranch Memories

October 2021

The Shaver Ranch on Pine Ridge has been in the Shaver family for 100 years and was left in ashes by the Creek Fire one year ago. It is difficult to recognize.

The devastation has removed landmarks, but there is the creek and meadow, the familiar curve of the highway, the rock wall, and the Shaver Ranch sign at the entrance.

Across the road, moving charred branches and debris, there is the tarnished brass benchmark embedded in the boulder: “4,938 feet above sea level”.

Yes, this is the place.

From this boulder, most of the ranch can be seen, and without the thick foliage of trees, the contours of the surrounding mountains are more visible than before the fire. This idyllic meadow on Jose Creek, formerly surrounded by pines and cedars, is set in a small hanging valley between the crest of Pine Ridge and the San Joaquin River Canyon. Just a few hundred yards below the meadow, the creek plunges 3,000 feet down the steep mountainside through Jose Basin to the San Joaquin River.

Because of the steep terrain on both sides, this narrow shelf in the mountains was found to be the only practical route from the foothills to the high mountain basins of Shaver and Huntington Lake and the headwaters of the South Fork of the San Joaquin. The trail of the indigenous Mono Tribe went through this area, and the makers of the original wagon road followed their lead.

In August 1966, my father, Charles Burr Craycroft (generally called Burr), a grandson of Lena and Charles Burr Shaver, was on his final trip to the Shaver Ranch, where he had spent much of his youth. He wore his usual mountain attire, a red plaid Pendleton shirt, and the black Stetson hat which he inherited from his uncle Harvey Swift.  Standing at the entrance to the ranch, he pointed out the rock with the benchmark across the road near the old barn. Walking over and lingering there in the shade of a Black Oak, he recounted “Grandma Shaver’s” stories of the early days in these mountains and how this came to be the Shaver Ranch.

Lena Shaver has not been mentioned a great deal in the history books. Yet, she was a remarkable individual who, as well as founding the Shaver Ranch, played an important role in the Fresno Flume and Irrigation Co. and the early development of the Pine Ridge & Shaver community. Strong and forthright, Lena had good business sense and was a close confidant and advisor to her husband. Her pragmatic nature balanced his idealism.

Lena was 29 when she made her first trip up the Toll House Grade on a wagon led by oxen. It was July 4, 1893, Independence Day. She and her young daughters Grace and Ethel were on the last leg of the week-long trip from Michigan to reunite the family. Charles Burr (C.B.) Shaver had spent most of the previous two years with his partner Lewis P (L.P.) Swift here on Pine Ridge, as they supervised the construction of a new venture, The Fresno Flume and Irrigation Company.  The teamster driving Lena’s wagon surely would have stopped to rest and water the weary oxen at Kenyon’s store, which stood where the gate of Shaver Ranch is today. It was an oasis after the trip up the grade.  Little did Lena know that this would become her beloved mountain home one day.

Though this was a big change from their comfortable life in Blanchard, Michigan, the scene here was likely reminiscent of Lena’s childhood. She was born in a small community called Cedar River in the woods of Pennsylvania. Like the Shavers and Swifts, Lena’s family, the Roberts were small family farmers who moved west to Michigan in the 1870s to try to take advantage of a lumber boom in the pine forests. Now the next generation was packing up and heading west again, a big move.

The family settled into a cabin in the lumber camp, which would later turn into the town called Shaver. By the end of the season in 1893, the mill and flume were complete and ready to go into full production the next spring.  In Fresno, Lena practiced the intricacies of Victorian etiquette so they could properly entertain business associates and financial backers in the expected fashion of the day. Back at Shaver in the spring, the social life was more relaxed, with financial backers, management, crew, surveyors, engineers, and forest rangers often meeting on the cabin’s porch, on a granite boulder, or around a campfire.

These were happy years for the family, and they welcomed their third daughter, Doris, in 1897.  By the turn of the century, the company was in full swing.

Meanwhile down the road at Pine Ridge, the community was growing and becoming a tourist destination.  The Kenyon family’s store was prospering and a blacksmith shop, a small schoolhouse, and the Pine Ridge Post Office were added.  They needed more room for guests, so they built a “real” hotel, with the current Victorian style and finishes, not the typical rough mountain building. It had to be painted and have smooth siding, trim, and moldings with shingle roofing, not rough shakes.  These materials were not available in the mountains and would have to be brought up the grade from the valley, which was an expensive proposition. So Sam Jennings, the Kenyon’s son-in-law, rigged up machinery and used all local lumber to produce what they needed. In 1903 John Armstrong bought the operation and continued to run the store and hotel and they raised apples, pears, and cattle.

