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June 25, 2024

The Story of the Big Tree Room, the Oldest Hotel in Yosemite Valley

James Mason Hutchings was born in England and moved to the United States in 1848 at the age of 28. A young and ambitious man, he came west to California in the first years of the gold rush. He was one of the few to strike it rich, and later went on to make further fortunes as a publisher. Hutchings, however, was not the kind to be confined behind a desk. Hearing of the great grassy Valley with “thousand foot cliffs and waterfalls” he felt compelled to seek it out. Combining a true love of nature and adventure with his business acumen, he was responsible for bringing the first group of tourists to Yosemite in 1855. Working as both a guide and a publisher, he was able to bring this place into the limelight.

His love for Yosemite grew with such vigor that in 1864, he purchased the Upper Hotel, a crudely built establishment that was hastily erected beside the majestic cedar. Hutchings knew that remodeling and expanding was necessary in order to provide better comfort to his visitors, but he couldn’t bear to cut down the now fully grown tree. You could say that Hutchings then found a way “around” it with the creation of the new and improved Hutchings House.

Within a few years of purchasing the hotel, Hutchings added the famous Big Tree Room. He wrote, “This cedar, 175 feet high, was standing there when the room was planned. I had not the heart to cut it down, so I fenced it in, or rather, built around it... the base of the tree, eight feet in diameter, is an ever present guest in that sitting room…”

James Mason Hutchings was one of the early pioneers in Yosemite Valley. Hutchings published the first illustrations of Yosemite Valley, his daughter was the first non-native to be born in Yosemite Valley.

Even though the Big Tree Room is gone, you can still find evidence of the building and the big tree itself. In fact, everyone that enters eastern Yosemite Valley drives right past this tree and probably has no idea of its history.


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