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The Tioga Road; a History 1883-1961 (1961, 1980) by Keith A. Trexler


Business Ventures

Soon after completion of the Great Sierra Wagon Road William C. Priest of Big Oak Flat, at the request of the Directors of the Great Sierra Company, was assigned the right to collect tolls by the counties of Mariposa, Tuolumne and Mono. Rates established were: Freight teams with two horses, $5; single horses, $1.50; passenger teams, each horse, $2.50; footmen, $1; horse and rider, $2;

The western portal, Crockers Station, 1901
[click to enlarge]
The western portal, Crockers Station, 1901
pack animals, $1.50; loose horses and cattle, 50; sheep and goats, 10 each. (29) A congressman quoted the rates as working out to 3 1/2 per person per mile, comparing favorably with the 3 1/3 on the Big Oak Flat Road, 3 on the Coulterville and 2 on the Wawona Road. (30) No records exist of toll revenues. The Swift heirs, successors to W. C. N. Swift’s purchase of the toll franchise in 1888 for $10, (31) stated that though considerable sums had been spent on upkeep of the road no tolls had ever been collected. (33)

Other enterprises were more profitable. Since the early 1880’s H. R. Crocker had operated “Crocker’s Sierra Resort” stage stop on the Big Oak Flat Road, just west of the present park boundary. Mr. Crocker and his young wife with the help of ex-sea captain Allan S. Crocker, provided excellent board, clean rooms and diverse entertainments to Chinese Camp and Yosemite Stage Company passengers, private travellers, campers, and even Indians from a nearby Miwok Rancheria.

Crocker’s Station was construction headquarters during the building of the Great Sierra Wagon Road and later provided a comfortable stopping place for those using the road for business and pleasure. Many well known names grace the Crocker register, among them John Muir, Stewart Edward White, Edwin Markham and Herbert Hoover. The resort was considered by many “the showplace of the road.” Although sold by Widow Crocker in 1910, the station continued to serve the Yosemite-bound until 1920, when several of the buildings were moved and the rest allowed to decay. (34)

Some ten miles northeast Jeremiah Hodgdon built, in 1879, Yosemite’s first and only two story log cabin. (34) Unknown to Jeremiah, the cabin would later house some of the builders of the Great Sierra Wagon Road, would provide shelter for the cavalry patrolling Yosemite National Park, (38) and in the 1920’s become the center of a busy tourist stop

Aspen Valley Resort, 1931. Homestead Cabin, at left, now at Pioneer Yosemite History Center, Wawona
[click to enlarge]
Aspen Valley Resort, 1931.
Homestead Cabin, at left, now at Pioneer Yosemite History Center, Wawona
on the Tioga Road. In 1931 the Aspen Valley Lodge complex included the lodge, a rooming house, store, gasoline station, auto repair garage, laundry, restaurant and the old two story log homestead cabin in use as a storehouse. (35) A park entrance station and ranger station were located nearby. With realignment of the Tioga Road in 1937, profits dropped and closure of the facilities was assured when public use of the old road was discontinued in World War II. Private summer homes and a logging operation existed into the 1950’s. Most of the land eventually became acquired for park purposes: the homestead cabin was moved to the Pioneer History Center at Wawona.

Next stop on the line for the eastbound visitor was White Wolf, named by a sheepherder who saw a white wolf there. Settlement at White Wolf probably began with crude shelters for the Meyer boys and their ranch hands. Little is known of early developments, but in 1930 it was reported, “Mrs. Meyer is in charge of a believed-to-be well-paying resort . . .” Twelve tents, a main building which housed a dining room, kitchen and small store, two tourist cabins, a power plant, and the ubiquitous gasoline station comprised the assessable property. (35) Relocation of the road and the tourist hiatus of the second world war brought the operations at White Wolf to a stand-still. After three years of very indifferent lessee proprietorship, the Yosemite Park and Curry Co., in 1952, with government purchase of the land and facilities, acquired the concession rights, and the following year opened the rejuvenated unit as one of the High Sierra Camps. 1960-1961 saw the improvement, by the National Park Service, of the public campground and access road.

