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Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent


Wawona was a veritable cultural oasis from the time Galen Clark, his educated mind and library, settled there in 1856. From 1875 on, when the Washburns began running the then-small hotel, culture pursuits developed naturally. There was a Big Tree Literary Society that, among other topics, debated Thomas Paine 42

The hotel supplied no regular entertainment, but often there were impromptu musicales or ploys. There was always lively conversation among the guests, most of whom were well-educated.

The Washburn brothers had been educated ably in Vermont and had wide interests John Washburn had married Estella Hill, who was a practiced soprano.

Azelia Von Campen Bruce, who had a homestead with her husband across the river from the hotel, was an excellent organist and former singer with the San Francisco Opera Company in the old Mission House. 36

Thomas Hill’s studio was a regular meeting place for various vocal and inquiring residents. Two of the Bruce sisters were accomplished, published poetesses. One poem by Fannie Bruce Cook appears in Hutching’s In the Heart of Sierras. Several of Jean Bruce Washburn’s poems were printed in the Mariposa Gazette, and some of her work appeared in a slim book, Yosemite and Other Poems, issued by a San Francisco publisher in 1887.

When Galen Clark was in his nineties and a resident of Yosemite Valley, he wrote two books on Yosemite: [Indians of the] Yosemite Valley and Vicinity, 1904, and The Yosemite Valley, Its History, 1910.

In May, 1891, Mariposa County created the Wawona School District, although the eight-grade grammar school did not open until May of 1892. 44, 45 It ran through the summer and was held near the men’s rooming house where the Sequoia Building of the Wawona Hotel now stands.

The Washburns wanted the school on the grounds so that their children and those of employees and visitors could attend. The first schoolroom was separated by a thin partition from the stagecoach drivers’ quarters. Readin’, writin’ and oaths could be learned[.]’

Gertrude (“Cosie”) Hutchings, 25, was the first teacher. Cosie was the daughter of James Hutchings and the second white girl to be born in Yosemite Valley. Among the early students were Bert and Jay Bruce, the Leonard twins, Mary Ellen Degnan, Clarence Washburn, an Indian boy named Joe Ann, the Bruce dog and frequently the hotel peacocks. 45

The parents of these children were making Yosemite history. Azelia and Albert O. Bruce were homesteading 320 acres under pioneer hardships, Archie Leonard served notably as the first Yosemite ranger, the John Degnans ran a Yosemite Valley bakery and delicatessen that their daughter, Mary Ellen, is active in today, and the Washburns were running the Wawona Hotel.

The session lengthened from May 1st until November 1st and the student body expanded to 38. After 20 years, the school had a building to itself which stood until 1960 to the right of the road just above the covered bridge. 45

School keeps today in a brown shingled building on Chilnualna Road. Readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic and other jetaged subjects are learned by its handful of students.

But no peacocks!

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management