Travel – California Missions (Part One)

The story of the California Missions started many centuries ago when Juan Cabrillo, an explorer sent by the Spanish King to explore the west coast of North America, sailed into the bay of present day San Diego in 1542.  Cabrillo continued his journey and sailed along the coast of California as far as the area of present day San Francisco.  But by the 17th century Spain was not the only country interested in this new land, Russia had begun establishing forts in the northern region of California to aid in their lucrative fur trapping.  As a result of this potential foreign threat an expedition was commissioned by King Carlos III to protect the territory a unit of military officers and a unit of military officers and soldier would include a group of Franciscan Friars.  It was thought that in order to succeed in colonizing Alta California and establishing permanent settlements they needed to convert the Native American population to Christianity so that they would remain dependent and loyal to the Spanish Crown.

The Franciscan Friars had already helped to establish Missions in Baja California and now they were given this new important task for Alta California.  There would be five expeditions that would sail from Baja California, Governor Gaspar de Portola would be in charge and Father Junipero Serra (born November 24, 1713 died August 28, 1784) would be chosen to lead the group of Franciscan missionaries.  Three ships departed from Baja California, the San Carlos and the San Antonio (a later supply ship, the San Jose, was lost at sea), landing in San Diego in mid-1769.  Between 1769 and 1823 twenty-one missions were established along the coastal region of Alta California.  Mission San Diego de Alcala was the first Mission that was established in 1769 followed by the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in 1770.  Then, over the next 54 years more Missions were established along the El Camino Real covering the 442 miles distance between the Mission San Diego and the Mission Carmel.  Several additional Missions were also built north of the Mission Carmel and the final Mission, Mission San Francisco de Solano, was added in 1823.

As settlers came into the region, they introduced many European fruits and vegetables, cattle and horses, ranching and farming techniques to the Native Americans.  In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain but unfortunately under Mexican jurisdiction the Missions did not receive the same support as in the past.  In 1833, the Act for the Secularization of the California Missions followed by the Decree of Confiscation in 1834 removed the administration of the Missions from the Catholic Franciscan Padres and given to the Mexican government.  Eventually the vast properties of the Missions were divided and land grants were given to prominent Mexicans, these became the famous Ranchos of California.

In 1848, after the Mexican-American War and subsequently when California became the 31st State in 1850, the United States Army occupied many of the Missions.  Some of the Missions were used as garrisons and the soldiers lived in converted barracks.  Ultimately, on March 18, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln decreed that the California Missions should be returned to the Catholic Church.  Throughout the following years many of the Missions were abandoned or neglected and fell into disrepair while others became local parishes of the Catholic Church that are still in use today.

For this four part series on the California Missions, I will discuss all of 21 Missions moving from south to north and starting with the first Mission located in San Diego to the San Buenaventura Mission in Part One, then from the Santa Barbara Mission to the San Miguel Arcangel in Part Two and from San Antonio de Padua to the Santa Cruz in Part Three and then from the Santa Clara de Asis Mission to the most northern Mission San Francisco de Solano in Part Four.  So, let’s get started …

Mission San Diego de Alcala

Mission San Diego de Alcala is the first of the 21 California Missions and was founded on July 16, 1769 by Juniperio Serra.  Located near present day downtown San Diego, the original site was built overlooking the San Diego Bay but five years later the Mission moved east and six miles inland.  The new location close to the San Diego River was better situated for growing crops and everything was progressing according to plan and by the summer of 1775 the missionaries had baptized 315 of the Native Americans.

San Diego de Alcalá_-old 1

Several years passed and during that time a fraction of the Natives Americans were becoming unsettled living with the regulations and other restrictions set by the Spanish military and missionaries.  On November 4, 1775 several hundred Native Americans from a nearby village revolted and stormed into the Mission burning, looting and killing several people including Father Jayme.  (Historical Note: Father Jayme became California’s first Catholic Martyr and he is buried near the altar of the current Mission San Diego)

Less than a year after the incident, Father Serra returned to rebuild the Mission but this time it was fortified with 9 feet high walls built of adobe.  The Mission continued the long process of reorganization and later became a successful horse and mule breeding farm that supplied the other missions.  By 1797, the Mission now included 55,000 acres that was planted with corn, wheat, barley and vineyards that produced grapes for wine. The Mission had also started growing olives that produced good quality olive oil.  (Historical Note: The olive tree had been introduced to California by Father Francisco de Lasuen in 1802 and cuttings from those trees would later be used to establish and supplement the successful California olive industry)

Then in 1803, after suffering from a two-year drought, the decision was made to construct a dam and an aqueduct.  Supervised by the Padres and built by the Native Americans.  Located about five miles east of the Mission the dam was built across the San Diego River; it was about 224 feet across, 12 feet high and 13 feet thick.  The aqueduct used a gravity-flow system and was built with tiles laid onto stone foundations and was completed in 1817.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and eventually the jurisdiction and administration of the Missions transferred from the Catholic Church to the Mexican government.  As a result, in 1840, the first Bishop of California was appointed, Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno, and the Mission became the center of the newly created Diocese of Alta California until it was eventually moved the Mission Santa Barbara in 1842.  The Mexican government sold the land surrounding the San Diego Mission to Santiago Arquello in 1846.

After the Mexican-American War, the United States Army occupied the Mission turning it into a garrison and housing the soldiers in barracks until 1858.  The Mission was abandoned until 1891 when it was turned into St. Anthony’s Industrial School which was run by the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the school eventually moved to Banning, Ca and the Mission was once again closed.  In 1931, the Mission was rebuilt to resemble the original 1813 church and today it is used as a local parish for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

San Diego de Alcalá_- exterior  IMG_7072 - Version 2

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Located 5 miles east of present day city of Oceanside, the area was first visited by the Portola expedition in 1769 and became a frequent stop for camping on the El Camino Real that connected the Missions.  Eventually a permanent settlement was established and the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded on June 13, 1798 by Father Fermin Lasuen and was named for Saint Louis in honor of King Louis IX of France.  The Mission church was built in 1811 and it is the 18th of the California Missions.

San Luis Rey de Francia - old

The San Luis Rey Mission was the largest, almost 950,400 acres, and one of the most prosperous of the twenty-one Missions and it had been said that it was one of the best designed due to the fact that it was one of the last Missions built.  The Mission is built on a small hill and it featured a 500×500 feet quadrangle surrounded by a sunken garden and a special water system featuring a unique charcoal filters through which the water flowed into the fields.

Within the courtyard of Mission San Luis Rey is the first Peruvian Pepper Tree (schinus molle) planted in California, today the tree can be seen beautifully framed by an arch.  Legend has it that the seeds of the pepper tree came from a ship’s captain that had visited the Mission as a guest in 1825 and to repay the padres kindness during his visit he gifted them a handful of pepper tree seeds.  The pepper tree is known for its fragrant leaves, knotted trunk and clusters of small pink berries that resemble peppercorns, hence the name of the tree.  Subsequently, peppers trees were planted at the other Missions and were valued for the shade they provided and the tolerance to the semiarid conditions of California.  Much later, the pepper tree proved to be so popular that after California became a state in 1850, the tree was renamed the California Pepper Tree.

San Luis Rey de Francia - pepper tree 1

After the secularization of the Missions in 1834, the Mission San Luis Rey was abandoned and after many years it fell into disrepair.  Then in 1895 Father Joseph O’Keefe was put in charge of restoring the Mission and the work was completed in 1905.  A Catholic seminary was opened at the Mission in 1950 but as enrollment significantly decreased it was finally closed in 1969.   Today, the Mission San Luis Rey is an active Catholic parish of the San Diego Diocese.

San Luis Rey de Francia - panorama

San Luis Rey de Francia - interior

Mission Trivia: The Mission San Luis Rey was used for the filming of the 1957 Disney television series “Zorro”.  The fictional character of Zorro was originally created by Johnston McCulley in the 1919 “Curse of Capistano” book.  Zorro was a wealthy land owner living in California that secretly became a black masked outlaw who defended the local people from the injustice Mexican officials and he was known for his cunning ways of outsmarting the authorities and publicly humiliating them.

Zorro television show - Walt Disney  Zorro television show

Mission San Juan Capistrano

The Missions San Juan Capistrano is the seventh in the chain of the 21 California Missions and was founded by Junipero Serra, on November 1, 1776.  The mission was named for the Italian Crusader, Saint John of Capistrano and was first built as a small adobe church 1778.  It was later replaced by a much large church to accommodate the growing population in 1782 and has the distinction of being one of the oldest buildings still in use in California.  For more detailed information, please click on the link to the previous Travel Post about Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Gabriel Arcangel

Mission San Gabriel Arcangel was founded on September 8, 1771 by Father Junipero Serra; it is the 4th California Mission.  The Mission was named for the Archangel Gabriel and is located in the present day city of San Gabriel.  The original proposed site was located on the Rio de los Temblores (later renamed the Santa Ana River) but the Padres chose an alternate site located in a fertile area situated along the Rio Hondo River.  Unfortunately, in 1776, a flash flood destroyed the Mission and the decision was made to relocate it five miles away and closer to the San Gabriel Mountains.  The current Mission church was designed in a Moorish-style of architecture by the Spanish born Padre Antonio Cruzado; the design was inspired by the Cathedral of Cordoba located in Spain.  The Mission features unusual elements like unique buttresses, tall narrow windows and arched shell decorations that are not seen in the other California Missions.

