California State Parks: Preserving Our Natural and Cultural Treasures
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the act which granted the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California. This piece of legislation established the first state park in the nation and marked the beginning of government efforts to conserve and protect natural resources as parks for public enjoyment. Using the collections of the California State Archives, viewers can explore the evolution of state parks in California from the 1864 Yosemite Land Grant to today's system of 280 state parks, historic sites, and recreation areas.
"The Greatest Glory of Nature": America's First State Park
The beauty and grandeur of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove captivated the world in the 1850s, as word of the area's majestic scenery and enormous trees rapidly spread. Several influential Californians, concerned about the privatization of Yosemite by settlers and the threatened destruction of its natural resources, convinced U.S. Senator John Conness of California to author a bill to preserve the Valley and nearby groves of giant sequoias. On June 30, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Act, granting the area to the State of California "upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time...." This Act thereby established the first state park in the nation, and marked the first time that the federal government set aside wild lands for the recreational use of the general public.
Governor's Proclamation, Yosemite Grant (1864-09-28) by Governor's RecordsCalifornia State Archives
On September 28, 1864, California Governor Frederick F. Low signed this proclamation announcing the federal grant ceding the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state.
In his Proclamation concerning the grants, Governor Frederick Low commanded "all persons to desist from trespassing or settling upon the said territory, and from cutting timber or doing any unlawful acts within the limits of the said Grants."
An eight-member board of commissioners was appointed by Governor Low to manage the Yosemite and Mariposa grants. The commissioners included Frederick Law Olmsted, internationally known as the principal designer of Central Park in New York City. Other members included Professor Josiah D. Whitney (Director of the California State Geological Survey); William Ashburner, noted mining engineer and member of the Geological Survey; Israel Ward Raymond of the Central American Steamship Transit Company who had urged U.S. Senator John Conness to introduce the Yosemite bill in Congress; E.S. Holden; Alexander Deering; George W. Coulter; and Galen Clark, later appointed to be the first "Guardian" of Yosemite.
Half Dome, Yosemite Valley (1970) by Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism and Visitor Services RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The indigenous people who lived in the Yosemite area long before early explorers arrived called themselves "Ahwahneechee," or "dwellers in Ahwahnee," which roughly translates to "large, gaping mouth" of the valley. Due to frequent territorial disputes, surrounding tribes called them "yohhe'meti," meaning "some among them are killers." In 1851, one of the first white men to enter the area, Lafayette Bunnell, wrote about the valley's astounding beauty. He named it "Yosemite," mistakenly believing that to be the name of the tribe living there.
Today, millions of tourists, hikers, and campers flock to Yosemite each year. Half Dome, rising almost 5,000 feet above the valley's floor, has become an iconic symbol known around the world.
Washington Column and Half Dome in Yosemite by Dorothy M. Alexander CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Postcards such as this chromolithograph from approximately 1910 were enormously popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They provided an easy, relatively cheap way for people to not only keep in touch, but also to see images of foreign or exotic locales.
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley (1970) by Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism and Visitor Services RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Yosemite Falls, plunging 2,425 feet from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls, is the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park and among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. It is a popular tourist site, heavily advertised by such entities as the California Department of Commerce's Division of Tourism and Visitors Services.
Yosemite Guardian Galen Clark at Glacier Point by Dorothy M. Alexander CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Glacier Point, on the south wall of Yosemite Valley, provides spectacular views of the valley's features. The observation point, now cordoned off with safety rails, is 3,200 feet above the floor of the valley. This chromolithographic postcard depicts Galen Clark, Yosemite's first official "Guardian," surveying the valley.
Galen Clark to the Board of Yosemite Commissioners (1892-11-22) by Records of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove CommissionCalifornia State Archives
In 1866, the Yosemite Valley Commissioners appointed one of their members, Galen Clark, to be "Guardian" of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove, making him the first California State Park Ranger.
Serving two terms as Guardian for a total of twenty-two years, Clark was known and admired for his broad knowledge, energy, and ingenuity. This 1892 letter from Clark to the Commissioners describes infrastructure improvements already made within the valley, as well as some work in clearing debris.
