Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: Table of ContentsContents

Yosemite: the Park and its Resources (1987) by Linda W. Greene

historic resource study
historical narrative

Yosemite Falls, cover photograph, volume 1



Historic Resource Study


A History of the Discovery, Management, and Physical Development of Yosemite National Park, California

Volume 1 of 3
Historical Narrative


Linda Wedel Greene
September 1987


U. S. Department of the Interior / National Park Service

Map: The Yosemite Region
[click to enlarge]


This Historic Resource Study had been prepared in accordance with the approved task directive for Package No. 806, Yosemite National Park. It accomplishes the inventory, identification, and evaluation of historical resources within the park to comply with Executive Order 11593, “Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment,” and with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. It is also intended as a complete narrative history of the park, providing basic reference material for planners, resource managers, and interpreters to facilitate the proper care, interpretation, and management of cultural properties within Yosemite National Park.

Almost ten years ago a preliminary investigation and evaluation of historical resources in Yosemite took place in connection with the park’s general management plan. As a result of that work, a number of properties were placed in the National Register of Historic Places. Several other structures and sites proved ineligible for listing in that register, and another large group of properties required further evaluation.

The purpose of this historic resource study is to evaluate those sites and structures not studied previously and resolve their status in terms of National Register criteria. Those structures are primarily at Wawona, in Section 35, at the park’s south entrance station, in El Portal, and in the backcountry. The writer also addressed those park structures identified in earlier studies as needing additional historical data for evaluation purposes. In addition, the study attempts to provide a thematic framework, or contextual background, within which any additional potentially significant sites in the backcountry or on private landholdings can be evaluated.

This project turned out to be much more complex and time-consuming than originally anticipated. Yosemite National Park contains a multitude of geological, biological, cultural, and scenic resources exceptional in quality, research value, and visitor interest. Since 1851 when the first non-Indians entered Yosemite Valley, visitation to the park has increased steadily each year and now numbers in the millions. Although many people, especially first-time visitors, imagine that the park’s scenic resources appear much as they did 135 years ago, the National Park Service realizes that man’s effect on these park lands has been major and in some cases unfortunate and irreversible.

Under California state commissioners, U. S. Army officers, civilian rangers, and finally National Park Service superintendents, Yosemite Valley and its environs have alternately experienced both unsound and progressive management practices. From the time of its establishment as a state grant—to be used for public recreation and enjoyment—Yosemite became a pioneer experiment, a proving ground for conservation practices, interpretive efforts, and park administrative techniques. Trial-and-error management tactics in the earliest years, coupled with misguided ones later, resulted in a variety of adverse conditions: a reduction in the number and size of meadows in Yosemite Valley; the suppression of natural fires; the introduction of exotic plants and animals; stock grazing on park lands; the alteration of river channels; hunting of predators; the concentration and development of visitor and administrative facilities near prime scenic attractions; and significant development on private inholdings within the park. All those activities brought about gradual changes in the park ecosystem and in its cultural environment.

Most National Park Service policies and techniques of administration, resource protection, and interpretation evolved in Yosemite. In recent years those policies have undergone appropriate changes in interpretation and implementation to conform to current tenets of wildlife management, cultural resource preservation, and natural resource protection. They are still, however, based on the ideals and standards set by the first National Park Service Director, Stephen Mather. The establishment of wilderness areas, the implementation of sound management policies, better park planning, and widespread interpretive efforts are helping to ensure a better distribution of activities, visitor awareness of man’s responsibilities to the environment, and a reduction of the impact of man’s enjoyment of the park on both cultural and natural resources.

The author found it virtually impossible to detail extensively the evolution of Yosemite park management in a single document, especially one restricted by time and monetary considerations. Complicating the problem is the amount of literature on Yosemite, comprising books, government reports, private studies, pamphlets, magazine and newspaper articles, maps, correspondence, interviews, and assorted ephemera on a myriad of topics including glaciation, history and discovery, Indian and pioneer life, transportation, campground development, recreational activities, visitor accommodations, interpretive programs, private landholdings, and natural resource protection. Because of limited time, only those sources directly relevant to a discussion of the park’s discovery, constructional history, management, and interpretation could be read exhaustively, while others were perused and summarized as time permitted. In the course of this research, a variety of intriguing questions tempted digression into other areas of extreme interest. With great regret these were passed over, some to be recommended as topics for administrative histories and the rest to await other researchers with different priorities. Selectivity became ever more necessary as time advanced, but it is hoped that will not interfere with the study’s use as a research tool.