San Gabriel Arcangel - old photo

Then, on December 9, 1812, the devastating Wrightwood earthquake hit the area destroying the original three-bell tower on the east side of the Mission, later it was replaced by a larger six-bell structure.  (Historical Note: Bells were important to the daily life of the Missions, not only did they mark the time and hours in the day but they were also rung to call the Mission residents to meals, work and religious services and they marked local births and deaths, in addition the bells signaled approaching ships or returning missionaries)

Between the years 1771 to 1834 over 25,000 baptisms were performed at the San Gabriel Mission but with the secularization of the Missions by the Mexican government,   the properties were lost or given away but the Mission church continued to function as a local parish.  In 1908, the Claretian Missionaries of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order took over responsibility of the San Gabriel Mission and began extension restoration work to repair the buildings.  Much later, on October 1, 1987, the Whitter earthquake hit and the Mission sustained more damage.  Today, the San Gabriel Mission remains open as an active parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

San Gabriel Arcangel - exterior panorama

San Gabriel Arcangel - interior

Mission Trivia: According to legend, the expedition constituting of Franciscan padres accompanied by Spanish military soldiers was confronted by a large group of hostile Native Americans, the Tongva tribe, which intended to drive the expedition members away from their land.  To calm the Native Americans and demonstrate their peaceful purposes, one of the padres laid the “Our Lady of Sorrows” painting on the ground and the Native Americans were deeply moved by the painting’s beauty and a potentially volatile situation was avoided.  Today, the 300 year old painting is hung at the front of the Mission San Gabriel church’s sanctuary.

San Gabriel Arcangel - Our Lady of Sorrow painting 1

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana was founded on September 8, 1797 by Father Fermin Lasuen, it is the 17th California Mission.  The Mission was named for Saint Ferdinand and also King Ferdinand of Spain, it is located in the northern section of the San Fernando Valley near the present day city of San Fernando.  The area was first visited by the Portola expedition in 1769 and became a frequent stop for camping on the El Camino Real that connected the Missions; Father Juan Crespi noted in his journal that the site location in the foothills of the mountains would be an excellent location for a future Mission.

San Fernando Mission - old

By 1819, the San Fernando Mission had 21,000 head of livestock and had a successful industry producing hides and leather for saddles, shoes and sandals as well as supplying  leather strips used for building materials.  In addition to the cattle, the Mission also had 8,000 sheep and 2,300 horses.  The Mission padres also taught the local Native Americans their European techniques for farming and working with domesticated animals as well as working with European-styled tools.

Sadly in 1845, several years after Mexico gained their independence from Spain; the Mission buildings were sold and later used in a variety of different ways.  The buildings were used by the Porter Land and Water Company as a warehouse and then later a hog farm was located on the property.  In 1896, the Mission returned to the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles and repair work was overseen by Charles Lummis.  In 1923 priests from the Oblate Order came to the Mission and it returned to use as a local parish.  In the 1940s, the Hearst Foundation funded a total restoration of the San Fernando Mission but sadly the 1971 Sylmar earthquake severely damaged the buildings and the extensive repairs took three years to complete.

San Fernando Rey de Espana - exterior 1  San Fernando Rey de Espana - interior 1

Mission Trivia: In 1842, the first gold discovery in California was actually at a site known as the Oak of the Golden Dream in Placerita Canyon located near the Mission.  Francisco Lopez, a local rancher and the brother of the foreman at the San Fernando Mission, found gold clinging to the roots of wild onion that he had dug up.  This would precede the famous gold discovery of 1848 at Sutter’s Mill located near Coloma in northern California which is credited for being responsible for the California Gold Rush.

Oak of the Golden Dream  Oak of the Golden Dream 1

Mission San Buenaventura

Located near the present day downtown Ventura is the Mission San Buenaventura which was founded on March 31, 1782, it is named for Saint Bonaventure.  The Mission San Buenaventura is the 9th California Mission and the last one to be established by Father Junipero Serra who later died in 1784.  Fifty years earlier, Juan Cabrillo had landed near the present site and claimed the area for Spain.  It was originally intended that the Ventura Mission would have been built ten years earlier because it was geographically located approximately halfway between the San Diego Mission and the Carmel Mission but circumstances, such as the lack of military support for protection from the Native Americans and inadequate funds for building, caused it to be established much later than planned.

San Buenaventura - old photo

The first church burned down in 1793 and a small section is still standing.  The second church took 16 years to rebuild and it was completed in 1809, it is still in use as the local parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Then, supervised under the direction of Padre Cambon and with the labor of the Chumash Native Americans, an aqueduct system was built between 1805 and 1815 using the same techniques developed from the other California Missions.  The source of the water was the Ventura River located just north of the Mission and flowed into storage tanks waiting for distribution.  With a great abundance of water the Mission flourished with orchards of apple, pears, peaches, pomegranate, fig and olive trees and grape vineyard.  (Historical Note:  The two Norfolk Pines located at the front of the Mission were planted by a ship’s captain over 100 years ago in the hopes that a forest would eventually grow to provide wood for ship building)

After the Mexican government’s secularization of the California Missions in 1834, the San Buenaventura Mission was later obtained illegally by Don Jose Arnaz.  Later, during the Mexican-American War of 1846-47, a large U.S. Army battalion led by Major John Fremont encountered a small band of hostile locals near the Mission but the battalion managed to easily defeat them.  Then, after California became a state in 1850, the jurisdiction of the California Missions returned to the Catholic Church.

In 1857, the Fort Tejon earthquake hit the region and the Mission was severely damaged and the original terra cotta tile roof was replaced with a more modern shingle roof.  Additional changes came to the interior of the Mission church in 1893 when Father Cyprian Rubio supervised extensive renovations that sadly painted over the original artwork painted on the walls; he also covered the original tile floor of the church.  In the following years the city of Ventura grew and the Mission was soon surrounded by businesses and housing.

By 1921, the west sacristy was replaced with a parochial school for the local children, a rectory and convent were built and the roof of the church was retiled.  In the    During the 1950s, a major restoration to the Mission was supervised by father Aubrey O’Reilly and a concerted effort was made to return it to its former original appearance.  In the years that followed a new and larger school building was built and all that remains of the original Mission are the church and the garden.  Today, the San Buenaventura Mission continues to be an active local parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angles.

San Buenaventura - exterior 1  San Buenaventura - interior

Mission Trivia: As previously noted, the bells of the Missions played an important part in the daily lives of the padres and other residents.  The bells found today in the bell tower of San Buenaventura Mission were originally intended for the Santa Barbara Mission.  The north bell is inscribed S. San Francisco 1781, the east bell bears the inscription: San Pedro Alcantra 1781, the smaller south bell is Ave Maria S. Joseph and the largest bell at the top bears the inscription Ave Maria Pruysyma D Sapoyan Ano D 1825, it is the only bell that is used daily.  In addition, there are also two wooden bells in the museum that measure about two feet, these were the only wooden bells in the California missions.

This concludes Part One of the four part series on the California Missions.  In the series, l discuss all of 21 Missions moving from southern to northern California and starting with the first Mission located in San Diego to the San Buenaventura Mission in Part One, then from the Santa Barbara Mission to the San Miguel Arcangel in Part Two and from San Antonio de Padua to the Santa Cruz in Part Three and finally from the Santa Clara de Asis Mission to the most northern Mission San Francisco de Solano in Part Four.

Travel – Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty 1

The iconic Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States which was installed in New York Harbor almost one hundred and thirty years ago.  The Statue of Liberty has become a constant symbol of the American freedom and liberties offered to the many immigrants traveling by steerage passage from the far off shores of Europe to the promising land of a new world throughout the past centuries.  Over the last twenty years I have been researching my family’s genealogy and I can only imagine what a welcoming site it was when my maternal grandparents from Poland and my paternal grandparents from Italy accompanied by my father (as a young boy) arrived in the United States at nearby Ellis Island in the early 1900s. Many years later, on their honeymoon in New York City, my parents climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and looked out at the great city far below.

Statue of Liberty -  immigrants

 In this Travel post, I will discuss the construction and the history of the Statue of Liberty which took place in France and the construction of the pedestal which would be located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in the United States.  I will also discuss the history of the Statue of Liberty throughout the years.  So, let’s get started …

A brief history of the Statue of Liberty

Inspiration and design of the Statue of Liberty –

There are several theories as to when and where the idea for the Statue of Liberty was first proposed but all involve Edouard Rene de Laboulaye who was a French poet, author and anti-slavery activist during the time of the American Civil War.  After the war ended, Laboulaye became the president of the French Emancipation Committee which aided the newly freed slave in the United States.  He is credited for coming up with the idea of creating a monument to be a gift from the French people to the United States to show their support of the recent victory by the Union.  Laboulaye also felt that the monument would bring attention to the French fight for democracy under the repressive monarchy of Napoleon III.  At some point, Laboulaye collaborated with his friend Frederic Auguste Batholdi who was an accomplished sculptor but it would be several more years until the idea became a reality.

Bartholdi original sketch of the Statue of Liberty circa 1880  bartholdi-liberty-patent

When Laboulaye and Bartholdi felt the time was right to proceed with the idea, Bartholdi went to the United States to meet directly with President Ulysses Grant to offer a proposal for the monument.  He also traveled throughout the country meeting with other prominent and influential men to discuss the idea and gain support.  As Bartholdi arrived in New York City he took notice of a small island (Bedloe’s Island) in the harbor, which he found out later was owned by the United States government, and he felt that it would be the perfect site for the monument.  But once again, Laboulaye and Bartholdi decided to wait until they could gain more public support in both the United States and France.

Meanwhile, Laboulaye and Bartholdi were creating the monument’s design in which would convey the idea of American liberty.  Throughout the history of the United States the female figure of Columbia was used frequently, much like the figure of Marianne represented France and Britannia represented Britain.  Another female figure was the ancient goddess of freedom, Libertas, which was being used on American coins and was also depicted in the 1863 Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom which is placed on the dome atop the United States Capitol Building.  The figure of Libertas was also depicted in the Great Seal of France.  Laboulaye and Bartholdi decided that their statue of Libertas would measure over 151 feet in height and be draped in robes and holding a torch in her right hand to represent enlightenment.  Bartholdi designed the face to have an expression of calm and upon her head there was a crown with seven rays to represent the sun, the seven seas and the seven continents.  Originally the thought was to have the figure hold a broken chain but finally the decision was made to place it at her feet, it is almost hidden by her robes and somewhat difficult to see from the ground.  In her left hand the female figure holds a tablet to represent the value of the law and it is inscribed with “July IV MDCCLXXVI” to note the date the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.     

