Descendants of Jessie Bequette (1906-2010) were the dignitaries who cut the red ribbon to mark the opening of the lovingly restored Bequette home to the public on Sunday, May 7. The house, which was built in 1926 as the home of Bruce and Jessie Bequette, is located on Sierra Drive, adjacent to the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
The Three Rivers Historical Society purchased the 2.5-acre Bequette property in 2012. Since that time, the home has been under renovation.
Currently, it is in the process of being furnished with period pieces, including some of the Bequettes’ belongings, donated by nieces Joan Thomsen and Rachel Caggiano (Edith MacKinnon Perry’s daughters).
Three of Jessie’s dolls from childhood are in a glass case. A hutch in the dining area contains the couple’s Depression glass. A roll-top desk belonged to Jessie’s mother, Bessie; a barrister’s bookcase was Walter Fry’s. A treadle sewing machine belonged to Jessie’s sister, Edith Perry.
There is also a wood cookstove, a spinning wheel, and household furnishings. Still to come will be several themed gardens and a bathroom. The house will be available for group events and artist’s exhibits.
On the grounds, plans include the construction of a two-story barn, a replica of the old Bahwell Saloon (the first watering hole in Three Rivers), and a public-restroom facility.
This massive undertaking would not have been successful without the help of the community of Three Rivers. More than five dozen individuals donated time and/or money to the restoration, as well as public agencies and local businesses.
The following is excerpted from “A History of Woodlake Union High School - The Woodlake 11: Class of 1924,” by John Elliott (published in 1994, in cooperation with the Three Rivers Historical Society).
Jessie Agatha MacKinnon Bequette: I was born September 11, 1906, in the Pollasky Depot in Fresno. My parents, John and Bessie MacKinnon, lived in a small apartment upstairs. My father was employed by the San Joaquin Valley Railroad.
In 1907, we moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where my father homesteaded a wheat farm. My mother later told me that the winters were so cold there that the milk would freeze when it was rushed from the barn to the house.
After two years of hard times, we moved home to Three Rivers [where Bessie Fry MacKinnon was raised]. We lived for a time with my grandparents, Walter and Sarah Fry, while our house was being built a mile or so south of their place.
In 1910, we moved into our new house. It was the nicest home in Three Rivers and, I think, the only one with an inside bathroom. That was the same year my sister, Edith, was born in Fresno.
That wonderful home burned in a tragic fire in August 1914. My father died in that fire trying to save the family piano [a wedding gift from John to Bessie].
My mother, too depressed to stay in Three Rivers, moved with Edith to Tulare. That was the time, when I was seven years old, that my grandfather, Walter Fry, took charge of my upbringing.
Some of my fondest memories are the Sequoia National Park inspection tours made on horseback as a youngster with Grandpa Fry. Each summer, we would start up the South Fork, crossing Hockett Meadow northward via the Tar Gap trail to the Montgomery cabin in Mineral King.
My first trip up the Colony Mill Road, the main route to Giant Forest before the completion of Highway 198 and Generals Highway in the 1920s, was in Grandpa’s Model T. Grandpa bought his first auto through the mail and learned to drive in his 40-acre pasture [near present-day Hawk Hollow Drive].
It was wonderful living at Grandpa’s house. It was the heartbeat of Three Rivers. There were lots of bedrooms; one on the first floor was his office while he was superintendent of Sequoia National Park [Walter Fry was the first non-Cavalry superintendent of Sequoia, 1912-1920].
The second story was a large, open room. It was great for parties and dancing.
I went to Sulphur Springs School from 1912 until 1920. The school was located north of the main river on what was then the Ogilvie ranch. We walked to school, crossing the river on a footbridge.
In all my high school memories, Senior Sneak Day  had the biggest impact on my life. That was the day we put the big “W” on the hill above Woodlake, then went to Terminus Beach [present-day Terminus Dam at Lake Kaweah] for a picnic.
On that day, I noticed a handsome fellow named Bruce Bequette, who was playing golf nearby. Bruce had graduated from Woodlake High School in 1919, so he joined our class at the picnic.
Six months later, I married that man. We first lived at the Pogue Hotel in Lemon Cove [present-day Lemon Cove Women’s Clubhouse]. Bruce later got a job in Sequoia National Park. We had 43 wonderful years together.
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Bruce’s family were pioneer settlers on Dry Creek (ca. 1870). After the discovery of the White Chief Mine in 1873, the family built a cabin in Mineral King.
During their first year of marriage, Bruce and Jessie lived at the Pogue Hotel. In their second year, they lived in Sequoia “from Easter until Thanksgiving,” Jessie said.
In 1926, Bruce and Jessie built their Three Rivers home on the property where Jessie’s parents’ home had been. Later, they built an adjacent structure that became Bequette’s Gift Shop (1953-1967). There was also a gas station and a plant nursery (during Bruce’s National Park Service career, he worked on a botanical project that shipped giant sequoia seedlings for experimental planting throughout the world).
In 1967, Bruce died suddenly from a heart attack. Jessie closed the gift shop and it remained vacant until 1975, when it was purchased and reopened as Mountain Arts. In 1996, the business was sold and became Gallery 198 for one year. For the past 20 years, it has been, fittingly, the home of the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
Jessie resided in her little white house on the hill for 68 years, moving to Visalia in 1994 at the age of 87 to be near one of her nieces.