A few other remarks are necessary regarding the organization of this report. The author describes the history of the park chronologically rather than topically in an effort to enable study of various facets of park development in relation to regional and national events of the same time period. Such an arrangement, though helpful in understanding interrelationships between events, programs, and policies on a broader scale, necessitates those interested in a particular topic to peruse each chapter in order to follow its development. Although I tried to faithfully restrict discussion of a topic within a chapter to the specific years covered by that chapter, occasionally it was necessary for coherence to overlap slightly in order to complete the discussion of a particular aspect of the story. The author tried to do this as infrequently as possible, however.

Because of the mass of information, the writer chose a cut-off date of 1960 for this study. This enables a discussion of the MISSION 66 planning for Yosemite, but does not permit further detailed analysis of that program or the master plan era of the 1960s and 1970s. Those topics will be among those recommended for additional study as administrative histories. A number of important proposals, therefore, addressed in later years by park management, such as elimination of vehicle use in prime resource areas, the encouragement of mass transportation in Yosemite Valley, the transfer of administrative and concession facilities to El Portal, and the designation of wilderness areas are not being addressed, at least in detail, at this time.

Another fact to be noted is that the preponderance of data on human activity in the Yosemite region concerns Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. Thus the attentive reader will note gaps in the information base on outlying areas of the park. The backcountry remains basically ignored by the literature on Yosemite. The author has been able to acquire information on its resources only as they have been described, albeit scantily, in the literature or been reported on by park staff; primarily trail crews, backcountry rangers, and archeologists. The fact that the reports of the California state commissioners, of the acting army superintendents, and of early Park Service personnel only contained information on certain major trails and facilities does not mean others did not exist. Those reports tend to expound only on resources of immediate interest or use to the writers. Although as a consequence the main emphasis of this report is on buildings and trails in developed areas, a wealth of resources are known to exist in the backcountry. Another of the recommendations of this study is a comprehensive survey of backcountry cultural resources. Park personnel have already proposed such a project, and in the interests of cultural resource management and historic preservation, it should be subsidized and implemented as soon as possible.

It has been nearly impossible to inventory and precisely describe every road, trail, bridge, concession facility, and government building even in developed areas of the park. Some of those structures have already been described in detail by other historians, in other government reports and surveys, and in National Register nomination forms. With the references provided in this study, the interested reader should be able to find that type of detailed information with little problem. For those structures not described elsewhere, it is hoped that the basic historical documentation provided in this study will enable the reader to pursue further research with some ease.

Finally, an agreement has been reached between the Yosemite Park and Curry Company and the National Park Service for the transfer of the Curry Company archives to the Yosemite Research Library and Records Center. This action will ensure the careful use and professional preservation of a vast body of important data relative to the park and its concession operations. As the material is accessioned and catalogued, it is possible that heretofore unknown information on park buildings and sites will surface. The prospects for enlightenment on several aspects of concession-related activities is exciting.

This is not a definitive historical study of Yosemite National Park and its environs, if such is even possible concerning one of the oldest, most controversial, but best-loved units of our National Park System. A multitude of historical, political, environmental, geological, and archeological questions are open to different interpretations and merit further research and discussion. Gaps in the historical record still exist, to be filled in by future researchers on the basis of new physical and documentary investigations. Studies such as this seem to pose new questions as often as they resolve old ones. Perhaps this is as it should be, for the more scholars and other learned individuals analyze past administrative, interpretive, constructional, and natural and cultural resource management policies of parks such as Yosemite, the better our planning for the future will be in ensuring that mistakes are not repeated and that enlightened progress continues.

The amount of material to be covered during the research process was staggering, and credit for enabling the writer to get through that amount of data is due in large part to the untiring efforts of two special individuals. The writer was tirelessly aided in the research for this report by Robert C. Pavlik, a graduate student in history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, now a historian at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Bob’s love of Yosemite, extensive knowledge of its history, and concern for its resources, combined with an enthusiasm for research and a capacity for endless patience while constantly “on call” as a research assistant, were invaluable to the completion of this study. On several field trips together, during which we sifted through books and ephemera in the park library, plodded through archival data in the records center, interviewed persons knowledgeable in various facets of the park’s management, and hiked to breathtakingly beautiful historical sites in the valley and high country, we engaged in stimulating and fruitful discussions on the park, its history, its future, and the National Park Service in general. Those times will be remembered as some of the pleasantest of my Park Service career.