Staute of Liberty - torch

Statue of Liberty - chains  Statue of Liberty - tablet

Construction of the Statue of Liberty –

By 1875, with the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia about to open the following year, Laboulaye decided the time was right to announce the project and the Franco-American Union was formed to raise funds.  France would finance and build the statue and the United States would finance and built the pedestal on which it would be placed.  At this time the statue received an official name, “Liberty Enlightening the World” and the announcement generated a favorable response on both sides of the Atlantic.  To call even more attention to the project, Bartholdi planned to go ahead with fabricating the statue’s right arm holding the torch to be display at the Exposition.  Bartholdi consulted with his friend Eugene Viottet le Duc, an experienced architect and engineer, and it was decided that the masonry form of the statue would be covered with layers of copper panels less than an inch thick which would be applied by heating the metal and then hammering it into shape.  (It has been estimated that over 200,000 pounds of copper was needed to build the completed statue) 

Statue Of Liberty

As the date of the Exposition rapidly approached Bartholdi went to Philadelphia as a member of the French delegation and they brought a massive painting of the proposed completed statue and also the arm and torch that was barely finished in time to ship to Philadelphia.  After the exhibition closed, the arm and torch were moved to New York City to be displayed for several years while committees in New York, Boston and Philadelphia organized to raise the necessary funds to build the pedestal.  On March 2, 1877, on his last day in office President Grant signed a joint resolution to accept the statue from France.  The next day, the new incoming President Rutherford Hayes officially selected the site as Bedloe’s Island in the New York Harbor, which had been originally proposed by Bartholdi.

Statue of Liberty - arm holding the torch

After returning to Paris after the Exposition, Bartholdi oversaw the building of another portion of the figure from the head to the shoulders.  Construction took place once again at the Gaget, Gauthier & Co. warehouse, tickets were sold to the public to view the work progressing and lottery tickets were also sold for prizes such as silver plated and terracotta miniature models of the completed statue to raise funds.  By 1878, the head and shoulder section was completed and it went on display at the Paris World’s Fair to generate even more funds for the statue construction.

Statue of Liberty -  construction 2  Statue of Liberty - head displayed at the Paris Worlds Fair 1878

Then, in 1879, Viollet le Duc died and an innovative designer and builder named Gustave Eiffel was hired to complete the project.  At this time, Eiffel decided to construct an iron truss tower instead of the previous masonry support which had been used in constructing the arm and the torch.  The use of the interior iron structure would allow potential movement of the statue from the anticipated winds of the New York Harbor which could lead to possible cracking of the outer copper layer; the interior structure was attached to a center pylon for additional support with flat iron bars.  To prevent later corrosion between the copper exterior layer and the interior iron support structure Eiffel solved the problem by inserting a layer of asbestos and shellac between the two layers.  Within the structure, Eiffel also built two interior spiral staircases to provide access for future visitors to reach observation platforms in the crown and also the torch.  This change in design would allow the entire construction of the statue to be done in France and then disassembled, transported to New York and reassembled once the pedestal was completed on Bedloe’s Island.  (Sadly, Laboulaye died in 1883 and he was able to see his idea of the Statue almost fully completed in France but before it was sent to be formally presented to the United States)

Statue of Liberty -  construction 1  Statue of Liberty -  construction

Construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty –

In the following years, the United States had a difficult time coming up with the funds to build the pedestal.  Despite this fact, they went forward with the project and between 1807 and 1811 the foundation for the statue was built on Bedloe’s Island inside Fort Wood.  The base of the foundation which would be 15 feet deep and shaped as an eleven-point star and the pedestal would be aligned to the southeast so that the front of the statue would be facing the open Atlantic Ocean to be seen as ships entered the New York harbor.  Construction on the foundation began in 1883 and the pedestal cornerstone was laid in 1884.  Then, the New York committee commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design the pedestal, it was originally proposed to be 114 feet in height but because not enough money had been raised the height was reduced to 89 feet.  The pedestal design was also to be made of solid granite but, once again because of lack of funds, the finished pedestal would have concrete walls which were faced with 20 feet thick blocks of granite.  The pedestal is 62 feet square at the base and almost 40 feet at the top.  Each of the four sides had ten circular pieces positioned near the base of the pedestal that Bartholdi had originally proposed for the seals of the States of America, there were 38 at the time of construction, but this was not done.  At the top section of the pedestal on each side there is a balcony.

Final construction phase of the Statue of Liberty (joining the statue with the pedestal) –

Despite the fact that the pedestal had not been finished, the completed Statue of Liberty had been disassembled, grated and packed for transport from France aboard the French Navy ship, “Isere”, which arrived in New York on June 17, 1885.  With the arrival of the statue in the United States contributions suddenly poured in to finally allow the pedestal to be complete in April 1886.  Now the reconstruction of the statue could start and the iron framework designed by Eiffel was firmly anchored to the steel beams protruding from the pedestal.  Then, very carefully the slow process of attaching each section of the outer copper layers began.  Bartholdi had originally planned for floodlights to be attached on the torch’s balcony but this was vetoed by the Army Corps of Engineers because it was determined that the light would be too bright for approaching ships entering the harbor.  Instead, Bartholdi cut sections into the torch and placed the lights inside, then the torch was covered in gold leaf and a power plant was built on the island specifically to provide electricity for lighting the torch.  Once the statue was completely re-assembled on the pedestal, it was time for the official dedication. 

Isere arriving in New York Harbor with the crates containing the Statue of Liberty  Isere unloading the crates containing the Statue of Liberty for transport to Bedloe's Island

Dedication of the Statue of Liberty –

The dedication ceremony for the Statue of Liberty took place on October 28, 1886 a little over ten years after the original idea was conceived by Edouard Rene de Laboulaye.  The morning of the dedication started with a parade through the streets of New York City.  President Grover Cleveland presided over the parade and almost a millions people lined the streets watched the festivities.  When the parade reached Wall Street and passed by the New York Stock Exchange, the traders inside the building threw ticker tape from the windows, this was the very first “ticker-tape parade” and it started a New York tradition.  Then, in the afternoon President Cleveland boarded a yacht and left the docks in New York accompanied by a flotilla of other ships and boats to travel the short distance across the harbor to Bedloe’s Island for the official dedication ceremony.  Several speeches were given and then the French flag draped over the statue’s face was dropped prematurely and the crowds roared.  One of the final speakers at the dedication was President Cleveland who said in his speech that day; “let the stream of light pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world”.  Bartholdi was present that day at the dedication but he choose not to speak.    Unfortunately due to bad weather, the officially lighting of the torch took place a few days later on November 1.

June 1885  1886 painting by Edward Moran the Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World

Additional information regarding the Statue of Liberty –

Over the next decade, the copper color of the Statue of Liberty changed to verdigris; this was caused by atmospheric oxidation which changes the properties of the copper metal resulting in it turning a soft blue-green color.  Initially the decision was made to paint both the interior and exterior of the statue but upon further examination it was determine that the strength and integrity of the copper was not compromised.  The public protested against the exorbitant cost of repainting and also felt that the new verdigris color seemed to soften the statue’s sharp lines and made it even more beautiful.  The final decision was made that only the interior of the statue would be painted and the Corps of Engineers also took this time to install an elevator which would take visitors from the base to the top of the pedestal.

During World War I, an event that has become known as the Black Tom incident happened on July 30, 1916.  Several containers of dynamite and other explosives that were intended for shipment to Britain to aid in their war efforts were being stored close to Bedloe’s Island.  Mysteriously the containers detonated and it was later linked to German agents who were intent on stopping the ammunition from getting to their English enemies that had ignited the supply; seven people were killed in the explosion.   The Statue of Liberty had over $100,000 in damages which eventually required the torch staircase to the top platform to be permanently closed.  During the renovation process Gutzon Borglum, the man responsible for the building Mount Rushmore, designed a new stained glass torch which replaced the original copper one.  Also, an underwater power cable brought more power from the mainland to the island for the new floodlights placed along the walls of Fort Wood.  By December 2, 1916 the project was completed and President Woodrow Wilson officially pressed the switch to turn on the lights that would now beautifully illuminate the statue.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge declared the Statue of Liberty a National Monument under the Antiquities Act.  Then, in 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt transferred the administration of the Statue to the National Park Service (NPS).  A few years later, in 1937, the NPS took control of the entire Bedloe’s Island and Fort Wood was officially closed and the remaining military buildings were demolished.  The NPS closed the Statue to the public from May to December 1938 to take the opportunity for more renovations.  A set of new granite steps located to the rear of the Statue were constructed to create a new public entrance.  The rays from the Statue’s crown were also temporarily removed for the installation of new supports to be attached to replace the old rusted ones.  (Shown below in the photos are Bedloe’s Island circa 1927 and today)

1927 Bedloe's Island and Fort Wood

During World War II, the Statue of Liberty remained open to visitors but because of the required nighttime blackouts it was not illuminated.  Then, on D-Day (June 6, 1944) the lights of the Statue sent out the Morse code signals for V (victory) and on V-E Day (May 8, 1945) the Statue was once again illuminated for a few hours every night.

Statue of Liberty -  torch lite

In 1956, Bedloe’s Island was given the official name of Liberty Island through an Act of Congress; Bartholdi had suggested the name almost a century earlier.  Then, in 1965 the nearby Ellis Island was incorporated into the Statue of Liberty National Monument through a proclamation by President Lyndon Johnson and in 1972 the Immigration Museum located in the base of the Statue was opened in a ceremony attended by President Richard Nixon.  (In 1991, the museum moved from Liberty Island to Ellis Island)

Statue of Liberty - aerial

For the American Bicentennial, the Statue of Liberty had a more powerful lighting system installed in preparation for the festivities.  It also became one of the focal points of the National during the celebration with a parade of boats in New York Harbor on July 4, 1976 and later that night there was a spectacular display of fireworks.

Statue of Liberty -  American Bicentential celebration 1  Statue of Liberty -  American Bicentential celebration 2

Then, in anticipation of the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration coming up in 1986, a group of French and American engineers carefully examined both the interior and exterior structures of the Statue.  The Statue was found to have severe structural problems that need extensive repairs and a massive restoration was required.  An interesting fact was discovered during the inspection when it was determined that the head of the Statue had been originally installed two feet off center.  In May 1982, President Ronald Reagan announced the formation of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission Foundation which organized a variety of events and promotions to raise the $350 million dollars needed for the restoration project.

