Tulare County has a fine example of early 20th Century recreational cabins that were built by local residents with the encouragement of the U.S. Forest Service. Although Mineral King is now within the boundaries of Sequoia National Park, it was placed there in 1978, long after it had been part of the Sequoia National Forest lands.
The Mineral King Historic Cabin District is the earliest example of a recreation cabin area developed in the southern Sierra national forests. This was during an era when there was a perceived need for more recreational housing in California’s mountains.
In 1891, The Forest Reserve Act created a reservation system for land set aside. At the time, much of the land was used for grazing. By 1905, the reserve land transferred to the Department of Agriculture. By 1915, the Term Occupancy Act Officially allowed the lease of forest lands for recreational cabins. Promotion of the state’s mild climate and outdoor recreation resources aided in attracting tourists and visitors into the state’s mountain forests. This played a significant role in the development of the state of California and its mountain areas such as the Sierra Nevada.
Construction in Mineral King continued up to World War II. Though World War II halted construction of cabins in the Mineral King Historic Cabin District, building began anew after the war in 1945, and continued until 1958.
Mineral King buildings not only exhibit common characteristics of the vernacular mountain cabin, but also include examples of early 20th century cabin designs, pre-dating other developments in the National Forests in the southern Sierra Nevada by at least 20 years or more. The cabin district is one of the last vestiges of the old-style summer home developments in
the southern Sierra Nevada. Many of these historic buildings were built in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a pristine recreational cabin district.
The developmental patterns and architectural character of Mineral King are distinct from many other mountain recreational communities statewide. Mineral King has an unusual history with part of its land originally privately owned, but later purchased by the government for inclusion into the National Forest holdings.
The cabins themselves have been privately owned since their construction. Although the Mineral King cabin owners later participated in the Forest Service program, the majority of similar mountain communities in the Sierra Nevada are the products of the U.S. Forest Service summer home program or similar programs where the cabins were built on federally owned land by a permit holder. Many Mineral King cabins pre-date that program.
The Mineral King Historic Cabins were an outgrowth of a mining era in Mineral King Valley (1873-1882). But the significance of the area centers around the era when many of the summer recreation and secondary home cabins were constructed. Many Exeter and Visalia families, some of whom had parents and grandparents who had participated in the mining era, realized the potential for Mineral King as a summer retreat.
Although early 20th century access into Mineral King was accomplished by horse- back or wagon, motor vehicle transportation was also to become a part of the routine. In the 1920s, weekly truck deliveries to the Mineral King Store replaced the wagon as the standard mode of conveyance. The automobile allowed greater access to families for recreational purposes and as a result, more families were able to gain better access to the recreational opportunities in Mineral King. They then constructed their community in the alpine meadows of the valley. Without the development of the automobile, which caused better construction of roads in California, the Mineral King Cabins may not have been as accessible for the general public to build.
The cabin form which developed during the mining period and came to characterize the later residential building style of the Mineral King Valley, was a frame building that rested on a foundation of posts set on rocks. It was built of roughly finished, locally milled lumber and covered mostly with board and batten, with some having horizontal siding. Larger cabins generally consisted of one large multipurpose room that contained the fireplace used for heating and cooking, a sleeping loft, and several other rooms. Over time the most common additions were lean-to kitchens, and front and rear porches. Since most of the buildings were constructed by locals, the houses pro- vide a record of vernacular design, methods of construction, and materials used in such vacation houses from the 1910s to the present.
The cabins in Mineral King represent all sorts of architecture. This includes board and batten, bungalows, and just plain buildings which have evolved from the original miners’ cabins. Around 80 percent of the Mineral King cabins may be described as of the board camp style, or board and bat- ten. This was the primary type of residential building constructed between 1906 and 1945 to house Mineral King’s summer residents. The Pogue cabin is a good example of the board camp type cabin, with liv- ing room, dining area/kitchen and ample porches. A board camp consists of buildings with single wall construction and board siding. It represents a most basic, unsophisticated method of building construction.
Bungalow-style architecture was very influential in the United States over a nearly 30-year span. As a predominant recreation- al form, bungalow architecture’s influence in Mineral King was generally limited to the application of stylistic details to the ba- sic board camp form. About 10 percent of the Mineral King cabins originated in some shape or form with the mining era or share identifiable features of the mining cabin style.
