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LeConte Memorial Lodge - First Permanent Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley & Home of the Sierra Club in Yosemite National Park (PDF) by Bonnie Gisel - from Yosemite Guide, May-June, 2012 (PDF)
LeConte Memorial - A Sierra Club Legacy by Elaine Gorman (PDF) (2012)
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John Muir Fact Sheeet (PDF)
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(Quicktime Movie 48 MB )
Hetch Hetchy and the Sierra Club
Make a Nature Journal
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'Little Joe' Joseph N. LeConte
1896 Tribute to Dr. LeConte
John Muir Exhibit
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Oher Sierra Club Lodges
Le Conte Memorial Lodge by Steven Finacom
NPS 1985 Theme Study
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Sierra Club Environmental Education Program
LeConte Memorial Lodge 1904-2004

Harold W. Wood, Jr. speaking at the LeConte Memorial Lodge Re-Dedication, July 3, 2004

The History and Meaning of LeConte Memorial Lodge

Harold W. Wood, Jr.,
Chair, LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee, Sierra Club

Remarks at the Centennial Re-Dedication July 3, 2004

       Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming to our re-dedication of the LeConte Memorial Lodge.  We are celebrating 100 years of the LeConte Memorial Lodge, but in doing that we are not really celebrating a building, but more importantly a host of people that have in some way been associated with the building and Yosemite for over 100 years.  My name is Harold Wood, and I am the current chair of the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee.  It gives me a great deal of pleasure to realize that I follow in the footsteps of the first chair of that committee, Edward T. Parsons, an early Sierra Club leader for many years, and his wife, Marion Randall Parsons, who was the second chair of the Committee.  As Bonnie Gisel told us, this Memorial was named for Dr. Joseph LeConte, who well deserves this honor.  But the LeConte Memorial Lodge is also about a host of other people, and I am going to name some of them now. I want you to think about what these people all have in common – it is not that they are all Sierra Club members, because not all of them were, but there is something else – something special – that all of them have in common which I want you to be able to see at the end of my talk this afternoon.

       In telling the story of Leconte Memorial Lodge, we are not only talking about Dr. LeConte, who Bonnie so eloquently talked about, but we are also talking about a whole host of people who are connected with it.  For one thing, we are talking about people like YOU – the volunteers and visitors who make the LeConte Memorial Lodge program possible!

       We also have to talk about many other people from history to the present, including John Muir, the first President of the Sierra Club; Galen Clark the original Guardian of Yosemite who later served to staff the Sierra Club’s predecessor visitor center in Yosemite Valley; Robert Underwood Johnson, who together with John Muir worked to establish the Yosemite National Park. We must mention William E. Colby, who was the first Sierra Club member to staff the predecessor to LeConte Memorial Lodge, the Sinning’s Cottage public Reading Room, established at the request of the State of California Yosemite Commissioners in 1898.  William Colby went on to serve as Secretary of the Sierra Club and as a Club luminary for over 50 years.  We have to mention Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect who recommended originally that Yosemite be kept as natural as possible.  We must mention Harriett Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine, still in existence, who attended the original dedication ceremony 100 years ago today.  I’ve already mentioned Edward T. Parsons, first Chair of the LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee, and the second chair Marion Randall Parsons, a Club mountaineer and book reviewer for the Sierra Club Bulletin.  There are more modern people we must remember as well, including Ansel Adams, who served as curator here for three summers.  Then there is Nancy Newhall, David Brower, and Ansel Adams who collaborated on the This is the American Earth exhibit at the LeConte Memorial Lodge.  There are too many others to mention, but some of the curators of the twentieth century included Enid Michael, who was also a National Park Service botanist; Mary Hallesy, who served in the 1970’s for ten years, Pat Mosley, who served as curator for nine years, leading up to today, our curator Bonnie Gisel. There is someone else I have to especially name, and that is George Pettit, who for the last 18 years has been a stalwart for Leconte Memorial Lodge, the creator of all the exhibits and displays and responsible for virtually everything you see in the interior of the Leconte Memorial Lodge today. [cheers].  We have to mention at least three U.S. Presidents too, beginning with Abraham Lincoln, who signed the original Yosemite Grant; Theodore Roosevelt, who went camping with John Muir – right up there at Glacier Point [points above and behind], and Ronaled Reagan, who was President when the Leconte Memorial Lodge was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987 by the National Park Service.

       Finally, I have to mention that while we all got you here on the ruse of the LeConte Lodge Centennial, this is also another very important date. Today is our current curator Bonnie Gisel’s birthday, so let’s all wish her a very Happy Birthday!  [cheers] Bonnie has done so much in the last three years to reinvigorate our LeConte Memorial Lodge program!

       All these people represent the best of higher education, the arts, the press, government, and business and industry, as well as the Sierra Club.  Let’s try to think of what else they have in common.

       To really understand the involvement of all these luminaries  exemplified by LeConte Memorial, we can see a successive parade of “FIRSTS.”  Although we talk about today as a Centennial, we need to go back not just to 1903 when building construction started, and not even just back to 1890 when Yosemite National park was established, but way back to President Lincoln.

       In 1864, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite and Mariposa Grant – giving these areas to California to operate as the FIRST public park granted by the federal government..

       In 1870, Professor Joseph LeConte visits Yosemite with 10 of his students and FIRST meets John Muir.  In 1890, John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson successfully lobby Congress to establish Yosemite National Park, but we must remember that at that time Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove are not included.  Two year later, in 1892, the Sierra Club is established, primarily as a kind of Yosemite defense league to support and protect, and expand the new National Park. Sierra Club and John Muir begin lobbying to get Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove receded to the federal government to be added to the Yosemite national Park. It took 14 years before it achieved this.