Statue of Liberty - construction on island

In, 1984, the Statue of Liberty was closed to the public for the duration of the restoration project and a free-standing scaffold was construction to aid in the repairs.  To start the project the Statue need a thorough cleaning and liquid nitrogen was used to remove several layers of interior paint which had been done over the years to prevent corrosion.  The work was difficult because of the toxic asbestos that Batholdi had originally used to provide insulation for the Statue and workers were required to wear protective gear with a breathing apparatus attached.  The exterior copper layer was cleaned with baking soda solution to remove a buildup of tar that had accumulated over the years and also holes that had developed in the outer copper layers were repaired.  The stained-glass torch designed by Borglum and installed in 1916 was found to be severely leaking and the decision was made to replace that torch with another one that would be an exact replica of the original Batholdi design and it would be covered with a layer 25-carat gold that today shines brightly in the daytime sun and when lighted at night.  The entire iron interior support structure designed by Eiffel was replaced and reinforced with stainless steel bars.  The floodlights at the base of the Statue were replaced and repositioned to highlight the various details of the Statue.  The public entrance build in the 1960s was altered to have a wider opening framed by a set of massive bronze doors and a new elevator was installed to provide handicapped access to the pedestal’s observation deck.

In celebration of the Statue of Liberty’s Centennial, three days of events would take place from July 3 to 6, 1986.  President Reagan presided over the rededication and the French President Francois Mitterrand was also in attendance for the festivities.  In his rededication speech President Reagan said, “We are the keepers of the flame of liberty and we hold it high for the world to see”.

Then, tragically with September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty and access to Liberty Island was immediately closed to the public.  Liberty Island reopened later at the end of 2001 but the pedestal and the statue remained closed to the public.  Several years later, in August 2004, the pedestal re-opened but the NPS announced that visitors access would be restricted to the Statue.  Eventually, by July 4, 2009, President Barrack Obama announced that the Statue would be re-opened to the public but that there would be limited access with only a certain number of people permitted to ascend to the crown each day.  

Statue of Liberty -  9-11

Recently, in October 2011, the Statue was once again closed for a year for the installation of new elevators and staircases.  Unfortunately, just one day after the reopening on October 28, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the East coast and as a precaution the Statue was closed again.  Although the Statue was not damaged in the hurricane, both Liberty Island and Ellis Island sustained damage to the docks used by the ferries to transport visitors to the islands.  The decision was made to close both Liberty Island and Ellis Island while the repairs were being done.  Finally, Liberty Island opened in time for the July 4, 2013 celebration and Ellis Island re-opened in October 2013.

Travel – St. Paul’s Cathedral

In honor of Sir Christopher Wren (born: October 20, 1632 died: February 25, 1723) this Travel post is about St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s architectural masterpiece and one of the most iconic churches in London, England.  I will begin by discussing the history of the Cathedral and give a brief tour of the interior of the building.  Then to concluded this post, I will briefly discuss the personal and professional life of Sir Christopher Wren who is also responsible for the building of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and a portion of Hampton Court Palace.

The History of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Dating back centuries ago, the Roman episcopal see (site of a religious leader’s principal church) was located in London on Tower Hill; recent archaeological excavation in 1999 may have revealed the remains of the church.  Then, moving forward a few centuries, a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Diana was possibly located at the site of the current St. Paul’s Cathedral but there has been no archaeological evidence found to support this theory.  Records indicate that approximately 604 AD the first Anglo-Saxon bishop of London established a church at the same site but it is uncertain what happened to the building after the country reverted back to paganism.  Several centuries passed and the main religion of the country was once again based in Christianity and a new church was built on the site but it was ultimately destroyed in a fire in 962 and rebuilt that same year.  Then, there was another fire in 1087 that severely damaged the existing church.

St Pauls - old photo 2

After the 1087 fire, the Normans began repairs to restore the church but unfortunately another fire slowed the restoration.  This church is now referred to as the “Old St. Paul’s” and building’s style of architecture changed from the previous Romanesque to Gothic.  During the reign of King Henry VIII, the ties with the Roman Catholic Church were severed and the newly formed Church of England was established.  King Henry gave the order that all Catholic and Protestant churches and monasteries properties were to be seized by the Crown and either sold or destroyed.  As a result of this order many interior and exterior religious ornamentation was removed from these buildings including St. Paul’s.  (Perhaps ironically, in 1561 lightning destroyed the 489 foot tall spire of St. Paul’s which was interpreted by Protestants and Roman Catholics as a sign from God indicating displeasure directed at the King and the newly formed Church of England)

By 1661, “Old St. Paul’s” was in a severe state of neglect and King Charles II had requested the advice on the extensive repairs required to restore the building from an upcoming architect named Christopher Wren.  Before any significant repairs were started, the Great Fire of London in 1666 swept through the city destroying everything in its path, it is said that in the aftermath of the devastating fire only a third of the buildings remained standing in London.  Following this crisis, Wren was now appointed by the King to oversee the rebuilding of over 50 churches including “Old St. Paul’s”.


The decision was made that “Old St. Paul’s” would be demolished in 1670 and a new larger cathedral would be built on the site.  Wren’s original design plans for the new cathedral changed several times during the lengthy planning process from a simple building shown in his first drawings in 1669 to a more elaborate design with a grand dome to reflect the importance of the building to the Church of England which were made possible the increase in the building funds through a recently implemented coal tax.  The new St. Paul’s Cathedral was officially completed in 1711.

St Pauls - panorama

Several centuries passed, until the next significant event in the history of St. Paul’s occurred.  On May 7, 1913 St. Paul’s narrowly missed being destroyed by an act of aggression when a bomb was found in the east end of the church under the Bishop’sThrone placed there by members of the Suffragettes.  At this time in history, women in England were literally fighting for the right to vote and unfortunately the actions of the Suffragette organization used to achieve this goal turned violent with various forms of aggressive acts including burning and later bombing of buildings.  Luckily the bomb found in St. Paul’s was able to be defused and ultimately several years later in 1928 the Representation of the People Act gave the right for women to vote.        

Then, during World War II, German military planes attacked England in a series of devastating bombings which became known at the Blitz.  On the night of December 29, 1940 the German planes destroyed the area surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the building miraculously survived!  A famous photograph by Herbert Mason was taken the morning after the attack and was featured on the front page of the Daily Mail.  The picture, which became known as “St. Paul’s Survives”, shows the dome of the Cathedral illuminated by the searchlights with the smoke from the burning buildings rising into the sky. 

St Pauls - Blitz bombing newspaper

A Brief Tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Christopher Wren in a Baroque style of architecture and is built on Ludgate Hill which is the highest point in London.  The Cathedral building is 574 feet long and 227 feet wide, the two bell towers are 212 feet high and the spectacular dome is 365 feet high.

The ground of Ludgate Hill was formed of soft clay soil and this was a considerable challenge for Wren when he was planning and designing the rebuilding of St. Paul’s in the late 17th century.  To support the massive Cathedral a large area was excavated, this would eventually become the crypt.  Inside this part of the Cathedral large piers were erected to support and evenly distribute the weight of the new Cathedral.

Exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral –

The magnificent Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is constructed with layers consisting of the exterior dome and the decorative interior dome.  Between the exterior and the interior domes is a brick cone 18 inches thick which provides support for the heavy leaded exterior dome and the stone lantern at the top.   To provide additional support for the exterior dome, Wren designed a series of columns which create an open colonnade that encircles the base of the exterior dome allowing it to soar to the height of 95 feet, the columns also serve to support the inner dome and the brick cone located inside the building to support the Lantern section.  The 850 ton Lantern rises above the dome in several sections; the first section is square in shape, the second section is the tallest and is formed with four columns each facing in the direction the main points of a compass and the third section is topped with a small dome which rises into a golden ball and cross.  In 1708, Christopher Wren, Sr. was 76 years old and unable to place the final stone of the Lantern so it was done by his son Christopher Wren, Jr. who had also become an architect and assisted his father in the final stages of building St. Paul’s.  (Special Note: Several centuries later, in 1996 an extensive restoration project of St. Paul’s dome involving copper, lead and slate work and it took 15 years to complete and was finished in June 2011)

St Pauls - exterior 1

The West Front of St. Paul’s is considered the main entrance and has a columned portico which is topped by an upper columned colonnade; it is topped by the pediment which features a bas-relief sculpture known as the Conversion of St. Paul by Francis Bird.  Above the pediment is the statue of Saint Paul in the center with statues of Saint James and Saint Peter on either side.  Two Baroque-style bell towers, known as the West Towers, frame the portico on either side.  The southwest tower holds the clock known as “Big Tom”; made by John Smith and installed in 1893, the bell connected to the clock is known as “Great Tom”.  The northwest tower holds a set of 12 bells, the largest is known as the “Great Paul” bell originally cast in 1882, it the largest bell in England and weights almost 17 tons.

St Pauls - west front

Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral –

As visitors enter St. Paul’s Cathedral they will see the 30 feet high Great West Door which is only opened for special occasions.  After passing through the vestibule, to the left is the Chapel of St. Dunstan dedicated to the former Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury and located near the northwest door is the All Soul’s Chapel dedicated to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener and all the British serviceman who lost their lives in World War I.  To the right is the Chapel of St. Michael and St. George and located near the southwest door is the Geometrical Staircase.  (Shown below is a photo of the Geometrical Staircase and it may look familiar to fans of the Harry Potter movies.  Check out the interesting facts sections below to find out more information!)