Many Mineral King Historic Cabins share features of various other types of architecture, including frame construction with milled siding, a steeply pitched gabled roof, a foundation of wooden posts set on rocks, a sleeping loft, and open front and rear porches. Also characteristic are shed- roofed bathrooms, kitchens, store rooms, as well as attached outdoor closets to house propane water heaters. The Mildred Moffett cabin is one example.
The 1910 Forest Service guidelines required that all cabins have an outdoor privy or outhouse. In the 1930’s, though, the regulations stipulated that eventually all cabins must install indoor plumbing. Compliance by those located near the river was urgent and mandatory. As a result of these directives, outhouses were constructed on cabin lots in 1910-1930, and bathroom additions were built into the basic cabin forms be- tween 1935 and 1950. Many lean-to kitchens were also added during these years.
Back before the first world war, Miner- al King was being developed into an area where people could go for the summer. The cabin area at Mineral King was created, for the most part by San Joaquin Valley residents, who desired a cool, clean air climate to escape the hot summers. The post World War I years saw an increase in traffic to Mineral King during the summer months. But remember, most of this was still by wagon, as the road to Mineral King was steep and treacherous.
Although much of the development was done by local families, a number of families from Cal Tech and other schools in Pasadena and Los Angeles, leased land and built cabins in the area which was later termed Faculty Flat. Families actually camped out in tents on their property while building.
Some of the cabins in Mineral King pre- date other developments in the National Forests in the southern Sierra Nevada by at least 20 years or more. Moreover, Mineral King is one of the last vestiges of the old- style summer home developments in the southern Sierra Nevada. Many of the historic cabins were built in the 1910’s and 20’s.
Mineral King is divided into two sections, East and West. West Mineral King includes the area known as The Gate and Faculty Flat. East Mineral King is truly in the Mineral King Valley. It is located in the area where the old mining community of Beulah used to be. Beulah was another one of those communities in the high Sierra where the miners came and went. It has all but vanished, except for the roads. Many of the east Mineral King cabins are located on the old main street of the long-gone town.
Many local families found themselves in Mineral King quite early on. Examples of the cabins in the valley tell a fascinating social history of Tulare County. Some examples of these cabins are the Mixter, Cosart, and Mt. Whitney Power Co. Cabins.
The earliest cabin in Mineral King is the Senator Frank Mixter cabin that appears to have been constructed in 1890. It was an old miner’s cabin that was acquired by Frank Mixter in 1906. Mixter was a Visalia/Exeter pharmacist who also had a distinguished career as a California legislator. He represent- ed Kings and Tulare Counties as an Assemblyman and State Senator from 1922- 1944. He is best known by the Mixter name, from the old Mixter Drug stores in Exeter and Visalia.
Since 1933, five generations of the Cosart family have used their cabin. The Cosart cabin was built by Henry A. Hein about 1910. Hein was a member of a group of 11 cabin owners and packers who purchased the Crowley Resort and Mineral King Store in 1928. In 1932, the cabin was heavily damaged by a avalanche. A year later, W.F. Cosart of Exeter bought the ruins for $25. He spent $344.78 to rebuild the cabin. Salvaged materials from the original cabin were recycled into the present building.
Mt. Whitney Power Company had a cabin in the Beulah Section of East Mineral King. The cabin was used by Archie J. Robertson, construction superintendent for the building of the Mineral King dams on the Kaweah River. The dams were built in 1904 and 1905 to provide power to the area.
Many early cabins were damaged or destroyed by the avalanche of 1932 that wiped out much of East Mineral King. Avalanches are not uncommon in the area and cabin owners are very much aware of their awesome destructive capability. Avalanches wiped out early mining efforts in Mineral King, and have caused many deaths in the 130-year history of the valley.
The Mineral King Historic Cabin District still provides a great deal of recreation and enjoyment for the general public and for the cabin owners. Hopefully, the existing rules and regulations for the district will prevail for many years to come and the cabin owners will be able to enjoy the fruits of their ancestors in preserving Mineral King.