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June 14, 2011 > Shinn House tea preserves local history

Shinn House tea preserves local history

By Julie Grabowski

Over 30 people gathered at the Historic Shinn House in Fremont for an Arbor Day Tea on Thursday, March 24, including special guests James and Patricia Shinn. The event was made possible through the efforts of Michi Yee and other members of the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation including Barbara Anderson, Al Minard, LaVonne Minard, Judy Peterson, David Schipul, Joan Serafino, and Jessi Stokes. Proceeds from the tea benefit the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the historic sites and resources of the Tri-City area since 1962.

Volunteers created a bevy of tasty treats including cucumber sandwiches, mushroom turnovers, mini quiches, apricot scones, mint/cream cheese brownies, and strawberry lemon tarts accompanied by a special Shinn tea blend. Following refreshments, Fremont historian Al Minard delivered an interesting and informative speech about the trees of Shinn Park and the history of Arbor Day founder, Julius Sterling Morton. In an ironic twist, just days before the tea, a tree near Shinn Cottage, planted in 1876, fell. Minard thought it only fitting to observe a moment of silence for this casualty of rainstorms and root fungus before describing the remaining trees still standing strong in the park.

About 50 different species are on the grounds, some familiar, some unique and exotic, with only a few native to the area. Among the impressive collection is a Moreton Bay Fig, native to eastern Australia, notable for its unusual root structure; a Chilean Bellota planted in the late 1870s and the largest of its kind in the state; 90-year-old Coastal Redwood trees as well as a Dawn Redwood, once thought to be extinct and called the "living fossil tree," planted on Arbor Day 1965; a Monkey Pod Coconut Palm, a slow growing palm from Chile and the largest of its species in California; a Cork Oak and Chinese Gingko Biloba.

While trees are known to provide a great many benefits including shade, beauty, fruit, and fuel, James and Patricia Shinn shared another function from their family tales. Unfortunate neighbors of the Hayward fault, Mr. Shinn's great grandfather held onto one of the trees on the property to keep himself upright during the 1868 earthquake.

As a thank you to Minard, Mrs. Shinn presented him with dried nuts from the Chilean Coconut Palm found in Admiral Shinn's desk at Martha's Vineyard. According to Mr. Shinn, his father had a great interest in trees.

Mr. Shinn said the thing about being a Shinn is that people almost know more about your family than you do. And while he wasn't aware of his heritage as a kid, he learned a lot of history after his father died, and invites the community to do some learning of their own.

Transformed from a work shed into a museum, the Archive Room tracks the Shinn family from the early 1700s to the present day through pictures, books, news clippings, awards, and personal artifacts, providing numerous resources available for research. "We want to get the younger generation more interested in Shinn Park," says Mr. Shinn, citing it as a great opportunity to learn about California and American history. "Our concern is that the younger generation doesn't have the time to research and investigate the history of their own country."

"The number of people that come through the house isn't overwhelming," says Mr. Shinn, stating that they hope to work on creating opportunities that will draw more people to the site, such as hosting square dances in the currently vacant barn. "I think the resource we have here with Mission Peak and the volunteers is an incredible resource," he says.

And these incredible resources, history and joy of a simple tree carry on, as illustrated in the closing stanza of Robert William Service's poem "Trees Against the Sky:"

Trees, trees against the sky -
O I have loved them well!
There are pleasures you cannot buy,
Treasures you cannot sell,
And not the smallest of these
Is the gift and glory of trees...
So I gaze and I know now why
It is good to live - and to die...
Trees and the Infinite Sky

The next tea will be held Thursday, June 9. For reservations call Michi Yee at (510) 793-9352.

To learn more about the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation contact Joan Serafino at (510) 795-0891 or visit them online at www.missionpeak.org.

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