Located directly ahead is the Nave which is 223 feet long and 121 feet wide with a ceiling that soars to the height of 91 feet.  The black and white marble floor was laid by William Dickinson and completed in 1710.  Several piers decorated with Corinthian pilasters separate the Nave from the north and the south aisles.  Special Note: Located halfway down the north aisle is the Wellington Monument.  (More information about the Wellington Monument can be found in the interest facts section later in this post) 

Wellington Mounment

At the end of the Nave there is a wide area that bisects this part of the Cathedral forming a cross which was commonly used in the design of churches throughout the years, this area measures approximately 246 feet wide from the North Transept to the South Transept.  One item of note is located in the North Transept and it is the Italian marble baptismal Font which dates back to 1727.  Then, in the South Transept visitors can access two sets of stairs, one leads down into the Crypt and the other staircase allows visitors to climb to the Whispering Gallery for one of the best views of the Dome, there are 259 steps from the floor of the Nave to the Whispering Gallery.  For the more adventurous visitors, they can climb 117 steps further to the Stone Gallery which goes round the outside of the Dome and then an additional 166 steps to the Golden Gallery into the Lantern located at the top of the Dome.  (Shown below are two photos; the first is taken from the center of St. Paul’s looking back toward the Nave and the second is looking forward to the choir and the high altar)

Center - looking back at the NaveCenter - looking towards the nave

As visitors look down from the Whispering Gallery they will see the flooring of the Cathedral in the Transept area directly below the Dome, it is decorated with an intricate pattern made with colored marble ti

les.  At the center is a large brass grill which had an interesting function during the 19th century, it was used for heating St. Paul’s.  Stoves were lit in the Crypt area below the main floor and hot air would rise up through the metal grating and heat this area of St. Paul’s, other similar but small grates can be found in other areas of the Cathedral.  Circling the grate is a section of flooring with a Latin inscription which pays tribute to the builder of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren.  (Below is a photo of the Transept area as seen from the Whispering Gallery)

Whispering Gallery

From the Transept area of the Cathedral, visitors can look up to see the great Dome of St. Paul’s and at almost 65,000 tons it is one of the largest in the world.  The magnificent Dome of St. Paul’s raises high above the main floor of the Cathedral supported by eight piers made of Dorset stone with eight arches used to evenly disperse the weight of the massive dome, located within the niches are several statues.  The interior Dome features a beautiful fresco painting by James Thornhill which depicts eight scenes from the life of St. Paul; it was started in 1716 and completed three years later in 1719.  The upper area of the Dome is lit by openings in the outer Dome and the brick cones which are both used to support the weight of the interior Dome.  At the apex of the Dome is an oculus, a round opening, and through which visitors will be able to see the decorated interior cone that supports the Lantern.

St Pauls - dome

For this tour of St. Paul’s, we are going to take a side trip down into the Crypt which can be access through a staircase in the South Transept.  As visitors enter the Crypt, overhead is a carving that depicts the faces of death which is a grim reminder that this section of the Cathedral is a burial place.  The St. Paul’s Crypt is the largest one in Europe and visitors will find numerous tombs: such as those of Christopher Wren, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson.  In the farthest section of the Crypt is the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire and it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1960.  Also located in the Crypt is the Treasury Room which displays some of the items that have been used within the Cathedral over the centuries and a small gift shop for those visitors wishing to buy souvenirs.

St Pauls - crypt

Back to the main floor of the Cathedral, we will continue the tour into eastern portion of the building where the Quire, the Choir, High Altar and the Apse are located.  The Quire forms the upper portion of the cross shape of the building and it is the most elaborately decorated area of the Cathedral.  As visitors proceed into the Quire, please be sure to look up to the beautiful ceiling which is a series of three smaller domes which depict creation and is created with intricate mosaics of birds, fishes, cattle and other animals of the earth. A frieze surrounding the ceiling of the Quire depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with several more animals; such as tigers, lions, panthers and peacocks.

The Choir area of the Cathedral holds the beautiful carved organ and wooden stalls used by the clergy and the choir during the religious service.  The large organ located near the Transepts was commissioned with Bernard Smith and installed in 1695.  It is one of the largest organs in England with a console of five keyboards and there are 138 stops that operate 7,189 pipes, the working of the organ are enclosed in a wooden case designed by Wren and wonderfully carved by the famous Grinling Gibbons.  Also located in the Choir area is the brass eagle lectern made by Jacob Sutton in 1719 and on the other side is a carved oak pulpit which was installed in 1964 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the Cathedral.  The Choir Stalls were also carved in oak by Grinling Gibbons and the Bishop’s Throne is decorated with carved wooden floral garlands, winged cherubs and the arms of the Bishop. 

St Pauls - organ

Located near the High Altar are the Tijou Gates and balustrades created in an intricate design of wrought iron by the French metal worker Jean Tijou.  The High Altar is based on original sketches by Wren and featured in this 20th century version is the beautifully carved slab of Italian marble that weighs nearly four tons and was commissioned by the British people after the previous one was damaged in the German Blitz, it is a memorial to those that lost their lives in World War II.  Placed on the High Altar is a large cross that stands nearly 10 feet tall with a silver enameled base embellished with amethyst and flanked by two five feet tall gilded candlesticks.  The High Altar is covered by a large carved oak canopy that was installed in 1958.  (Special Note: Located in the south Choir aisle in the Lady Chapel is a statue of poet John Donne which is the only item from the “Old St. Paul’s” that survived the Great Fire of 1666.  

altar Interesting facts about St. Paul’s Cathedral

  • “Borrow from Peter to pay Paul” – One explanation of this old English saying goes back to before King Henry VII broke ties with the Catholic Church of Rome to form the Church of England.  It is said that in order to pay the church taxes to St. Paul’s in London the funds were not paid to St. Peter’s in Rome.  Another explanation originated back to the 16th century when the money intended for St. Peter’s in Westminster was used to pay for repairs to St Paul’s in London.
  • Christopher Wren tomb – Sir Christopher Wren the English architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral is buried in the Crypt.  On the wall next to the grave there is a plaque written in Latin that reads: “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723”.  This same epitaph is repeated in the flooring of the Transept area as previously mentioned.  (For more information about the personal and professional life of Sir Christopher Wren, please see the last section of this post)

St Pauls - Christopher Wren 1  St Pauls - Christopher Wren 2

  • Lord Horatio Nelson tomb – Lord Nelson (September 29, 1758 – October 21, 1805) Vice Admiral of the British Navy died heroically at the Battle of Trafalgar and he is buried in the center of the crypt directly beneath the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  His funeral procession had over 32 admirals and an escort of 10,000 servicemen who progressed through the streets of London to St. Paul’s, he was buried within a stone sarcophagus that was originally carved for Cardinal Wolsey.  The sailors that were in charge of folding the flag that covered Nelson’s coffin and then placing it in the grave instead tore it into fragments to keep as a memento.

St Pauls - Nelson

  • Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington tomb – Wellington (May 1, 1769 – September 14, 1852) the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was given a state funeral which is normally reserved for British Royalty but on occasion a high ranking British subject can be given the honor.  It is said that almost 1 million people watched the Duke’s funeral procession to St Paul’s before he was interred in a luxulyanite (a type of granite) sarcophagus.  Wellington’s final resting place was decorated with banners from various European countries which were specially made for his funeral procession, during World War I the banner of Prussia was removed and never replaced.  Located between the Nave and the North Aisle of St Paul’s is a massive bronze and stone memorial was sculpted by Alfred Stevens and features at the top a figure of Wellington on his horse and farther before two sets of statues representing valor defeating cowardice, truth over falsehood.

St Pauls - Wellington

  • Sir Winston Churchill memorial – The State funeral for Sir Winston Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on January 30, 1965, it was broadcast both on radio and television in England.  There is a bronze memorial plaque that marks the spot in St. Paul’s at the Quire steps where the catafalque was placed during the funeral service, it was designed by John Skelton.  There is also the Winston Churchill Memorial Screen located in the crypt, it was designed and made by the blacksmith James Horrobin in 2004.  Churchill’s final resting place is not within St. Paul’s but at St Martin’s Church in Bladon in Oxfordshire, England, located nearby is Churchill’s birthplace and ancestral home of Blenheim Palace.  (For more information about Blenheim Palace, please click on the link)

Churchill funeral 1a

  • 1981 Royal Wedding – Charles, Prince of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer in a grand Royal Wedding on July 29 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral, it became known as the “wedding of the century”.  Since it was the marriage of the heir to the British throne St. Paul’s was chosen as the venue instead of the Westminster Abbey because it would hold the 3,500 guests.  (For more information regarding the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana the Princess of Wales, please click on the link to Royal Weddings – Part Four post)

Royal Wedding

  • Mary Poppins – St. Paul’s Cathedral was featured in several scenes in Disney’s 1964 film, “Mary Poppins”.  At the beginning of the movie, Mary Poppins is seen flying over the city of London and the beautiful dome of St. Paul’s designed by Wren is shown dominating the skyline. Then, in another scene, Mary Poppins holds a snow globe that features a miniature St. Paul’s Cathedral and she is about to tell the children the story of the Bird Woman who sells crumbs for “tuppence a bag”.  As she begins singing the song, “Feed the Birds”, the scene changes from the Bank’s house to the top of St. Paul’s and pans down the front of the church to the Bird Woman sitting on the steps surrounded by the birds she is feeding.  (For more information on Mary Poppins – the book, movie and play, please click on the link)

practicallyperfect  Mary-Poppins-St Pauls snowglobe
mary-poppins-feed-the-birds 1Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – The third movie in the Harry Potter series of films is the 2004 “Prisoner of Azkaban”.  The Warner Brother’s film features the Geometric Staircase which is located in the South West Bell Tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  In the movie, the students of Hogwart’s need to climb to the top of the “Divination Staircase” to gain access to Professor Trelawney’s Divination classroom.  (For more information about the Harry Potter book series, please click on the link to J.K. Rowling)

St. Pauls - Harry Potter Divination Stairwell

The Personal and Professional Life of Sir Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren (October 20, 1632 – February 25, 1723) the acclaimed architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral also designed the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and a portion of Hampton Court Palace as well as overseeing the rebuilding of 52 churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666.


Christopher Wren was born in East Knoyle in Wiltshire, England.  His father, Christopher Wren Sr., was a rector in East Knoyle and his mother was Mary Cox who died when Wren was a small boy.  In March 1635, Wren Sr. became the Dean of Windsor and they spent part of each year there.  Little is known about Wren’s early education except that he was tutored by Rev. William Shepherd and possibly attended the Westminster School, he also studied mathematics under the guidance of his brother-in-law, Dr. William Holder.

