Tree House

August 2017

John Mason Hutchings, an Englishman, first, saw Yosemite Valley in 1855 and never got it out of his system. Nine years later he returned to the valley to be innkeeper of the Hutchings House, the frame hotel at left. Before long the hotel’s cooks—Hutchings’ wife and mother-in-law—demanded a separate kitchen. But when it came time to build, an obstacle presented itself in the form of a huge cedar, twenty-four feet around at the base. “I had not the heart to cut it down,” said Hutchings, “so I … built around it.” A few years later the room was floored and turned into a parlor where Ralph Waldo Emerson and James A. Garfield, among others, took their ease. Three funerals were held at the tree’s base—one, in 1902, for Hutchings himself. By 1940 the Park Service declared the hotel beyond restoration, and Civilian Conservation Corps boys began to tear it apart. Today the tree (bottom right, opposite), still bearing a few scars from the roof line after its seventy-four-year confinement, is slowly dying, though not prematurely; it has long outlasted a cedar’s average life-span of 331 years.