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Taking You Back in History: Ferretti Shrine

By Kathy Brown

Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society / Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum

The last Taking You Back in History article featured the early 1900s Ferretti/Gookin house, the business home of the Trail Less Traveled Bike & Gear shop. A request on a recent local hiker’s club for more information about the Ferretti Shrine in Moccasin prompts this article that takes you back one more generation in the Ferretti family to Sal Ferretti's parents, Guiseppi and Maria, and their ranch and vineyard on what was once the main road from Chinese Camp to Big Oak Flat.

About a half mile west on present day Moccasin Creek Road, a stone memorial can be found honoring Moccasin pioneer Guiseppi Ferretti, 1836 - 1916. Guiseppi, also know as Joseph and “Happy Joe”, due to his jovial nature, immigrated from Italy in 1853, married Maria Soleri, also from Italy, c. 1866, and became a naturalized citizen in 1867. They eventually had ten children.

In 1866 Joseph and his brother Frank purchased the squatter's rights of Nicola and Rose Cassacca to land on lower Moccasin Creek, as well as a small store that they ran. In 1884 they sought official homestead rights to this land in an area where about 1500 miners and ranchers lived in the late 1800s. About that same time Joseph Ferretti had his friend and neighbor Joseph Cavagnaro construct a shrine near the road, similar to those found in Italy. It was built of native field stone with the top section covered in lime cement and roofed in slate tile. Facing the road was a niche meant to hold a statue of his patron saint, St. Joseph, but Ferretti was never known to have actually placed one there. A series of statues were set there by others in later years. Water from a nearby spring was piped to a wooden wine barrel at its base. Locals and travelers would quench their thirst and that of their mounts at the shrine. Some crossed the road to the Ferretti store for a glass of homemade wine produced from grapes grown on their land.

A quote from a long ago reminiscence about Ferretti reads, “Happy Joe ran a trading post, grew grapes, made wine, and lived in a house built by Charles L. Harper of Big Oak Flat. He was a powerful stocky man who wore an earring, loved his accordion and told stories well. He was the leader of the Italians in the vicinity and it was said that his preference ruled on Election Day. In his old age “Happy Joe” had the pleasure of seeing his son, Salvator serve six years as the Supervisor of the 4th District.”

Through the years vandalism, time and neglect dangerously tilted and deteriorated Ferretti's shrine along Moccasin Creek Road. After the late 1960s, when an additional height was added to Don Pedro Dam, it was also threatened in times of flood. The shrine was partially repaired by the City of San Francisco in 1970 and marked in 1972 by the Tuolumne County Historical Society with bronze plaque. Unfortunately, only months later the new bronze plaque, which told the history of the shrine, was stolen. In 1995 E. Clampus Vitus group built a new stone marker, with an imbedded granite history plaque, alongside the shrine. It can be seen in the current photo below.


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