In June 1650, Wren entered Wadham College in Oxford where he studied a variety of subjects such as Latin, mathematics and science. Wren graduated in 1651 with a B.A. and a M.A. in 1653.  In 1657, Wren became a Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College located in London and later a Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford.  Wren also continued to meet with a group of mathematics, scientists and philosophers that he had meet through his association with John Wilkins, the Warden of Wadham College.  By 1660, these weekly meetings eventually evolved into the beginning of the Royal Society of London and in 1662 they were granted a royal charter by King Charles II.  Wren played an important role in the early years of the organization due to his expertise on a variety of subjects (ranging from general medicine, astronomy, meteorology and mechanics) which was helpful in motivating the exchange of ideas between the various groups of scientists.

Wren had been developing an interest in architecture as a form of applied mathematics since his years as a student in Oxford.  Then in 1661, through his connection with the Royal Society, King Charles II became aware of Wren’s work and he requested his advice on the extensive repairs that St. Paul’s Cathedral required after many years of neglect.  Coincidentally, during a trip to Paris, France in 1665, Wren became inspired by the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous Italian architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.  It was shortly after returning home from Paris that the city of London was almost entirely destroyed by the Great Fire of September 1666.  Wren was appointed by the King to oversee the rebuilding of 51 churches and one of those was the great St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In regards to Wren’s architectural career, St. Paul’s Cathedral took about 36 years from the start of the rebuilding in 1667 to its completion in 1711.  Wren left the teaching profession and was now a fully established architect.  Other major architectural commissions included the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (1675-76), the Wren Library at Trinity College in Cambridge (1676-84), the Chelsea Hospital (1682-92) the reconstruction of the state rooms at Windsor Castle, a new chapel and Queen’s apartments at Whitehall (1685-87), various rooms at Kensington Palace (1689-96) and a large addition to Hampton Court (1689-1700).  In addition, Wren was appointed Surveyor the Greenwich Naval Hospital in 1696 and the Surveyor of Westminster Abbey in 1698.

On a personal note, Wren waited until the age of 37 before he married Faith Coghill in 1669, they had two children.  Gilbert was born in 1672 but died at the age of 18 months old and Christopher was born in 1675 but sadly later that same year Faith died of smallpox.  Christopher was sent to live with Faith’s mother in Oxfordshire for a period of time.  Then, in 1677 Wren married Jane Fitzwilliam and they had two children, a daughter named Jane born in 1677 and died in 1702 and a son William born in 1679.  His second marriage was also very brief and Jane died of tuberculosis in 1680.  In lieu of salary owed for part of his work on the building of St. Paul’s, Wren was given a home near Hampton Court and he also leased a house located on St. James Street in London.  Wren died at the age of ninety-one at his home in London and he is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Travel – Yosemite National Park (Part Two)

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is located in the state of California on the western portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains ranging in elevation from 2,127 to 13,114 feet.  The park covers almost 1190 square miles but most of the 3.5 million annual visitors spend the majority of their time in the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley.  Visitors to Yosemite National Park will see the majestic El Capitan and Half Dome granite formations and a several waterfalls, such as Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall, the beautiful open space of Tuolumne Meadows and the massive giant sequoia trees of the Mariposa Grove.

In Part One, of the two part series on Yosemite National Park, I discussed the history of the park throughout the years, please click on the link to Yosemite National Park (Part One).  In Part Two, I will discuss Yosemite visitor information and give a list of suggested places to see and things to see and do.

Yosemite National Park Visitor Information

Tips and suggestions for planning a visit to the park

  • I always recommend when visiting any of our National Parks, it is a good idea to start at the Visitor Center where visitors can get maps, brochures, hiking permits and current weather information or road closures.  Also be sure to check the schedule of Ranger presentations or guided hikes which are a great source of information about the park.

Yosemite Visitor Center

  • For general information on Yosemite National Park please click on the link to their website for the most accurate information regarding Visitor Center hours, wilderness permits, road closures or other park restrictions.
  • Once you have determined the time of year you will be visiting the park, be sure to make reservations as far in advance as possible especially during the summer months, Memorial Day to Labor Day.  (Please click on the individual hotel and cabin accommodations website links mentioned in this post for more specific information regarding prices and availability)
  • Yosemite National Park has several campgrounds and reservations are required from March through November.  Campground reservations can be made up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. Be aware that nearly all reservations for the months of May through September are filled the first day they become available.  Click on the link for more complete information.
  • When visiting Yosemite Valley consider parking the car at your hotel, cabin or campground and take the readily available Yosemite shuttle buses which stop at all the major sites in the Valley. 
  • Bikes are another great alternative driving your car and an excellent way to avoid traffic congestion in the Valley especially during the summer months.  You can bring your own bikes or rentals are also available, there are 12 miles of paved trails in the Valley, be sure to bring bike locks.  Please be advised that mountain biking off the trails is not allowed.
  • Rock Climbing has become an important part of the history of Yosemite; El Capitan is one of the most challenging mountains in the world.  Various companies in the Valley offer a variety of classes from novice to experienced climbers.  (For more information about El Capitan can be found later in this post)
  • There are over 800 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite National Park ranging from easy trails that take under an hour, medium trails that can take a couple of hours  and strenuous trails that can be a multiple day backpack adventure such as the John Muir Trail (which require a wilderness permit).  Be prepared and check out the trails in advance, information is available at any of the park’s visitor centers.  (obviously multi-day backpack trips are for the more experienced hikers and will take much more preparation, such as obtaining bear-resistant food storage containers.)
  • When hiking stay on established trails, observe posted warning signs, carry water to stay hydrated and bring along snacks, stop occasionally and rest in the shade; and eat salty snacks.

Places to see in Yosemite National Park

Wawona Tunnel View –

Most visitors that come to Yosemite National Park arrive in Yosemite Valley through the Wawona Tunnel via California Highway 140 (El Portal Road).  The Wawona Tunnel built through solid granite was completed in 1933 is 4,233 feet long making it the longest tunnel in California.  After passing through the tunnel, visitors should stop at the Tunnel View Overlook for a wonderful view of Yosemite Valley.  As you look out into the Valley from the overlook El Capitan is to the left, to the right is Bridalveil Fall and at the far end of the Valley is Half Dome.

Yosemite Valley 1

Yosemite Valley –

Yosemite Valley is the destination for most visitors coming to Yosemite National Park, it is open year-round.  The numerous activities in the Valley include hiking the various trails, rafting down the Merced River, biking, horseback riding, rock climbing and ranger-led nature walks.

El Capitan –

El Capitan is the granite monolith (a large single vertical rock formation) located at the north-west end of Yosemite Valley; it is 3,000 feet from base to summit.  The Ahwanhneechee Native Americans called it “Totokonoolah” and the Mariposa Battalion translated the name into El Capitan.  (Historic Fact: The Mariposa Battalion came to the area in 1851 and they were given the ominous task of removing the Native Americans from Yosemite Valley)

El Capitan

El Capitan is a popular destination for rock climbers, there is also a trail located near Yosemite Falls that can be used to reach the summit.  El Capitan was once considered impossible to climb until 1958 when a trio of climbers named Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore reached the summit of an area known as “The Nose” in 47 days using rope, pitons and expansion bolts.  Throughout the years other routes on the face of El Capitan were created and also new techniques and equipment were developed to make the ascent times faster.

Yosemite National Park Trivia:  El Capitan was used as the filming location for the 1989 “Star Trek – the Final Frontier” movie.  The scene shows Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, on shore leave from the Starship Enterprise scaling the face of El Capitan, he loses his grip on the mountain and starts to plummet to the ground but is saved by Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy.  Shatner trained for several weeks on the Paramount lot for the close-up shots and stunt doubles for the long shots.  For the scene of Spock floating in the air in his levitation boots as he talks to Captain Kirk, Nimoy stood on top of a crane.

El Capitan and Captain Kirk in Star Trek movie Final Frontier

Bridalveil Fall –

Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall visitors will see upon entering Yosemite Valley, it is located in the south-west area of the Valley.  Bridalveil Fall is 620 feet in height and in the spring the fall usually runs very full but later in the year it slows to a small trickle.  From the parking lot, there is a paved trail to reach the base of the fall and the viewing platform; use caution when reaching the base, the paved trail can be very wet and slippery.  HAZARD WARNING: DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAIL TO CLIMB THE ROCKS AT THE BASE OF THE WATERFALL!!

Bridal Veil Falls

Yosemite Falls –

Yosemite Falls is located at a point midway through the Yosemite Valley on the north-side; the total length is 2,425 feet from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.  The waterfall plunges from Yosemite Creek to the floor of the valley; the Upper Yosemite Fall is 1,430 feet, the Middle Cascades is a section with five separate plunges for a total of 675 feet and the Lower Yosemite Falls is 320 feet.  The Yosemite Creek continues from the base of the waterfall and flows into the Merced River that runs through the length of the Valley.  HAZARD WARNING: DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAIL TO CLIMB THE ROCKS AT THE BASE OF THE WATERFALL!!

Yosemite Falls 2

Half Dome –

Half Dome is the granite dome located at the east end of Yosemite Valley, the summit rises 4,737 feet.  Much like El Capitan at the other end of the Valley, Half Dome was thought to be impossible to climb.  In 1875, George Anderson was able to climb to the summit by constructing a path by drilling and then placing iron bolts into the granite “back” or east side.  Today, visitors hike the 8.2 mile Mist Trail, past Vernal and Nevada Falls, to reach the base of Half Dome.  Then visitors climb the rounded east side via a set of steel cables to reach the summit, the cables are fixed with bolts on a series of metal poles leading from the base to the summit and are installed from late May to early October.  Permits need to be arranged in advance before entering the park, a ranger will check permits on the trail and hikers without the proper permit will not be allowed beyond the base.  Hikers caught bypassing the rangers will fined or receive possible jail time.