Hand-drawn map of Yosemite Valley (1892-11-23) by Records of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove CommissionCalifornia State Archives
This hand-drawn map accompanied Guardian Galen Clark's 1892 letter to the Yosemite Valley Commissioners. The map shows areas of clearing work as well as a water pipeline and hydrants installed for fire protection.
Five years later, at the age of 83, Clark resigned from his post as Guardian. He spent the remaining years of his life committed to his beloved Yosemite, writing books, giving tours, and educating the public about preserving the region. Clark passed away in 1910. He is buried in Yosemite Valley, under sequoia trees he planted as seedlings.
Yosemite National Park Map (1906) by California State Archives General Ephemera CollectionCalifornia State Archives
In 1890, John Muir, America's most influential naturalist and conservationist, published his growing concerns about the devastating effects of logging and sheep-grazing in the high country. He and others launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to reserve the area as a national park. On October 1, 1890, the U.S. Congress reserved more than 1,500 square miles of forest lands, shown on this circa 1906 map.
The tract of land reserved for Yosemite National Park in 1890 surrounded California’s Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove grant tracts. The boundaries of the 1864 Yosemite Valley grant can be seen here.
U.S. Troopers on a Fallen Sequoia in California by Dorothy M. Alexander CollectionCalifornia State Archives
The United States Army served as the administrator of Yosemite and other national parks from the late nineteenth century until the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. U.S. Cavalry troops patrolled Yosemite National Park from spring through fall, protecting the park from unauthorized intruders such as poachers and livestock herders. The troopers relied on snow and inclement weather in the winter months to prevent trespassers from causing damage.
Yosemite Valley returns to the federal government (1906-08-02) by Records of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove CommissionCalifornia State Archives
After a 1903 trip to Yosemite in the company of John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt revealed that he was committed to receding the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove back to the federal government. By this time, many concerned citizens, including Muir and Galen Clark, felt that state management led to political and profit-oriented concerns interfering too often with Yosemite's long-term best interests. Additionally, some felt that the State Legislature had not appropriated enough funds to adequately manage the area.
In 1905, the California State Legislature introduced a bill "to re-cede and re-grant unto the United States of America the 'Yosemite Valley' and the land embracing the 'Mariposa Big Tree Grove'." Met with fierce opposition, the bill squeaked through California’s Senate by one vote. The U.S. Congress passed a recession bill on June 11, 1906. President Roosevelt signed it into law, and the original grant tracts then became part of the larger, surrounding Yosemite National Park. On August 1, 1906, the formal transfer of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the federal government was complete, as stated in the telegram displayed here.
Giant Trees Help Spark Conservation Movement
The history of California's state parks is intrinsically tied to that of the state's giant sequoia and redwood groves. Concerns over logging of the majestic trees, as well as other forms of commercial exploitation, helped spark the American conservation movement. These early conservationists in turn fueled the drive to protect and preserve these and other natural resources through the creation of public parks.
"The Mother of the Forest" (1858-06-05) by Roger Larson CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Many people initially thought that the tales of California's giant trees were a hoax. This article, published in Harper's Weekly magazine, features an engraving of "The Mother of the Forest," a giant sequoia in Calaveras County. Speculators, hoping to provide proof of the mammoth trees' existence, erected scaffolding around the tree in order to remove the bark and reassemble it for exhibition in San Francisco, New York, and London.
While such efforts did indeed bring attention to the giant trees, many were horrified by the ruin of these rare natural wonders. When U.S. Senator John Conness urged Congress to pass the bill creating the Yosemite and Mariposa Big Tree Grove grant, he cited the fate of the Mother of the Forest and other sequoias felled in similar fashion.
Wawona Tunnel Tree at Mariposa Grove by Roger Larson CollectionCalifornia State Archives
This stereoscopic card shows the Wawona Tunnel Tree in the Mariposa Big Tree Grove near the Yosemite Valley. The Wawona Tree was the first giant sequoia to have a tunnel carved through its trunk. It was cut in 1881 as a tourist attraction to popularize the parks, and ironically, to gain support for their protection. Big trees in other areas were soon tunneled to accommodate tourists’ fascination with the magnificent giants. The Wawona Tree stood for many years before it fell during a heavy snow storm in 1969, its age estimated at 2,100 years old.
