"The Pioneer Yosemite History Center consists of historic structures from different eras of Yosemite history. Originally constructed in different locations in Yosemite, they were moved to Wawona in the late 1950's and early 1960's. As you walk among them, it is important to remember that the area does not represent a village. Instead, each building represents a different chapter in the Yosemite story." --from Pioneer Yosemite History Center Online
Up until about 1955, the historic preservation of structures was considered a low priority for the National Park Service while the preservation of natural scenery was paramount. During this time many important historical structures met an untimely end at the hands of the Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)--among these were John Muir's cabin and the oldest building in the park, Cedar Cottage which was built in 1859. Thankfully in the late 1950's, in large part because of the extensive efforts of Park Naturalist Douglass H. Hubbard, this way of thinking began to change and several historical buildings and structures were restored and saved for the benefit of future generations.
The Covered Bridge
The first of these structures that we would encounter on our tour was to be a very old, very nostalgic wooden covered bridge that has spanned the South Fork of the Merced River at Wawona for over 152 years. All Yosemite bound traffic through this area--whether on foot, on horseback, by stage, or by car--would pass over this bridge until 1931 when a new modern concrete bridge on the new Wawona road would replace it.
When it was first built in 1857 by settler Galen Clark, it was a "simple, open structure" (as seen below). Mr. Clark established a tourist facility here known as Clark's Station and was one of the area's first conservationists and innkeepers.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation that created the Yosemite Grant to protect the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Galen Clark was appointed the Guardian of the Grant.
In 1875, two brothers from Vermont purchased Clark's land along the river and opened the road from Wawona to the Yosemite Valley. It would be these two gentlemen who would go on to cover the bridge in 1879. It was far easier to re shingle the roof of a covered bridge than to replace the large wood truss beams and other major supporting structures that might be damaged from sun and weather.
This was an amazing structure to walk through. The history of the place is staggering. It is almost as if you can hear the clop of the horses hooves and the squeak of the wagon wheels moving along with you. When you look overhead at the hand-hewn beams you marvel at the craftsmen who used only ax and adze to shape these huge logs. It is almost as if you leave one time zone as you enter into this bridge and come out into another time--very long ago--when you come out on the other side.
A granddaughter of one of the brothers claims that it was not only for practical reasons that the bridge was covered but also because the Washburn brothers were a little bit homesick for New England.
The bridge was almost destroyed by a flood in 1955. It's authentic and painstaking restoration by master craftsman and builder, Glenn Gordo, in 1957 was the first step in the creation of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center.