St. Mary of the Mountain historic church of East Park Reservoir
Mrs. Joyce Bond sat next to me in a 124 year old church, June of 2019. The season was summer in Stonyford California, which means every turn is dry, every taste is of dust, and it is, unless you’re in the lake, dreadfully hot. So, it was refreshing to me that the church offered crisp and clear air for us this morning. I had only met Mrs. Bond about an hour before we came to the Church when she gave me a tour of the Stonyford Museum. Joyce’s welcoming spirit made meeting a complete stranger, feel like coming home. She felt like family. The Museum was cozy and small, only about 900′ square feet or so, but every wall displayed a valuable story of the lives that came before us here.
She talked of every inch of the building with delicate appreciation as if she was related to each person who held a piece of it’s past. I didn’t expect to experience any less as she told me all about this little church that sat a few blocks away. She explained that I couldn’t tour the museum without also stepping into this 124 year old church. So after our museum tour, we walked a block to the west along a dusty path, as she shared more history along the way. When we arrived at St. Mary’s of the Mountain, she explained in detail the renovations done by the community in the 1980’s. I took in every ounce of those memories she shared, as they somehow made the entire place feel more alive. We walked through the natural wooden doors of the church and found a seat at the first pew. We sat together not saying words for a few moments on that pew.
I glanced down at her hands and thought on them for a moment. Her hands older now and delicate. I tried to imagine her 30 years ago, holding things like hammers, sheet rock, paint and cement. From large equipment, to the stained glass windows that adorn the walls, to the delicate cloth that drapes over the table which holds the albums of history.. she’s held it all here. These hands that about 40 years ago, went to work along side her lifetime friends and her beloved husband, to renovated the entire building. Not because they were getting any sort of financial gain from it. But because they loved this place. And they ached to see it return to it’s original glory if they could help it. So that’s just what they did.
Feeling the weight of her connection to this place was consuming me. I couldn’t help but admire this woman, her friends, the work they all have done here and the open arms Joyce has shown me, a complete stranger. The brief silence became like a blanket of comfort around us as we relaxed and Joyce sat with her arms wrapped around a 12×12 brown photo album. Her posture remained gentle and solemn. We sat still in this moment as if waiting for a guide…or maybe it was the reverence, appreciation, for this heavy work, the telling of the wholesome past which lead us to this very moment, sitting, close as family, next to one another. She handed me the book.
Turning the cover open, the first thing that caught my eye, surrounding the aging photos of happy faces that encompassed the energy here, are the notes inscribed around every photo. The notes written all her handwriting. Tucked inside this album, Joyce created a private tour back through time, of the history of St. Mary’s on the Mountain Catholic Church with her own busy hands and her entire heart. I was in awe…
You may at this point be wondering what the connection is between this old church and East Park Reservoir, the answer is written in these history books. But I’ll give you just a piece of where it all began. The church was originally built on the property of the reservoir in 1896. That property was once known as a town called Zachary. 12 years later, when the dam was beginning to be constructed in 1908, the entire church was picked up and moved to the town of Stonyford. But not before it established a strong beginning here in western Colusa County, atop a hill that is now known as Catholic Point. Catholic Point is not accessible to the public, as there are no public roads that lead to it’s location. However the church is open and functioning to this day, with many lively services still held at it’s current 2nd street location. As well as the wonderful little Stonyford Museum.
I hand picked a few treasured stories to tell here, but if you come upon an opportunity to share an afternoon inside this historic gem, please do. It’s incredibly worth it.
Joyce Bonds history books can be found at the Stonyford Museum (insert address) and the photo albums can be found inside the church.