News Column

Smartsville touts its history

April 27, 2014

By Andrew Creasey, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

April 27--Historical Yuba County during the Gold Rush came alive on Saturday.

At the seventh annual Pioneer Day in Smartsville, volunteers in period-appropriate clothing told the stories of notable Gold-Rush era figures to the backdrop of music, crafts and tractor tours of Sucker Flat, a massive scar in the Yuba Foothills and a vestige of hydraulic mining, where miners blasted away the hillside with water in the search for gold.

The event is the main source of revenue for a community effort to revitalize the old Catholic Church in Smartsville, which was first constructed in 1861 and attended mostly by Irish miners in the beginning.

The church was last used for service in 1968. Its condition has steadily declined.

But the Smartsville Church Restoration Fund has been busy improving it, with the ultimate goal to turn the church into a museum and visitor center.

The church has a new roof and earthquake-proof foundation. Fundraising for the group can be a challenge.

California's recent financial struggles have eliminated many of the grants the group is eligible for, such as the State Historic Grant, said Kathy Smith, vice president of the restoration fund.

But Pioneer Day raises enough money to get the organization through the year while making small, but urgent, changes, said Smith.

The money from this year's Pioneer Day will be used to install front steps up to the entrance of the church, Smith said.

While fundraising is the end result of the event, Pioneer Day itself is all about history -- and Smartsville has plenty of it.

"Our area is so rich in early history, but a lot of people don't even know about it," said Sue Cejner-Moyers, a fifth-generation Yuba County resident. "Yuba County was so involved in early California. When my grandmother died, she said our generation had to keep the history alive."

Cejner-Moyers and her husband, Mike Moyers, both played characters on Saturday.

Cejner-Moyers played Martha McConnell, a Smartsville resident who was the first licensed pharmacist in California. Her life was a study in overcoming adversity.

McConnell came to California when she was 19. She made the journey through the Isthmus of Panama with only her baby as a travel companion.

She had five children, but when her husband died, she was left to raise them by herself. So she learned a trade, pharmacy, and, by all accounts, lived a happy and fulfilling life, Cejner-Moyers said.

Moyers played Black Bart, who was known as the "gentleman bandit" and robbed 29 stagecoaches carrying Wells Fargo strongboxes in his quest to take revenge on the bank for buying the land upstream of his property and cutting off his water supply.

Black Bart only admitted to one stagecoach robbery -- the one where he was captured. He served five years in jail. Shortly after his release, he checked into a hotel in Visalia. In the morning, he was gone. He was neither seen nor heard from since.

Relative knew Teddy Roosevelt

Pamela Lane has been attending historical re-enactment events for 38 years.

A Wheatland resident, Lane's great-grandfather was friends with Teddy Roosevelt. When he asked the president if he could go work as a doctor in Hawaii, Roosevelt assented, signing a paper authorizing the move.

That signed document remains in Lane's family today.

She encountered other oddities while digging into her family's past.

At one point, she found a pair of glasses her great-grandmother wore. When she put the 100-year-old frames on, she could see perfectly.

It turned out Lane's great-grandmother was farsighted to almost exactly the same degree as her great-granddaughter.


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Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)

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