Between White Wolf and Tenaya Lake, a distance of nearly 20 miles, no accommodations have ever existed, though camping was, and is, permitted in designated spots along the road. On August 1, 1878 an enterprising Irishman and one-time Yosemite guide, John L. Murphy, homesteaded the meadows abutting the south end of Tenaya Lake and a small portion of the north shore. Thirty days later he planted 52 brook trout from the

White Wolf, 1931
[click to enlarge]
White Wolf, 1931
Tuolumne River; in 1882 a correspondent for the Bodie Daily Free Press reported, “the lake is swarming with fish, some already two feet in length.” Mr. Murphy was established!

In 1881, Archie Leonard, destined to become one of Yosemite’s first rangers, put on a ten-horse saddle train between Yosemie and Lundy. (39) Business must have been good for Leonard and Murphy as numerous articles proclaiming the virtues of the trip and its accommodations appeared in the Bodie and Lundy tabloids. One reporter opined, “Lake Tenaya is destined to become a watering place of note . . .” (20) and Murphy’s is a place “where good accommodations will be found, where the scenery is particularly grand, picturesque and beautiful, and trout are abundant.” (40)

Another author commenting on “where to go and what to do” gives us an idea of what accommodations were like there. “The business of accommodating travelers at Tennayah has not yet reached sufficient dimensions to warrant the establishment of a fully modernized hotel. Mr. Murphy has . . . maintained a ‘stopping place’ . . . that will be found quite satisfactory to all comers who are not excessively hard to please, and that may have a more piquant interest to persons to whom the shifts and devices of mountain life are matters of some novelty.” (42)

Murphy’s hospice served as a stopping place for the Great Sierra Wagon Road surveyors as well as H. L. Childs’ Bennettville to Yosemite Valley telephone line construction crew. (20) Later visitors included Helen Hunt Jackson, John Muir and Galen Clark. Nothing is known of the operation from 1890 to 1916 when the Desmond Park Company set up a tourist camp on the site of Murphy’s place. The Yosemite Park and Curry Co., Desmond’s successors, closed the Tenaya operations in 1938 in favor of a more isolated location at May Lake, thus establishing another of the High Sierra Camps. (39)

Although Tuolumne Meadows had been touted as an excellent camping spot since Lt. Moore’s 1852 visit, little was done to oblige visitors to the area. Cabins were built in the 1880’s by sheepmen

Murphy’s cabin at Lake Tenaya, August 16, 1896
[click to enlarge]
Murphy’s cabin at Lake Tenaya, August 16, 1896
using the meadows for summer pasture. (38) John Lembert’s reign as the “hermit of the Sierra” extended over a period of about 10 years during which time he offered what hospitality and help he could to the wayfarer and tourist. (42) Lembert homesteaded the Soda Springs property in 1885, (41) though he had spent his summers there since at least 1882 and perhaps earlier. Hermit John left the Meadows in 1890 after being snowbound and losing his profitable angora goat herd. After Lembert’s murder below El Portal in the spring of 1896, his brother sold the homestead to the McCauley brothers of Big Meadows. They in turn sold it to the Sierra Club in 1912 (41); three years later the Parsons Memorial Lodge was built. (39) The Sierra Club occupied the property until December 1973, when it was sold to the National Park Service for $208,750. The Club sold the property, because of “growing problems connected with managing the campgrounds, Parsons Lodge, and the nearby Soda Springs.” (39a) “Neither the Club nor the Foundation are equipped or prepared to adequately meet the problems of running a campground within a public park, with all the problems — overuse, sanitation, policing — that attend such an operation.”

The National Park Service operated the campground for three years, then closed it. The Yosemite Natural History Association presently provides information and interpretive services at Parsons Lodge.

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge was opened in 1916 by the Desmond Park Company and is currently operated by the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. In addition to the lodge there is now a store, restaurant and service station operated by the concessioner plus National Park Service ranger stations, campgrounds and a small museum. For the first few years of operation of the Tioga Road as a park route, the park entrance station was in the meadows; it has since been moved to Tioga Pass.



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