Half Dome  Half Dome - warning 2

Half Dome - cables


Native American Legend:  The Ahwahneechee Native Americans called Half Dome by another name, “Tis-sa-ack”.  The legend goes that Tissaack, a Native American woman and her husband Nangas lived far away from Yosemite on the Great Plains of America.  The couple traveled to Yosemite over the rugged terrain of the Sierra Mountains until finally arriving a few days later in Yosemite Valley.  But when they arrived, Nangas was feeling thirsty, hungry and short tempered, and he unexpectedly struck Tissaack and she became frightened and ran eastward back through the Valley to get away from him.  The gods were looking down on the couple that was disturbing the peace of the Valley and intended for them to stop; as a result the gods changed Nangas into the rock formation known today as Washington Column and Tissaack into Half Dome.  It is said the dark streaks on the face of Half Dome are the tears of Tissaack but they are in fact patches of brown lichens that has formed in the dark vertical grooves of the rock formation.

Half Dome 1

Vernal Fall / Nevada Fall –

The Mist Trail which travels along a path that takes visitors past two waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls.  The trail can sometimes be a strenuous climb to the top and sections of the trail can be closes during late fall and winter depending on snow and icy conditions.  The first section of the trail starts at the Happy Isle parking lot and is paved to the Vernal Fall footbridge.  The trail can get very crowded in the summer months, keep to the right climbing up and the left climbing down.  From the footbridge visitors will have a good view of Vernal Fall, then proceed up a steep 600 step granite stairway, but be careful because the pathway can be wet and slippery from the spray of the waterfall.  At the top of Vernal Fall, visitors can look straight down the length of the 317 foot waterfall.

Just past Vernal Fall is Emerald Pool, please keep in mind that it is dangerous to swim in the pool due to the extremely hazardous current as the water moves down from Nevada Fall and continues down to Vernal Fall.  As the Mist Trail continues the steep and rocky switchbacks that climb another 1.5 miles up to Nevada Fall.  There is a footbridge at the top that crosses Nevada Fall as it thunders down 594 feet.  There are several options that can be accessed from this part of the trail.  Visitors can return down the same route in which they climb up (2.5 miles) or they can join the John Muir Trail for an alternate route back to Yosemite Valley (4 miles).


Curry Village –

Curry Village has a very long history in the Yosemite Valley; it was originally founded in 1899 by David and Jennie Curry.  When the couple, who were two schoolteachers from Indiana, decided to visit the park they found that they could barely afford the transportation and the park lodgings.  So, as a result of their dilemma they established Camp Curry in 1899 which started as several canvas tents and a communal dining room for their guests.  Not only was Camp Curry the most affordable accommodation within the Yosemite Valley but the Curry’s thought that entertainment was also a key to their success.  So, throughout the years Camp Curry has featured a dance hall, nightly movies, a soda fountain, a swimming pool during the spring and summer months and an ice skating rink in the winter but the most famous nightly entertainment was the Yosemite FireFall.  The dozen tents expanded into over a hundred and additional wooden cabins were also built and later the dance hall was converted into the Stoneman House lodge with 18 rooms.  For more information about the Camp Curry facility and activities or to book a reservation for a stay in Yosemite Valley, please click on the link to their website at

Camp Curry Curry Village - tents

Historical Note: The Yosemite Firefall was a nightly summer time event that began in 1872 and for almost one hundred years, interrupted only during the World War II, until the event continued until 1968.  From the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, the owner of the Glacier Point Hotel would start the event on the signal “Let the fire fall” from David Curry, the owner of Curry Village that was located 3,000 below in Yosemite Valley.  Hot embers from a huge bonfire at Glacier Point would be pushed off the edge giving the appearance of a glowing waterfall in the night as the “Indian Love Call” song was played creating a very dramatic mood; the spectacle would conclude the evening program at Camp Curry.  In the mid-1960s, the National Park Service was in the midst of changing their policy to eliminate unnatural activities from the parks and the order was given to stop the nightly Yosemite Firefall.  Not only was it a potentially dangerous activity but the surrounding meadows near Camp Curry would be trampled every night with visitors gathering to catch a glimpse of the event.  A year after the last Firefall in January 1968, the Glacier Point Hotel was standing vacant due to sustained damage from an unusually heavy snowfall that winter and an electrical fire in July 1969 burned down the hotel and it was never rebuilt.

Curry Camp - Firefall 2

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls –

Formerly known as the Yosemite Lodge, the name was changed in the mid 2000s to reflect the hotel’s close proximity to Yosemite Falls located just 0.5 miles away.  “The Lodge” is a moderately priced hotel with a total of 249 rooms spread out across the property in 15 separate buildings which are named after various flowers and trees that can be found in Yosemite National Park.  The hotel was once a larger complex but the devastating flood of the Merced River in January 1997 destroyed over half of the pre-existing rooms and cabins.  (Travel Tip: Book hotel reservations as far in advance as possible especially if a visit is planned during the busy summer months)  To book a room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, please click on the link to their website at

Yosemite Lodge - entrance

Ahwanhee Hotel –

The Ahwanhee Hotel is the premiere grand hotel in Yosemite National Park; it is the highest priced accommodations in the park with 123 beautifully decorated rooms in the hotel and 24 luxury cabins.  To book a room at the Ahwanhee, please click on the link to their website at  (For more information regarding the history of the Ahwanhee Hotel and the annual Bracebridge which is held at the hotel every Christmas season since 1927, please click on the link)

Ahwahnee Lodge 1

Tuolumne Grove –

Tuolumne Grove is a small group of sequoia trees(Sequoiadendron giganteum) located near Crane Flat on Tioga Road (CA HWY 120) in Yosemite National Park, about 16 miles west of the Yosemite Valley.  Although its location is closer to the Valley than Mariposa Grove in the southern part of the park, the Tuolumne Grove is definitely less crowded for a more quiet experience for visitors.

Tenaya Lake –

Tenaya Lake is an alpine lake in north-east part of Yosemite National Park and it is about 50 miles from Yosemite Valley; travel time on the mountainous Tioga Road can take almost an hour and a half.  Tenaya Lake is at an elevation of elevation of 8,150 feet and was initially formed many centuries ago by ancient glaciers moving through the region.  History notes that the lake was named for Chief Tenaya, the leader of the Ahwanhneechee Native Americans and it is on the shores of the lake that he met the Mariposa Brigade.

Tenaya Lake

Tuolumne Meadows –

Tuolumne Meadows in located in the north-east part of Yosemite National Park and it is about 54 miles from Yosemite Valley; travel time on Tioga Road is about an hour and a half.  Tuolumne Meadow is a large alpine meadow which located at an elevation of 8,619 feet and is surrounded by the Cathedral Range to the north and Lembert Dome to the north.  In the winter the snowmelt sometimes floods the meadow turning the area into a temporary lake and in the late spring this brings a profusion of wildflowers with the Tuolumne River winding through the meadow.

  Tuolemne Meadows 1

Tuolumne Meadows offers visitors an alternative to the sometimes crowded Yosemite Valley during the months from May to October with numerous opportunities for easy day hikes and rock climbing.  In the winter Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road can be closed in the winter due to snow.  Travel Advisory: For visitors traveling in late fall and winter should check in advance for road closures.

Tioga Pass –

Tioga Pass is located in the north-east part of Yosemite National Park; it is the highest California State Highway (120) that passes through the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of 9,943 feet.  The Tioga Pass entrance to the park is subject to closures in late fall to winter due to heavy snowfall, visitors should check in advance if traveling in the area.

Tioga Road

Glacier Point –

Glacier Point is located in the south-central part of Yosemite National Park with an elevation of 7,214 feet, it is 30 miles from Yosemite Valley and a one hour drive.  From Glacier Point visitors are able to look down into Yosemite Valley, it is approximately 3,200 feet below to the Valley floor.  Curry Village can be seen directly below and there are spectacular views of Yosemite Fall and El Capitan to the left with Half Dome, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall to the right.  Glacier Point can be reached by car or bus and the road is usually open from June to October.  Visitors can also climb the Four Mile Trail from the Yosemite Valley up to Glacier Point, the trail is considered strenuous.  In the winter the Glacier Point Road is closed and the Four Mile Trail can be extremely hazardous when covered with snow and ice. 

Glacier Point - left

Wawona Hotel –

The Wawona Hotel is located in the southern part of Yosemite National Park; it is about 26 miles from Yosemite Valley and an hour and fifteen minute drive.  The Wawona Hotel is also located 4 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park that is accessed via California State Highway 41 from Fresno.  The Wawona Hotel was built in 1876 in a Victorian style with a veranda wrapping around the first and second floors.   The hotel was originally built to accommodate visitors to the Mariposa Grove and later an addition was built in 1916 as tourism increased.  The hotel has 104 guest rooms which have no telephones or televisions, what a novel idea!  To book a room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, please click on the link to their website at

Wawona Lodge 1

Within walking distance to the Wawona Hotel are several trails that are used in the spring to fall seasons, cross-country skiing and snowshoe paths are available in the winter.  Located across the highway from the hotel is a golf course which has been operating since 1918, it is one of the few golf courses within any National Park.  The golf course is open from spring to fall.

Pioneer Yosemite History Center –

The Pioneer Yosemite History Center is located a short distance from the Wawona Hotel.  The Center is a collection of several historic buildings that were move there from previous locations in Yosemite National Park, such as the Wawona Covered Bridge and the Hodgdon Homestead Cabin.  The Center is a wonderful place for visitors to explore and the buildings are usually open Wednesday to Sunday during the summer, it is an outdoor museum with interpretive signs and a self-guide brochures.  Also in the summer there are living history demonstrations and stagecoach rides on the weekends.

Pioneer History Center

Mariposa Grove –

Mariposa Grove is a group of several giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) located near the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, almost 30 miles from Yosemite Valley.  Both the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley were first protected by the Yosemite Grant, which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in June 1864.

Here is a list of some of the sequoia trees found in the Mariposa Grove:

  • The Grizzly Giant – The Grizzly Giant tree is the oldest tree in the Mariposa grove, it is between 1900-2400 years old.  The Grizzly Giant is 210 feet tall with a diameter of 30 feet at the base.

