by TOM BOPP
In Yosemite Valley there's a little chapel that was
built in 1879 -- the same year Henry Washburn and his business partner and
nephew Johnny Bruce constructed the main hotel building at Wawona (then called
Big Tree Station). In October of that same year, Ulysses S. Grant stayed
at the hotel. Six years later, Sir Arthur Sullivan, of the famous
light opera team of Gilbert & Sullivan, was checked in at Wawona in August of
1885 when news came of Grant's death. An impromptu memorial took
place at the chapel in Yosemite Valley, for which Sullivan played the organ (I
like to think that he may have performed his 1877 composition "The Lost
Chord," and almost surely played his "Onward Christian Soldiers").
When Johnny Bruce died, two of Henry Washburn's brothers (Ed and John) took a more active role in running the hotel.
third brother, Julius, stayed home at the family dairy farm in Putney,
Vermont, but was an investor in the Wawona Hotel Company and kept the hotel
supplied with various specialty items, including maple syrup.
In 1903, Julius sent 11 Vermont sugar-maple trees to photographer Julius Boysen, who placed them around his studio in Yosemite Valley. 100 years later only one remains.
Standing across the road from the Yosemite Chapel, Julius' tree (pictured here) continues to attract photographers, as its leaves turn bright red always a couple of weeks ahead of its neighbors.
Heading toward Wawona from Yosemite Valley, you'll pass through a section of forest that was burned in the fires of 1990. Among the first trees to flourish in the freshly cleared soil were dogwoods, which pepper the autumn hillsides with eye-catching reds, yellows, and pinks. Now young conifers can be seen poking up through the shrubs.