Early Hotels: Upper & Lower House, Leidig’s and Peregory’s

Lower Village (mine)

Various early buildings super-imposed on a contemporary map of the valley

In the early years of the park (and before), building was done on the south side of the river. Being visited only during the summer months (maybe late spring and early fall), it was more comfortable to be in the shade of the south ridge during the day. Initially, the “Village” was built near/around the earliest of the hotels of Yosemite, Lower House (or Hotel). It would eventually consist of a chapel, corral, a boarding house and various residences. Within a year of the Lower House’s opening, another hotel was erected near what is now Sentinel Bridge (on the south side of Southside Drive). It was called “Upper House” because it was on the upper (up river or most easterly) end of the valley while “Lower House” was at the lower end of the valley. The Lower House was constructed there because it had a nice view of Yosemite Falls, so other establishments settled around it. It wasn’t until later that the facilities around the Lower House were called part of the “Lower Yosemite Village.” As facilities grew around Upper House, that area was called “Upper Yosemite Village” and, eventually, just “Yosemite Village” as the other facilities moved to the upper end of the valley. It remained there until the early 1960’s.


Upper Village Closeup

Map and Legend of Old (Upper) Yosemite Village to 1956


Lower House 1856 (#8 on the Lower Yosemite Village map)

Lower HouseThis hotel was originally built in 1856 by the first settlers in the valley. “…Judge Walworth, Messrs. Anderson, Walling and Epperson have located lands and have partially completed a frame house…”[i] which would grow into the Lower Hotel and open in the 1857 season. It had a spotty early history with mixed “reviews” and, according to Josiah Whitney, remained dormant for a number of seasons.

Alexander Gordon Black purchased interest in the hotel in 1861. It was run haphazardly for a number of years until, in 1866, George Frederick Leidig took the reins of management and ran the property until 1870 on behalf of AG Black. Leidig had appealed to the Yosemite board of commissioners to lease it to him directly and was turned down, but then when Black heard about that, Leidig was canned. So he built his own place and ran it for eighteen years.

Black and his wife, Catherine, moved into Yosemite Valley in 1870 to take over the running of the property themselves. He had torn down the hotel the year before and put up an expanded version of the hotel. At this point, it was called “Black’s Hotel.” The property was reported to be “…A new house with excellent bath and other accommodations…”[ii]

Blacks Hotel

Black’s Hotel

In 1881, Walter Cooke and George Wright purchased interest in Black’s Hotel, but their stewardship lasted only one season when JJ Cook (George Wrights Father-in-law) took over “the interests” in the hotel. By this time, the state of California and board of commissioners had bought up all private properties. This was finalized 1874, when the US Supreme Court sided with California in a lawsuit with James Hutchings. The state, as a test case, sued to evict Hutchings from the property in the valley (which was the former Upper House and was then called Hutchings House). So, “Interest” in a property by this time meant leasing it from the park much the way concessions are done today.

Cook ran the hotel’s affairs until 1887 when he took on a 10-year lease of the newly constructed Stoneman House. Black’s Hotel, quite dilapidated by this time, was torn down and the space returned to the park.

Upper Hotel 1857 (#40 on the Old Yosemite Village map)

Hutchings House

Hutchings House

The Upper Hotel was a very rustic two story building first opened for business in May 1859. It was roughly put together and though it had window openings, there was no glass in the frames. James Hutchings along with Photographer Charles Weed were of the first to stay there. Financially, it got a rocky start. The proprietors overextended themselves for the first season. The hotel didn’t have a steady “landlord” before 1861 when Peter Longhurst took it over. Hutchings tried to secure the place but it took until April 1864 before it could be arranged.

Big Tree Room Outside and Inside with Hutchings

Big Tree Room Outside
and Inside with Hutchings

The name was changed to Hutchings House. Hutchings had added a Lean-To to the back which was built around a tree and called the Tree Room (it was actually constructed by John Muir). It was, originally, a sitting room and kitchen and had dirt floors. It was later floored and used as a dinning room and, finally, a parlor.

In 1874, Hutchings was, effectively, evicted from the park. The state sued to evict him from his  Homesteaded 160 acres, including the Hutchings House, which he had purchased before the Yosemite Grant was enacted. The legal battle was long and bitter and Hutchings lost. There seems

Remains of Big Tree of "The Big Tree Room"

Remains of Big Tree of
“The Big Tree Room”

to be a difference of opinion on what happened at this point. Hutchings said that the state would not even let him lease Hutchings House to continue his proprietorship[iii]. But other sources say that Hutchings was not about to pay a lease for his own place.[iv] The commissioners are said to have awarded the franchise to George Coulter and AJ Murphy, the only actual bidders for the lease.

By this time, “Hutchings House” was also composed of the Oak, River and Rock Cottages. The called it The Yosemite Falls Hotel. J.K. Barnard took over the reins from Coulter and Murphy and created quite a complex of cottages and added what eventually became known as, Barnard House and finally, the Sentinel Hotel.

Cedar Cottage, as Hutchings House came to be known, was finally dismantled in 1941, which at the time was the oldest building in the Valley. The tree from the Big Tree Room still stands (see the image), though it died about 2006. The park service cut the tree down to about 30 feet to avoid it falling over along the road way. Also near the tree are Surveyor’s markings showing where the cornerstones of Cedar Cottage were located.

Leidig's Hotel

Leidig’s Hotel

Leidig’s Hotel 1869 (#2 on the Lower Yosemite Village map)

George Frederick Leidig ran the Lower House for Alexander Black until about 1869 when he tried to get the concession for himself from the state. Black, hearing this, fired him. So,

Leidig applied to the state to make his own place, which they agreed, and he ran it for 18 years (from 1869 to 1887). It was then torn down as was the Black’s Hotel (formerly Lower House) as part of the conditions of the new hotel keeper of the Stoneman House, JJ Cook.

Peregory’s Mountain View Hotel 1869 (Not mapped)

Charles Peregory had a “stop” along the old “Mann Brother’s Trail” that ran from Clark’s Station (at Wawona) to the west end of the valley where it caught up with the “Old Wawona Road” (near the old inspiration point). He began construction on it in 1869 calling it the Mountain View Hotel. It was never heavily used, but was handy for a lunch stop for those coming from Clark’s station or an overnight stop for those coming from Glacier Point. All that is left of it is labeled as Peregory Meadow (now along the Glacier Point Road). I wouldn’t even mention it at all, except that he also put up a shack at Glacier Point, which was useful a few years later (to be discussed in a later post).

Future Post

In a future post, I discuss La Casa Nevada (the hotel between Vernal and Nevada Falls), The Cosmopolitan Saloon, and the Mountain House.


[i] According to Thomas Ayres in his account of his second visit to Yosemite in 1856 and published in the Daily Alta California in August of 1856.

[ii] Bancroft’s Tourist Guide for 1871

[iii] In the Heart of the Sierras James Mason Hutchings, 1888, Chapter 11

[iv] Yosemite’s Yesterdays, Volume II Hank Johnston, Flying Spur Press, 1991, Chapter II, Page 23. “…[he] refused to pay rent equal to the fair interest on the $24,000 that had been awarded for the property…”