Mariposa Grove - Grizzly Giant

  • The Wawona Tunnel Tree – The 227 feet tall Wawona Tunnel Tree was the first tree in the Mariposa grove to have a tunnel carved through its trunk in 1881, unfortunately the tree fell over during a snowstorm in 1969.  This eventually led to the resurgence in the National Park Service preservation program and also a greater awareness and need for public education as to the sensitivity of ecosystems.  As shown in the photos below, the tree was a major tourist attraction in the earliest days of the park and it was considered a novelty for visitors to ride through the tunnel in carriages and later automobiles.

Mariposa grove - Fallen Wawona Tunnel tree

  • The Fallen Monarch – The Fallen Monarch fell to the ground more than three hundred years ago and it serves as an example of how a giant sequoia is resistant to decay and can survive in a “preserved state” for a very long period of time when undisturbed.

Mariposa Grove - Fallen Monarch1

  • The California Tunnel Tree – The California Tunnel Tree had a tunnel carved through its trunk in 1895, it is still standing in the Mariposa Grove and in the past visitors could ride a carriage or drive a car through but today visitors are only allowed to walk through it.

Mariposa Grove - California Tunnel tree

For more information about posts related to Yosemite National Park, please click on the links to:

  • John Muir post about the man that helped to establish Yosemite as a National Park as well as the first president of the Sierra Club,
  • The Bracebridge Dinner post which is about the popular annual Christmas event held at the Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite and
  • Sequoia National Park travel post with detailed information about one of the other nearby national parks in California.

Travel – Yosemite National Park (Part One)

Yosemite - vintage postcard

One of the things about moving from California to the Midwest that we miss most is the easy access to some of the great National Parks located in the Western States and one of our family favorites is Yosemite National Park.  We have spent many fun-filled vacations over the last 30 years exploring and hiking areas such as Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and Tuolumne Meadows and we have also stayed at a variety of campgrounds, cabins and luxury hotels within the park.

Yosemite National Park is located in the state of California on the western portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains ranging in elevation from 2,127 to 13,114 feet.  The park covers almost 1190 square miles although the over 3.5 million annual visitors spend the majority of their time in the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley.  Visitors to Yosemite National Park can see the majestic El Capitan and Half Dome granite formations and the multitude of waterfalls, such as Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, to the beautiful open space of Tuolumne Meadows and the massive giant sequoia trees of the Mariposa Grove.

In Part One, of the two part series on Yosemite National Park, I will discuss the history of the park throughout the years.  In Part Two, I will discuss Yosemite visitor information and a list of suggested places to see and things to see and do, please click on the link to Yosemite National Park (Part Two)

A brief history of Yosemite National Park

Four hundred million years ago sediments accumulated on the floor of an ancient sea and were compressed and then formed layers of rock that were thousands of feet deep.  Later now extinct volcanoes erupted and then the molten rock cooled to form granite mixed with the sedimentary rock.  Between 25 and 15 million years the rock formations were uplifted by the tectonic plates, slowly tilted to form a range of mountains that would evenly become the Sierra Nevada. Two million years ago during what became known as the Ice Age the area became covered with ice and glaciers slowly moved down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range carving the granite into dramatic domes and severe cliffs, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, and creating deep U-shaped valleys, most notably the Yosemite and Hetchy Hetchy Valleys.  As the ice and glaciers melted leaving thousands of lakes and numerous waterfalls scattered across the area.  Over time, some of these lakes filled with sediment to form forested flat lands or meadows that are seasonally covered with colorful spring flowers.

Yosemite Valley - glacier  Yosemite Valley - glacier melt

According to archaeological evidence, Yosemite Valley was first settled by the indigenous Native Americans known as the Ahwahneeshee.  The Ahwahneeshee survived on local vegetation with acorns being the main staple of their diet and they also fished for salmon and hunted deer as well as trading with other Native Americans in the region.

In the mid-19th century, during the time of the California Gold Rush, European- Americans came to the area and later established settlements within the region.  This new influx of people created conflicts with the Native Americans and in 1851 the Mariposa Wars were intended to resolve the problem.  The Mariposa Battalion, a United States Army regiment led by Major Savage, entered the Yosemite Valley in pursuit of 200 Ahwahneechee led by Chief Tenaya.  Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahneechee were eventually captured, their village destroyed and relocated to a reservation near Fresno, California. These Native American encounters were written about by the officers of the Mariposa Battalion and they also include the first documented reports of the beauty of Yosemite.  (Travel Note:  For visitors wanting to see an example of an Ahwahneechee Native American Village, one was built behind the Yosemite Museum located next to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center)

Yosemite - Miwok indiana circa 1925 Yosemite - Miwok indians 1

Between 1855 and 1860, businessman James Hutchings and artist Thomas Ayres are credited for writing several articles in magazines about Yosemite.  Ayres held an art exhibition of his Yosemite drawings in New York City and quickly the news spread across the nation about the beauty and grandeur of Yosemite and it soon became a popular tourist destination.  Galen Clark, an earlier settler in the Wawona area of Yosemite, built lodgings for tourists near the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees.  Visitors came to see the famous Wawona Tree, later called the Tunnel Tree.  In 1881, a hole had been cut through the tree and it was considered quite a novelty for horse-drawn carriages to carry visitors through the tree and stop to take photos.  (For more information on the Wawona Tunnel Tree, please check out the “Yosemite National Park Visitor Information” section later in this post)

Mariposa Grove - Wawona Tunnel Tree 1  Yosemite - carriage

In the late 19th century, the attitude of the people of the United States was changing toward the preservation of the land.  Galen Clark and Senator John Conness actively worked to support the protection of the Yosemite Valley and President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill on June 30, 1864 creating the Yosemite Grant.  A few years later, when Yellowstone was made the first national park in 1872, this inspired the further protection of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove and the land was given to the State of California and it was made into a state park.  Eventually on October 1, 1890 President Benjamin Harrison signed the legislation to create Yosemite National Park, making it the third national park in the nation.  Yosemite National Park included over 1,500 square miles of land which included the Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Meadows and the Hetch Hetchy Valley.  Meanwhile the newly established Yosemite National Park was administered by the State of California and managed by the U.S. Army.

Mariposa Grove - Fallen Monarch

One of those early visitors to Yosemite was John Muir, a Scottish born American naturalist, author and staunch advocate for the preservation of the wilderness.  He wandered through most of Yosemite and was one of the first to theorize and prove with his scientific research that much of the area was created by large glaciers, which was contrary to the long held belief that the area was formed only by tectonic activity.  It was also through his efforts that Yosemite became a national park; Muir was very vocal about the overgrazing of the meadows by the sheep (ironically he briefly worked as a shepherd in the Valley), the logging of the giant sequoia (which proved to be poor building material) and the general commercialization of the park.

Yosemite - John Muir 1

Muir was now deeply involved in conservation efforts writing article for newspapers and books about his travel across the country, he was also the first president of the Sierra Club since May of 1892.  In May of 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt came to Yosemite National Park and together with a small group led by John Muir as their guide they toured the park for three days.  The group traveled throughout the Valley to Mariposa Grove and to Glacier Point for magnificent views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls and the Yosemite Valley far below.  During the trip Muir advised Roosevelt to take control of Yosemite from California and transfer it to the federal government for long term protection; three years later Roosevelt signed the bill to do exactly that in 1906.  (Eventually when the National Park Service was formed in 1916, the administration and management of Yosemite (as well as the other national parks) was transferred to the new agency)

Yosemite - John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt  Yosemite - John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt  Mariposa grove

But Muir was not always successful in his conservation efforts.  There was one section in Yosemite National Park called the Hetch Hetchy Valley that rivaled Yosemite Valley with soaring granite monoliths, cascading waterfalls and beautiful meadows of flowers in spring.  In 1903, there was a proposal to dam the river to provide water and power for the growing metropolis of San Francisco thereby flooding the Hetch Hetchy and losing all the beautiful scenery.  After a failed attempt by the Sierra Club and other interests to block the project from moving forward, unfortunately the U.S. Congress authorized the O’Shaughnessy Dam in 1913.  Muir was devastated by the loss of one of the most beautiful places in Yosemite National Park.

Hetch Hetchy Valley before Hetch Hetchy Valley after

Throughout the years the tourism to the park had increased steadily first with the railroads built to reach the foothills of the Sierra Nevada later roads for stagecoaches and carriages were laid allowing easier transportation for visitors into the park.  In the late 19th century the National Park Service had been reluctant to allow organized commercial development within Yosemite but eventually they permitted a limited number of concessions.  In 1899 David and Jennie Curry started the Curry Company to provide concessions to park visitors and they later built s campground and cabins that would eventually become known as Curry Village.  Later another rival company, called the Yosemite National Park Company was established by John Degnan and they built hotels, stores and other park services.  In 1925 the two separate companies merged to form the Yosemite Park & Curry Company that later built the Ahwahnee Hotel in 1927.

Yosemite Lodge - vintage photo

Curry Village - vintage photo  Yosemite - camping

Throughout the years, in order to protect the land surrounding Yosemite from over development, Congress designated an additional 677,600 acres as a protected wilderness area.  The National Park Service, in order to preserve the park in its natural condition eliminated any activities that were artificially produced, such the popular nightly event known as the Firefall.  (For more information on this Yosemite tradition that was stopped in 1969, please click on the link to Yosemite National Park – Part Two)  As the visitor attendance to the park dramatically increased, especially in Yosemite Valley, traffic congestion became a big problem.  The solution that visitors were encouraged to park their cars at their hotels, campsites or visitor center while they were visiting the Yosemite Valley and take special buses that would reduce the amount of traffic on the park roads.  In September of 1995, the National Park Service started using electric buses that would be quieter and more importantly eliminate air pollution.

  Yosemite - old advertisement

For more information regarding Yosemite visitor information and a list of suggested places to see and things to see and do, please click on the link to Yosemite National Park (Part Two)

For more information about posts related to Yosemite National Park on this blog site, please click on the links to:

  • John Muir – a post about the man that helped to establish Yosemite as a National Park as well as the first president of the Sierra Club,
  • The Bracebridge Dinner – a post about the popular annual Christmas event held at the Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite and
  • Sequoia National Park – a travel post with detailed information about one of the other nearby national parks in California.