"New Series" Trademark #518, Wawona Kitchen Soap (1902) by California Secretary of StateCalifornia State Archives
The Wawona Tunnel Tree become so well-known that California businesses began to use it for marketing purposes. The Mission Soap and Candle Works registered this kitchen soap trademark with California's Secretary of State in 1902. This San Francisco-based soap and candle manufacturer incorporated in 1897.
Loggers posing inside a Giant Sequoia by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Tourism and marketing were not the only industries that took notice of California's big trees. As Euro-Americans expanded across the continental U.S., the nation's construction industries rapidly followed, supplying the raw materials needed to build for homes, businesses, and infrastructure. These logging interests quickly realized the potential commercial value of California's redwood forests. The sheer mass of the trees made them prized timber. In addition, redwood proved to be both workable and durable, an important combination in the West's booming construction industry.
Loggers transporting giant logs by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
As California's population increased, so too did the need for building materials. Large-scale commercial logging interests began to fell redwoods at a rapid rate.
Initially, loggers used hand tools such as axes and saws to fell the massive trees. Horses and oxen then pulled the trunks to local lumber mills. Later, as technology improved, steam donkeys and trains transported the logs to lumber mills.
World's Fair Tree Stump by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
It has been estimated that old growth coastal redwood forests covered approximately 2,000,000 acres of northern California in 1850. Today, only about five percent of those original forests remain. As the number of redwoods rapidly diminished, early conservationists began to advocate for their protection.
Articles of Incorporation, The Sierra Club Articles of Incorporation, The Sierra Club (1892-06-04) by California Secretary of State, Articles of Incorporation RecordsCalifornia State Archives
By the 1890s, efforts of conservationists were growing alongside the interests of the lumbering, mining, and livestock companies that wished to privatize and profit from California's wild and scenic lands. In 1892, a group of San Francisco-based citizens formed the Sierra Club with the goal to provide a popular base of support for the protection of the new Yosemite National Park. John Muir was elected as the club's first president.
Today, the Sierra Club "is now the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization -- with more than two million members and supporters," according to their website. The organization has successfully contributed to the protection of more than 250 million acres of wilderness across the country, while also working with government to craft environmental protection laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Plaque commemorating Andrew P. Hill by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1899, San Jose photographer Andrew Putnam Hill was on a magazine assignment photographing a grove of large redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The grove's owner demanded he leave, telling him that the trees were slated for logging. Outraged, Hill began a campaign to save the redwood grove and make it accessible to everyone.
The following year, he and other influential citizens formed the Sempervirens Club, named for the Sequoia sempervirens redwoods that grow only along the northwest coastal region. The club launched a lobbying campaign and, in 1901, the State Legislature passed a bill authorizing state funds to purchase the area and create a state park.
The area was named California Redwood Park. The name changed in 1927 to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, as it is known today. The park now encompasses more than 18,000 protected acres thanks in large part to ongoing partnerships with non-profits like the Sierra Club, Sempervirens Club (now Fund) and the Save the Redwoods League.
Entrance to California Redwood Park by Department of Finance, Historical Record PhotographsCalifornia State Archives
Big Basin Redwoods State Park was also home to a unique individual in the history of California's state parks: Harriett "Petey" Weaver. Weaver is widely recognized as the first female California state park ranger, although she never officially held that title. Instead, she served as a seasonal "Recreation Leader" at the park during summers from 1929 until her retirement in 1950.
Weaver first visited Big Basin in 1929. She later recounted:
As I drove through the entrance of the California Redwood Park and beheld the sign which read "TO BE PRESERVED IN A STATE OF NATURE" I knew my life was to be profoundly changed forever. I knew I had to make this my life.
During her first summers at the park, Weaver served as an unpaid recreation leader and guide. Within a few years, she was earning $30 a month for her duties, which gradually expanded to mirror those of the "official" park rangers.
Weaver retired after the summer of 1950. By that time, in order to provide employment for returning World War II servicemen, women were prohibited from becoming full-time, permanent rangers. This gender barrier was not broken until the 1970s.
Articles of Incorporation,Save the Redwoods League Articles of Incorporation,Save the Redwoods League (1920-10-21) by California Secretary of State, Articles of Incorporation RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Prior to 1910, the primeval redwoods of California's north coast region were not well known to the public and too remote for extensive commercial logging. However, the construction of the new Redwood Highway (now part of U.S. Route 101) through the region promised to open up the area to increased tourism and logging. This troubled National Park Service Director Stephen Mather because much of this land was owned by lumber companies. In 1917, Mather persuaded prominent scientists and conservationists John C. Merriam, Madison Grant, and Henry Fairfield Osborn to investigate the state of the region's redwood forests.
