The town of Oakhurst, originally known as Fresno Flats, was never much of a mining town; rather, it prospered as a lumbering and farming community. As the town marks the southern terminus of Highway 49, it is a great starting point for a tour of the Gold Country.
A stagecoach holdup around the turn of the century is reported by some to be the cause of 'Fresno Flats' becoming 'Oakhurst.' As the story goes, the son of a prominent local family was accused of taking part in the robbery. He was later cleared, but left town (and his wife) anyway. He returned several years later with a new bride, who soon grew weary of hearing the tale of the great Fresno Flats stagecoach robbery and her husband's suspected involvement. After much petitioning and persuasion, she was finally successful in having the town's name changed.
During the nineteenth century, the area to the north of Oakhurst around the communities of Ahwahnee and Nipinnawasee was famous for its tuberculosis sanitarium. The hot, dry air of the hill country, in combination with the nearby piney mountains, was a common prescription for "lungers" of that era. The sanitarium was operated jointly by the counties of Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus, and many of the buildings still remain intact.
Ahwahnee is an old Indian word meaning "deep or grassy valley," possibly in reference to nearby Yosemite. Nipinnawasee has nothing to do with taking a swim. It means "plenty of deer."
Oakhurst is located at the southern end of Hwy 49, where that highway meets with Hwy 41. It's a popular town as it is on the main road to Yosemite. If you're in town, be sure to stop by the Fresno Flats Historical Park. It's well worth the visit.
A Stone Monument commemorating Hwy 49 is located a few hundred yards north of its junction with Hwy 41. It contains at least one rock native to each of the eleven counties which Hwy 49 traverses on its journey through the Gold Country.