The “Transportation King of the Sierra.”

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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Today we are treated to a guest blog from Norman Solomowicz of the Central Valley city of Stockton. Here are some interesting details about Wawona – Home of the Big Trees.

     In the 1850’s and 60’s, access to Yosemite was along trails which weren’t designed for stagecoach use. There were few tourists.  Henry Washburn and his brothers Edward & John founded the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Co. To attract visitors, he commissioned the building of several roads in the area: One was a run of  15 miles from the South Fork (Wawona) to Fresno Flats, and a further extension to Madera – an early stop on the Southern Pacific RR.  He built the Big Tree Station Hotel in 1879 but changed the name when his wife suggested that Wawona had a more ‘mellifluous’ sound.  At a cost of $8000, he commissioned John Conway to build the current 14-mile Glacier Point road. After its completion visitors could be driven by stagecoach to Glacier Point. Before reaching the end, visitors were brought  to a point overlooking Half Dome, Mt. Clark, Mt. Starr King, Vernal, Nevada & Illilouette Falls. It was called Washburn Point.

     Henry Washburn not only replaced trails with stage roads, he engineered publicity events. He had a natural cavity in the Wawona Tree enlarged for stagecoaches to pass through; he  was the one who placed an automobile on the Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point. He also had a stagecoach put atop the Fallen Monarch in the Mariposa Grove.  

     The Washburn family ownership of the Wawona Hotel and its surrounding lands lasted 60 years. Needing control of the entire Wawona Basin to “stop logging, protect wildlife and watershed, control bootlegging, insure fire protection and halt subdivision”, the U.S. Government paid the Wawona Hotel Company $150,000 for its 2665 acres and $85,000 for the buildings. Not a great price in 1934, even by the standards of the Great Depression.   

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” – George MaCauley Trevelyan

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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0 Responses to The “Transportation King of the Sierra.”

  1. Sönke says:

    Norm, I’d like give some feedback to you as well: most excellent blog! I just love these stories (and the bootlegging part made me laugh out loud). Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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