After seeing the logging devastation along many parts of the Redwood Highway, the three men agreed that the best way to prevent further destruction was to protect the area through park status. The following year, Grant and Merriam worked with others to form the Save the Redwoods League. The League’s mission was, and is to this day, to acquire, preserve, and protect under park status, threatened redwood forests through private and public funding.
Growth and Development of the State Park System
By 1925, there were five protected parks in California, as well as several historic sites that citizens, organizations, and lawmakers had fought to protect. These parks were managed, however, by independent groups. A governing body was needed to create and administer policy and provide adequate funds to make them accessible for public enjoyment. Park supporters and conservationists turned their attention to creating a centralized state park system.
Article regarding the California State Bonds Act (1928-11) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1926, California Governor C.C. Young, a supporter of the state park movement, signed a series of bills into law creating a centralized state park system. A new Department of Natural Resources (with a Division of Parks) was formed, as well as a State Park Commission. Funds were appropriated for a statewide survey of potential park sites. And finally, the State Parks Bond Act, a $6 million bond issue for park acquisition, was presented to the voters in the General Election of November 6, 1928.
Advocating the State Park Bond Act (1928) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
These two advertisements, issued by the News Bureau of the California State Parks Council, were sent to various newspaper editors as part of the campaign to support the State Park Bond Act of 1928.
The Bond Act passed by a margin of almost three to one: 975,979 votes to 346,998. The act provided $15,000 for a comprehensive statewide survey to locate and study potential state park areas. The newly-appointed State Park Commission hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to direct the survey project.
"Scenic Resources of California" (1928) by Department of Parks and Recreation, Olmsted PapersCalifornia State Archives
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son and namesake of the landscape architect who had headed the Yosemite Commission in 1864, conducted the challenging and complex State Park Bond Act survey under a tight deadline and budget. He assembled volunteer committees to study 325 potential park sites in twelve geographic districts. After a careful study, 125 projects remained for "favorable discussion" in the report.
These sites were grouped in categories reflecting a well-balanced system that ranged from sea coast, lakes and rivers, mountains and buttes, redwood forests, and deserts, to sites of historical and scientific interest. The first of its kind, Olmsted's California State Park Survey became a model for other states and was received with high praise for the outstanding and comprehensive manner in which it treated state park planning.
The map shown here accompanied the 1928 survey, showing various scenic resources available throughout the state.
The State Parks Bond Act of 1928 at work. (1933-02-03) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
This letter from the Save the Redwoods League to the California State Park Commission shows the 1928 State Park Bond funds at work. The property on offer was a thirty-acre tract adjoining Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tamalpais State Park. The League offered to sell one-half interest in the property to the state and further agreed to donate the remaining one-half interest, as long as the land was used for park purposes.
The letter is signed by Newton Drury, a conservationist skilled in diplomacy and persuasion. The widely-respected Drury went on to direct the National Park Service from 1940 to 1951. Governor Earl Warren appointed him as chief of the California Division of Beaches and Parks in 1951.
State Parks and the Civilian Conservation Corps
The 1928 State Park Bond Act that funded the growth of the California's new state park system only paid for acquisition of new parks, not their development or maintenance. During the Great Depression this need was addressed in part by the work of the federal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Without the CCC, the many new properties would have been without facilities and unusable for years. Only eighteen California state parks were open to the public in 1933, with meager facilities at most. By 1937, seventy parks were open and fully operating.
CCC crews ready for the field (1932) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In the midst of the Great Depression, the CCC worked on numerous projects throughout the United States. The Emergency Conservation Work Act of 1933 created the CCC, an important part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The benefits of belonging to this peacetime army of the unemployed, sometimes called "Roosevelt's Tree Army," were not insubstantial.
CCC road construction crew at Camp Mt. Madonna (1933-10-01) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Initially, the CCC was open to unmarried male U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 26. Later, the program was expanded to include World War I veterans and other men. A few CCC camps were established for women, but the majority of the enrollees were male.