       In 1898, the Sierra Club is FIRST requested by the California State Commission to establish a public reading room and information center at a small cottage in the old "Yosemite Village” at “Adolph Sinning’s Cottage.”  It was staffed the FIRST year by a young William E. Colby, who later served as the Secretary of the Sierra Club for 50 years. Later, Galen Clark, a charter member of the Sierra Club, after retirement as the Yosemite Guardian, staffed the public reading room.

       In 1901, the Sierra Club launched its FIRST Outings Program, aimed for the high country above Yosemite Valley.  An elderly Joseph LeConte joined the Outing, but while still in Curry Village, takes ill, and died.  But this was the beginning of the Sierra Club Outings program, which is still going strong today, all over the country, with national, chapter, and group outings.  A couple of years later, in 1903, John Muir, President of the Sierra Club, went  camping in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt. That same year, LeConte Memorial began construction.

       Finally, 100 years ago today, on July 3,1904 the LeConte Memorial Lodge s dedicated, at a ceremony that includes not only leading Sierra Club figures presided by William Colby, but academics from the University of California, and writers and poets, such as Harriet Monroe, who I already mentioned. From the beginning, the Sierra Club maintained a library in LeConte Memorial, which we continue today.

       Finally, in 1906, the Sierra Club's campaign to get Yosemite Valley returned to the National Park finally succeeded. This was a great cause for celebration – Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were finally part of the Yosemite National Park!

       Ten years later, the Sierra Club welcomed the National Park Service to Yosemite when it was FIRST established in 1916.  We remember fondly the creation of the National Park Service, with Sierra Club member Stephen Mather as its first director and another Club member, Horace Albright, as assistant director and later a long-time director.  The Sierra Club fought for the establishment of the National Park Service, and we still love it!  So, I thank Mike Reynolds for participating with us here today, as our “junior” partner !  [laughter]

       Over the years, LeConte Memorial Lodge continued to be in the forefront of national park history.  LeConte sponsored  the "LeConte Memorial Lectures" that become the basis for the FIRST National Park Service interpretive programs that occur all over the U.S. in national parks today.

       The parade of people involved with Leconte Memorial continued over the decades. A young Ansel Adams is caretaker there for three years, beginning in 1919. He later returned in the mid-50's to install an exhibition, "This is the American Earth."  This award winning exhibition of photography and free-verse in 1960 became the FIRST "Exhibit Format" book, arguably the first modern "coffee-table book."  The project was conceived by David Brower, and written by Nancy Newhall, who are among the inspirations for our LeConte Memorial Lodge “Words for Wilderness” program today. I hope you have all submitted some of your Words for our chain of words around the world!

       In 1985, the LeConte Memorial Lodge was designated by the National Park Service under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan as a National Historic Landmark.   This is a prestigious distinction, fewer than 2500 historical sites nation-wide receive this designation.  The two most important reasons for this designation was its unique architecture, explicitly designed by architect John White to fit in the verticality of Yosemite Valley's granite walls; and the history of the Sierra Club and its role in Yosemite and the entire national park system.

       During the 1990’s, the Sierra Club worked hard to re-build the infrastructure of the Leconte Memorial Lodge.  The granite walls were literally disintegrating, and the roof had huge leaks. It may not seem like much to sandblast the walls and repair a roof, but it was a crucial task to enable us to build exhibits and continue the evening programs in this wonderful space, and the Sierra Club and the National Park Service collaborated on this important project.  We then proceeded to remodel the interior, installing a new lighting system to replace antiquated lights, to provide for lighting of displays, and to install electrical system for the screen for evening programs.

       In the last few years, we have moved to renovating the content of our displays and programs.  Sierra Club volunteer George Pettit designed and built three major displays and a host of smaller items for LeConte to better explain the history of LeConte Memorial Lodge and the Sierra Club in Yosemite.  Curator Pat Mosley launched an evening speakers program, helping LeConte to better fulfill its educational mission.

       In 2002, we hired our most prestigious curator, Dr. Bonnie Gisel, who for the last three years has greatly invigorated our program, proving once again that LeConte is not just a building, but is really about people!

        So what do all these people I’ve mentioned have in common? These were and are people with great diversity - inspired to creative arts, to celebrate environmental values, to learn about science and human and natural history.  What is it that they all have in common?

       I submit to you that what they have in common is that they all had something – an attitude -  and helped inspire each of us to adopt  the same attitude – an attitude best described using Bonnie Gisel’s phrase: 

       “an attitude of caring for the world that we live in.”

       That is what all of you bring here today! The fact is, you are all National Treasures!

       I submit to you, that is the true meaning of the Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge!



Rededication Ceremony

Re-Dedication of LeConte Memorial Lodge
(Photo Album)

Michael Reynolds, National Park Service, Yosemite National Park
Bernie Zaleha, Vice-President, Sierra Club
Bruce Hamilton, Conservation Director, Sierra Club
Bonnie Gisel, Curator, LeConte Memorial Lodge
Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee

Centennial Day Photo Album

Rededication Photo Album

Learn more about the LeConte Lodge Centennial.

Would you like to hear news about the LeConte Memorial Lodge? Sign up for our LeConte Lodge Forum e-mail list.

Information and Donations

For more information, during the summer contact Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Curator, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, 1-209-372-4542; e-mail:

During the winter, contact LeConte Lodge Committee Chair, Harold Wood, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93278; phone: (559) 697-3525; e-mail:

Tax deductible donations to support the new exhibits and renovation efforts of the LeConte Memorial can be made to "Sierra Club Foundation," marked for the "LeConte Lodge Fund."

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