The mill business continued to grow, but in 1901 LP Swift died suddenly of a heart attack, and his brother Harvey, who was married to Lena’s sister Minnie, came out from Michigan to take over his brother’s role. About this time, CB was diagnosed with a severe form of diabetes. He took measures to improve his diet and stopped smoking, and was able to continue his active lifestyle for a time. But he became ill in late 1907 and, with his immune system weakened by diabetes,  passed away on Christmas Day.  He was just 52 and Lena 43. With CB’s untimely death, Lena became a director of the company. She worked closely with her brother-in-law Harvey Swift, who assumed C.B.’s role as president, along with Arthur Long, the vice president, and Charles Musick, secretary.  Together, they managed the business through some of its most productive years until they sold the company in 1912.

Lena then embarked on a new career in real estate development and carried out one of C.B.’s unfulfilled dreams. She purchased a lot in downtown Fresno on the corner of Fulton and Merced Streets and built the Shaver Building, leasing the ground floor to retail stores and the second to the Sierra Hotel. And then Lena and her son-in-law, Dr. Harry Craycroft, purchased 160 acres on the slopes of Stevenson Mountain and created the development they named Rock Haven. The name was a play on words of one of the towns from her childhood, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Lena then negotiated with the Edison Company to have the company dismantle her cabin piece by piece and rebuild it at Rock Haven.

The idea of the Shaver Ranch was born in 1921 when Lena and Harry purchased the Armstrong’s Resort as an investment, and operated as the Pine Ridge Tavern. The business was very popular in the “Roaring 20’s”, attracting people from far and wide. The rooms in the hotel were $4/day, cabins $21/week and there were 40 acres of campgrounds and camping was free!  Unfortunately, in 1930 with the start of the Great Depression, the tourist business slowed to a trickle and they were forced to close the hotel. 

They stopped taking in guests and the property became the family ranch and the old hotel became their mountain home. Lena had loved her cabin at Rock Haven, but she enjoyed the comings and goings of travelers and running the store and post office until the building burned in the mid ’30s.  And here there was plenty of room for the entire growing family and Lena’s sister, Minnie Swift, built her own cabin on the slope above the home. They all spent many happy times here. The family took part in the work around the ranch during summers and weekends. There was always plenty to do, tending to the horses, gathering firewood, clearing dead trees, planting new ones, building, mending fences, and checking on the finicky spring box. It was a magical place, full of artifacts and memories.

In Lena’s later years, Burr arranged for a young woman from Kingsburg named Adeline Nord to be his grandmother’s companion during the summer in the mountains. Adeline became a close family friend and later would glow as she recounted her times with “Mrs. Shaver,” driving her about, listening to her stories, and learning about the mountains. That summer, Lena passed a torch to Adeline, who herself became a mountain legend. Adeline would later marry Karl Smith and purchase and run the Diamond D Ranch at Blaney Meadows, above Florence Lake, now called Muir Trail Ranch. In the winters, she taught school in Auberry and returned to the ranch each summer, running the operation with her daughter and granddaughter for many years after Karl’s passing.

Though Lena had always hoped to spend her final days at her mountain home, to her great sorrow, the doctors advised against her going to a higher elevation. She died peacefully at her home in Fresno in May 1939, a week after her 75th birthday.

In establishing the Shaver Ranch, a place was established where the entire family—Lena’s three daughters, seven grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren—could gather, call home when far away, and return as often as needed.  And this legacy continues to provide inspiration for the following generations.

In 1963, the grand old house caught fire, likely due to an aging electrical system, and the old dry wood quickly burned to the ground. A collection of antiques and historical memorabilia worthy of a museum was lost. Fortunately, some photos and documents had been distributed for safekeeping or copied through the years. Douglas McDonald, son of Lena and CB’s daughter Doris, replaced the old home with a fine new one of his own, a mountain lodge.

Now, this home has been taken by the Creek Fire, along with many others and thousands of acres of forest. Despite the land being laid bare, there is something of the spirit of those who came before here, evoking their dreams and accomplishments. And at the top of the meadow, a group of trees survives. Others, partially blackened, are leafing out along with many shrubs. It will take time, a long time. But it will grow back. 

Steven McDonald, son of Douglas, and his family have put the Shaver Ranch sign back in place above the entrance gate, standing proud. A welcome sight after the shock of seeing it on national news, hanging there in the wake of the Creek Fire. The difficult tasks of cleanup and erosion control are underway. Seedlings are being planted. Plans are being drawn. The first steps.

John Shaver Craycroft