Men enrolled in the CCC earned thirty dollars a month, wages that provided a little pocket money as well as a modest amount of funds to send home to support their families. The enrollees were also provided with food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, an education program, employment counseling, and on-the-job skill training.
"Flash" Newsletter, CCC, Camp Hawkins Bar "Flash" Newsletter, CCC, Camp Hawkins Bar (1935) by General Ephemera CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Many CCC camps produced newsletters like this one from Hawkins Bar in Trinity County, California. The newsletters reported on activities and individuals within the camps, and also supplied puzzles, stories, jokes, and cartoons for the workers' enjoyment. Today, these newsletters provide an invaluable look into everyday life at the camps.
Reconstructiong Maddock's Cabin (1935-08-23) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The CCC built and improved a wide variety of park facilities and infrastructure including bridges, campgrounds, dams, drinking fountains, fences and walls, fire breaks and look-out towers, fireplaces and cooking hearths, housing and other buildings, landscape features, museums, open-air amphitheaters, picnic areas, restrooms, roads and trails, and utility systems. In addition, CCC men fought fires and cleaned up after floods. The CCC also worked on restoration and reconstruction projects at state historic parks.
The CCC workers in these photographs are reconstructing Maddock's Cabin at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in 1935. Settler Tom Maddock built the cabin in 1882 out of a single redwood tree. Sadly, the reconstructed cabin was destroyed by a fire in the 1950s.
Kitchen detail, CCC Camp Mt. Madonna (1933-10-01) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The Great Depression ended as the United States entered into the Second World War. Young men joined the armed services or were needed for defense-industry employment. Congress terminated the federal CCC program in 1942.
The program had operated 4,500 camps across the U.S., employing more than three million people between 1933 and 1942. Many campgrounds, buildings, trails, roads, and other facilities built by the CCC still exist today. Most are still used and enjoyed by millions of visitors nationwide.
Beaches and Black Gold
California's 840 miles of coastline encompasses a wide variety of terrain, varying from sunny beaches crowded with sunbathers to foggy, rocky cliffs populated only by sea birds. Much of this coastline has been incorporated into state parks. However, efforts to preserve many of these beaches for public use conflicted with the interests of oil companies. Rich deposits of the "black gold" present throughout the state resulted in the development of a booming oil industry in the early twentieth century. As many of these oil deposits were located along the coastline, California needed to strike a balance between public use and access, and the needs of an industry that pumped millions of dollars into the Golden State's economy.
Oil towers at Huntington Beach (1920) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1892, prospectors Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield sank a mine shaft on a Los Angeles city lot, hitting an oil seep seven feet down. The miners had tapped into the Los Angeles City Field, one of several oil deposits beneath the Los Angeles Basin.
Most nineteenth-century Californians had not paid much attention to the black tarry substance that seeped from the ground in various locales, having little use for petroleum in an economy based on coal fuel. As technologies changed, however, so too did fuel needs. In 1894 the Union Oil Company developed specialized burners that allowed locomotives to run on oil rather than coal. Soon afterward, the rise of the automobile gave another massive boost to the growing oil industry. These two new markets, as well as other developing technologies, soon pushed oil to the top of America's fuel sources.
By 1903, California had become the nation's leading producer of oil, a spot the Golden State occupied off and on over the next thirty years (competing primarily with Oklahoma). In 1920, the state produced over 77 million barrels of oil. Between 1920 and 1930, entrepreneurs regularly found new deposits, particularly in the southern California coastal region. These newly discovered deposits included one under Huntington Beach in Los Angeles County, shown here after oil tower development.
Beaches in San Luis Obispo County (1931-03) by Department of Parks and Recreation, Olmsted PapersCalifornia State Archives
While oil companies concentrated on expanding production and markets, other changes were occurring that eventually impacted where oil towers and rigs could be built. The State Park Commission, created in 1927, recognized the vast recreation potential inherent in California's beaches. The Commission subsequently undertook several studies to determine which beaches would be best to incorporate into the new state park system.
The photographs shown here were part of such a study, conducted by landscape architect H.W. Shepherd in 1931. Shepherd examined the coastline of San Luis Obispo County for "the most accessible and desirable areas for public acquisition." He found Avila Beach to be one of three principal recreation areas in the county (the others were Pismo Beach and Morro Beach).
