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Pioneer Yosemite History Center Online Tour


Covered Bridge

Wawona, location of Covered Bridge
[click to enlarge]

Wawona, location of
Covered Bridge
Wawona covered bridge with stagecoach
[click to enlarge]

Wagon covered bridge and mud wagon
with driver Burrel Maier
All Yosemite-bound traffic through here crossed the bridge. The deck and truss portion of this bridge across the South Fork of the Merced River was built around 1857 by settler Galen Clark, who established a tourist facility here. The area was then called Clark’s Station. Clark’s role as one of the original conservationists and innkeepers places him in one of the earliest chapters of Yosemite’s history. After Abraham Lincoln signed legislation in 1864 protecting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias by creating the Yosemite Grant, Clark was appointed the Guardian of the Grant.

The road from Wawona to the Yosemite Valley opened in 1875 just after the Washburn brothers purchased Clark’s land along the river. The brothers, who were from Vermont, covered the bridge in 1879. Although the large beams were hand-hewn with ax and adze, the lumber to cover the bridge was cut locally at the Washburn’s sawmill. Speciality axes were used to hew round logs into square timbers and mortice and tenon joints were used to join the timbers. Bridges were covered primarily to protect the large wood truss beams and flooring from the weather. It is much easier to reshingle a roof than to replace the major supporting structures. The covering also helped horses stay focused on the road rather than the sometimes raging river in spring. Did the Washburn brothers cover the bridge exclusively for practical reasons? Maybe so. But a granddaughter claims the reason was nostalgia — they were homesick for a bit of New England.


Wawona covered bridge, from the S. Fork Merced River
[click to enlarge]

Covered bridge from South Fork Merced River
Wawona covered bridge, view through bridge
[click to enlarge]
The bridge was used until 1931 when the Wawona Road was rerouted west to a modern concrete bridge (which, in turn, has been replaced after damage from the 1997 floods). A flood in 1955 nearly destroyed the covered bridge. Its 1957 restoration was the first step in the creation of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Glenn Gordo, master craftsman and builder from Mariposa and grandson of a pioneering Portuguese couple, along with his crew, were recruited after the flood to restore the bridge.

Doug Hubbard remembers the bridge restoration:

“Gordo and his workmen shored up the bridge’s sagging middle, used pieces of heavy pipe, and with a bulldozer-powered winch rolled it smoothly ashore. After months of intensive work, during which the deteriorating timbers, siding, and roof were replaced, the process was reversed and the bridge rolled back to its original position.” [Shirley Sargent Protecting Paradise (1998), p. 110.]

Wawona covered bridge, inside view
[click to enlarge]
The bridge was again restored in 2003, but in place. 19th century tools and crafts were used to replicate worn parts of the the hand-hewn bridge. This covered bridge is one of two covered bridges owned by the National Park Service and one of 13 in California. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

As you cross the bridge, listen for the low rumble of an oncoming stage and allow your imagination to return to the days of Yosemite’s pioneers.

More information



Next: Chris Jorgensen Artist HomeContentsPrevious: Introduction

Copyright 2005 by Dan E. Anderson. All rights reserved.

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