The staff and researchers at Yosemite National Park are blessed to have at their disposal one of the finest research libraries and record centers in the National Park System. Practically everything pertinent to the history of the park’s establishment, its development under various administrations, its educational and interpretive programs, and its efforts in cultural and natural resource management can be found there. Hundreds of photographs and a large number of maps round out this outstanding collection of Yosemite materials. Much of the credit for the facility’s fine holdings and for its usefulness to researchers is due to the professional expertise of its librarian, Mary Vocelka, who is always on the lookout for pertinent additions. Mary never flinched at procuring a myriad of documents for our use or at reproducing necessary data for our convenience, and was especially helpful in providing leads on other useful sources of information, including both documents and individuals. I have seen her spend a great deal of time with park visitors who wander into the library in hopes of finding interesting tidbits of information on some particular aspect of the park that has interested them and listen intently to the reminiscences of old-timers who stop to pass a few moments in her hospitable presence. Mary is an invaluable asset to the park’s public image as well as to Park Service personnel who are dependent upon her knowledge of the literature related to Yosemite. Probably the bulk of research material that went into this study came from the facility she so ably oversees.

Other park personnel also proved generous with their time and expertise. Michael Dixon developed a large group of photographs taken by Bob Pavlik in connection with our parkwide inventory of historical sites and structures, while Dave Forgang, park curator, and Scott Carpenter, park archeologist, frequently came to the author’s assistance with useful information relative to the status of historical and archeological resources. A variety of park rangers and other staff members, including Jim Snyder, backcountry trails foreman, and Al Thorpe, property management officer, provided important information on cultural resources in their respective areas. Jim’s detailed and perceptive review of the original draft study provided valuable suggestions that added greatly to any merit the final document may have. Former Superintendent Robert C. Binnewies extended cooperation and support whenever called upon and will, I hope, enjoy perusing the final document. To all Yosemite park personnel, and to Shirley Sargent, whose many books on Yosemite history have been a constant source of pleasure and valuable information, I extend heartfelt thanks for all help and encouragement extended.

Gary Higgins and Paul Cloyd, historical architects, and Judy Rosen, a former environmental specialist, at the Denver Service Center of the National Park Service helped in data acquisition and periodic problem-solving, which is hereby gratefully acknowledged. Paul, Jo Wahbeh, and Craig Kenkel also accomplished numerous on-site inspections of park structures, occasionally involving some strenuous hiking, which greatly aided the inventory work for this study. The Graphics Division in Denver is also to be commended for its timely production of maps and typed copies of the report.

The writer also conducted research at the National Archives and Library of Congress in Washington, D. C.; at the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley; at the Federal Archives and Records Center in San Bruno, California; at the California State Library in Sacramento; and at the California Historical Society and the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco. The staffs of all those institutions were helpful as always, and I thank them for their time and efforts.

Finally, I would like to thank Section Chief John Latschar of the Western Team Branch of Planning, Denver Service Center, and Regional Historian Gordon Chappell and Chief of Park Historic Preservation Tom Mulhern of the Western Regional Office of the National Park Service for their advice, critical expertise, and support in the completion of this study. I hope they and park management will find in it what they need to better care for the incomparable resources of Yosemite National Park.

Linda Wedel Greene
Denver, Colorado
16 September 1986

Note: A current map of Yosemite National Park is provided in the rear cover of this document to facilitate locating sites and structures mentioned in the report in relation to today’s boundaries, road systems, and structural developments. It should also be noted that the writer uses the terms “historic” and “historical” as defined in Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage; A Guide, edited and completed by Jacques Barzun et al., published by Grosset & Dunlap, Inc., 1966. According to Follett, historic structures, sites, personalities, or events are significant in American history, although they are also historical in that they are associated with our past. Most historical events, personalities, structures, and sites, however, are not historic; that is, they do not hold an important place in history. According to those definitions this is, in reality, a Historical Resource Study, because it addresses all park resources. The National Park Service’s formal title for such reports, however, is Historic Resource Study.

Next: Table of ContentsContents

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management