"New Series" Trademark #6483, Standard Oil Company (1914) by Secretary of State RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1936, Californians voted to defeat a ballot measure that would have allowed oil companies to remove oil from state-owned tidelands or submerged lands along California’s coast in exchange for paying the state oil royalties. The State Park Commission had backed the plan because it promised to provide millions of sorely needed dollars for state parks. Opponents said it would not have paid the state nearly enough oil royalties and that large producers such as Standard Oil would have reaped most of the benefits.
In 1938, the State Legislature established the State Lands Commission to administer state-owned oil and gas reserves. The act also required that 30 percent all state income from oil royalties be deposited in a state parks acquisition and maintenance fund. This share eventually rose to 70 percent.
Summary of Tideland Oil Revenues (1954-09-24) by Goodwin Knight PapersCalifornia State Archives
World War II increased demand for oil production, and the oil companies began to seek new sources of black gold. The industry decided to tap the deposits off California's southern coastline. The state leased the off-shore properties to the oil companies in return for a share of the royalties. However, at the end of the war the federal government contested California's ownership of the leased lands. The resulting legal battle impounded these oil royalty funds until the mid-1950s.
Finally, in September 1954, California regained control of its oil royalty funds, as shown in this memorandum from the Director of Finance, John M. Peirce, to California Governor Goodwin Knight. The amount earmarked for the Division of Beaches and Parks had climbed to $31.6 million and Division Chief Newton Drury was eager to acquire new state beaches and parks.
California's Mendocino Coast by Olson CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Today, California Department of Parks and Recreation owns and manages over 340 miles of oceanfront, over 650 miles of lake and reservoir shoreline, and over 320 miles of river banks throughout the Golden State. These parks offer almost every form of recreation for water lovers.
California Landmarks and Historic Preservation
Interest in California history and its significance to the growth and development of the nation helped galvanize the historic preservation movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Citizen groups such as the Historical Society of California, the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Historical Society of Southern California, and others worried that the state's deteriorating historical sites would be lost unless efforts were made to save them.
James Marshall Monument (1930) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1892, the Native Sons of the Golden West created California's first historic landmark when they erected this monument at Coloma to commemorate James Marshall and his discovery of gold. Soon after, the Landmarks Club in Los Angeles formed to preserve historical sites throughout the state. The San Francisco-based California Historical Landmarks League was established in 1902 for similar purposes.
Old Custom House in Monterey prior to restoration by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Like the first state parks, early historic sites and monuments were independently funded and administered. For instance, the Old Customs House at Monterey was restored through the efforts of the Native Sons of the Golden West.
Shown here prior to restoration, this building is the oldest government building in the state, constructed in 1827 by the Mexican government. By 1900, the Old Custom House had deteriorated drastically. The building was close to crumbling entirely when the Native Sons of the Golden West stepped in.
Old Custom House in Monterey after restoration by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The Native Sons of the Golden West finishing this early historic preservation project by 1917. The restored building, shown here, was registered as the first California State Landmark in 1932, and subsequently designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
Fort Ross State Historic Monument (1940) by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Landmark registration became official in 1931. In that year, the State Legislature passed an act requiring the Department of Natural Resources to direct the program, while delegating administration to the California State Chamber of Commerce.
Early landmarks emphasized significant people, places, and events in California history, including pioneer settlements like Fort Ross, shown here. The fort, in what is now Sonoma County, was established in 1812 by the Russian-American Company to serve as an agricultural supply base for Russian interests in Alaska. After its decline in the early 1840s, the site was sold to various private interests until purchased by the State of California in 1906. Fort Ross was designated as California Historic Landmark #5 in 1932.
Pio Pico Mansion, Whittier, California (1927) by Department of Finance RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1949, Governor Earl Warren established the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to develop registration criteria and ensure greater integrity and credibility to the program. Many of these historic sites eventually became part of an evolving state park system, which recognized the importance of preserving California's historic, cultural, and natural resources.
The following panels provide a few examples of the many historic sites included in the state park system today.
