July 18, 2006

Wawona's Sesquicentennials

We have witnessed several Yosemite anniversaries in recent years.  There were the centennials of Yosemite National Park (1990), Camp Curry (1999), and the famous camping trip of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt (2003). Last year was the 150th anniversary of Yosemite tourism, spurred by the arrival of the Hutchings party in Yosemite Valley on July 27, 1855. 2002 saw the 75th anniversary of the Ahwahnee Hotel, establishing the annual “Ahwahnee Heritage Holidays.” Now it’s Wawona’s turn.

In 2004 what was called the “Wawona Hotel 125th Anniversary” was celebrated, though it was really only the 125th birthday of the main building. The Wawona Hotel’s sesquicentennial will actually be in 2007; the sequence of related anniversaries began this year.

March 19, 2006 – First step toward establishing the Wawona Hotel:

This day, 150 years ago, a consumptive unemployed ex-gold miner named Galen Clark filed a pre-emption claim on 160 acres in what is now Wawona.[i]

July 18, 2006 – First Yosemite tourist trail passes through what is now Wawona:

By this date in 1856,[ii] the first tourist route to Yosemite passed right through Clark’s claim – a toll horse trail built by the Mann brothers, who ran a livery stable in Mariposa.[iii]

April, 2007 – Precursor to Wawona Hotel built:

The Mann brothers’ trail crossed the south fork of the Merced river at a wide shallow spot called “Clark’s Crossing.” In April, 1857, Clark “built his first cabin near the crossing . . . The structure was sixteen by twelve feet outside, and its location was nearly in front of the dining-room of the present [Wawona] hotel, or between that point and the studio of Thomas Hill, the artist . . .”[iv] It was once thought that Clark’s first cabin stood across the meadow from the current Wawona Hotel, but this and other evidence suggests Clark built a second cabin across the meadow.

May 25, 2007 – First documented guest accommodations at what is now the Wawona Hotel:

Around 9:30 p.m. on this evening in 1857, Miss Harriet Kirtland of San Francisco along with a “ Miss Park , Mr. Denman and Mr. Park” rode out of the dark woods from Mariposa: “. . . nearing the house we could see the large camp fire, and it cheered our drooping spirits wonderfully . . . Mr. Clark cooked us some venison for supper and I never tasted anything half so good, and the bread too . . . he let us have his bunk to sleep in . . . he was very kind. [He] showed us every attention, said he never had ladies visit him before . . . did not sleep very well, the bed being narrow for two . . . Mr. D & Mr. P slept on the floor.” [v]

According to an 1895 reminiscence, “[Clark] kept up this free entertainment business for a year or two, and then, as the travel increased built a more pretentious edifice and started a hotel . . . known as Clark’s Station.” [vi]  Photographs suggest Clark replaced his log cabin with a frame structure that was lengthened as tourism increased. This building burned to the ground in November, 1878, four years after Clark sold the business. Exactly when Clark started charging for his hospitality is not known, but by June 9, 1858 , an advertisement for Clark’s accommodations appeared in the Mariposa Gazette.[vii] In 1874 Clark sold to Albert Henry Washburn who, five years later, replaced Clark’s fire-ravaged lodge with the current main building.

Within yards of the site of Galen Clark’s first little cabin, travelers tucked into their beds still watch the stars through old rippled-glass windows, lulled by night sounds to share a 150 year-old dream of Big Trees and Yosemite.

[i]Galen Clark - Yosemite Guardian” p. 52 (Shirley Sargent, 1st ed. 1964 Sierra Club; Sargent cites “Vol. K, Land Claims, p248. Mariposa Courthouse.” No copies of this document have been found at this writing)

[ii] Mariposa Gazette, Jul. 18, 1856 , p. 2, col. 1

[iii] ibid. p. 4, col. 3

[iv] San Francisco Chronicle 2/6/1895 p. 1, col. 4 (article attributed to J. H. Lawrence); CA State Library

[v]Journal of a trip through the southern mines” p.7 (Harriet J. Kirtland, 1857) CA State Library

[vi] San Francisco Chronicle 2/6/1895 p. 1, col. 4

[vii] Mariposa Gazette, 6/30/1858 p. 3 col. 3