This photograph shows the Pio Pico Mansion in Whittier, Los Angeles County, centerpiece of the Pio Pico State Historic Park and the home of Alta California's last Mexican Governor, Pio de Jesus Pico IV. Pico first constructed an adobe ranch home on the site, known as El Ranchito, around 1853. The structure was almost completely rebuilt after floods nearly destroyed it in 1882. After Pico's death in 1894, a family friend, Harriet Williams Russel Strong, purchased the site. Strong restored the building in 1909. The property, conveyed to the State in 1917, was eventually designated as California Historic Landmark #127.
Ghost town of Bodie, Bodie State Historic Park (1966) by Fred Meyer CollectionCalifornia State Archives
A group of hopeful prospectors founded the town of Bodie in 1859, in Mono County. Discovery of a rich gold deposit nearby in 1876 transformed the small town into a booming mining center. By the early twentieth century, however, the gold deposit had run out and Bodie fell into decline, eventually transforming into a so-called "ghost town."
The site was designated a California State Historic Park in 1962. The town is kept in a state of "arrested decay," with interiors left intact and goods still on the shelves. Visitors can walk its dusty streets and imagine life as a gold miner more than one hundred years ago.
Bear Flag Monument, Sonoma State Historic Park (1965) by Department of Commerce RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The Bear Flag Monument, located in Sonoma, was erected in 1914 through the efforts of the Native Sons of the Golden West. It commemorates the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, when a small group of American settlers rebelled against Mexican rule and declared California an independent republic. The republic was short-lived, however, as soon after California became part of the United States.
Exerpts, Allensworth Feasibility Study (1971-11) by Department of Parks and Recreation RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1969, Department of Parks and Recreation Director William Penn Mott, Jr. led efforts to acquire and preserve Allensworth in Tulare County, the only town in California founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Mott believed that the state park system lacked information regarding the role of African Americans in California history. He therefore appointed an advisory committee to develop a plan for the acquisition, preservation, and development of Allensworth as a state historic park.
Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth, a former slave who joined the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, helped found the small farming community in 1908, as a place where African Americans could live and work without the threat of discrimination. The settlement grew rapidly. Allensworth's post office opened in 1909, run by Mary Jane Bickers (who also ran the towns's first store). Dwindling water supplies and the Great Depression, however, caused many residents to leave the community in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1970s, Allensworth's population had shrunk to almost zero and many of the buildings were deteriorating.
The plan adopted by Mott's advisory committee in the early 1970s (excerpts of which are shown here) called for acquisition of some 240 acres at Allensworth; an extensive program of restoration of key buildings; and construction of a museum, library, and research center designed to tell the story of Colonel Allensworth and other African American pioneers and leaders in California history. In October 1976, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park was officially dedicated as a unit of the state park system.
"The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds" (1965) by Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism and Visitor Services RecordsCalifornia State Archives
This Taoist temple, named "The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds" and often referred to as the Weaverville Joss House, is the oldest continuously-used Chinese temple in California. The Weaverville area in Trinity County saw a large influx of Chinese miners during the Gold Rush. The first temple built on the site burned in 1873, but was replaced the next year with the present structure.
Local businessman Moon Lim Lee dedicated himself to preserving the temple in the 1930s. Through the efforts of Lee and others, the Weaverville Joss House became part of the California state park system in 1956, opening to the public after restoration in 1957.
San Francisco Maritime State Historic Park (1965) by Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism and Visitor Services RecordsCalifornia State Archives
This photograph features the lumber schooner C.A. Thayer, one of four ships in the San Francisco Maritime State Historic Park in 1965.
The C.A. Thayer, built at Eureka, California in 1895, is a typical example of the three-masted schooners used to transport lumber on the West Coast in the late nineteenth century. After also serving as a cod fishing boat and in the Alaskan salmon cannery trade, the schooner was purchased in 1957 by the State of California.
After restoration, it was opened to the public in 1963 as part of the San Francisco Maritime State Historic Park in the city's Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood. This park, with associated collections and artifacts, was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978. The site is now known as the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
California's Parks in the Post-World War II Period
Park visitation sharply declined during the Second World War. Like the rest of the nation, parks suffered from shortages of gasoline, tires, and personnel. Some parks even housed military operations. But once the war ended in 1945, park attendance increased rapidly. California’s population also rose dramatically. People had more leisure time and more disposable income and they liked to travel, especially by automobile. The Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks worked to meet the need for more parks and recreation facilities.
Purchase Order, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Reports (1945-12-26) by Department of Parks and Recreation, Olmsted RecordsCalifornia State Archives
In 1945, California Governor Earl Warren signed several bills that benefited the state park system, including an omnibus park acquisition bill. This bill provided funds for acquisition of land for new parks and major additions to already established parks, particularly emphasizing beach acquisition. It prioritized acquisition and development of recreation facilities for areas of the state without access to such resources, particularly in the valley, desert, and mountain areas of California's interior. It also authorized a supplemental survey to determine what lands were suitable for inclusion in the state park system. The State Park Commission once again turned to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to conduct the survey.
California State Parks and Historical Monuments (1950) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Building on the report he had submitted in 1928, Olmsted conducted surveys and wrote several reports from 1945 to 1950 on specific areas of the state. He submitted his final "General Report" to the State Park Commission in 1950, accompanied by this map.
Map No. 1 of Olmsted's 1950 General Report shows established state and national parks, historic monuments, and recreation areas throughout the Golden State. It also highlights projects previously reported by Olmsted in 1928 and in 1945-1950.
Olmsted’s surveys and reports were carefully and thoughtfully executed. Greatly respected and highly influential, Olmsted’s recommendations guided State Parks policy for park land acquisition for years to come.
Francis A. "Fritz" Riddell by Francis A. Riddell PapersCalifornia State Archives
The post-World War II period also saw greater interest in California's Native American cultures, as well as increased emphasis on the state's archaeological resources. Francis A. “Fritz” Riddell (1921-2002) was the first full-time professional archaeologist hired by the State of California. He became curator of the State Indian Museum in Sacramento in 1956 and the State Archaeologist in 1960.
Riddell developed many of the cultural resources policies and programs still in use today by the Archaeology, History and Museums Division of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Working cooperatively with many agencies, he was a pioneer of professional archaeology in California.
Francis Riddell and Kitty Joaquin by Francis A. Riddell PapersCalifornia State Archives
A champion of Native Americans in California, Francis Riddell was dedicated to preserving the remaining archaeological evidence of their societies. His talents of persuasion made him an excellent mediator between California Indians, government personnel, ranchers, farmers, landowners and others. For instance, Riddell was at the forefront of state programs requiring official approval of proposed construction projects in order to protect Native American cultural sites, crucial during a time of massive state construction projects like the State Water Project and the state highway system.
Here, Riddell is photographing Kitty Joaquin, a Wadâtkut Paiute, preparing acorn meal, a staple food source for many California Indian tribes. Riddell documented many aspects of Native American life in the Golden State, determined that the knowledge would not be lost over time.
The Importance of Recreation
California's post-World War II population boom had an enormous impact on every aspect of the state's culture, economy, and politics, including attitudes toward recreation resources. The post-war populace was eager to travel, take vacations, and enjoy the natural and cultural wonders of the Golden State. As a result, demand for recreation facilities skyrocketed. The state responded with programs of park acquisition and development based on a variety of recreation studies conducted in the two decades following the war's end in 1945. Utilizing the parks became a priority, in addition to conserving the natural wonders within.
Rubicon Beach at Lake Tahoe (1935) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
During the postwar era, California’s population boomed. In 1940, the state held almost 7 million people. By 1950, that number had increased to 10.5 million, and by 1960, 15.7 million. In 1963, California surpassed New York as the most populous state in the nation, a position it retains today.
As the population increased, so to did the demand for recreation resources. Californians overall enjoyed wages 25% above the national average, and a post-war shift to a five-day work week (from the 6-7 days durimg the wartime effort) left many with leisure time to spare. Additionally, the automobile gave increased mobility to much of the populace, thereby expanding the possibilities of day-trips and weekend jaunts.
During the social turmoil of the 1960s, many Californians also grew concerned with the welfare of the state’s youth. It seemed especially important to provide wholesome recreational and educational opportunities for young people. With its combination of natural and cultural resources, people turned to the state park system to provide both young and old with access to enjoyable leisure time activities.
Tenative Outline: A Study of Recreation in California (1946-12-01) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
California’s state government anticipated some increase in demand for recreation resources and began planning even before the end of the war. Governor Earl Warren signed a flurry of park-related bills early in 1945, including the $15 million Omnibus Park Acquisition Bill (discussed earlier in this exhibit); a bill to provide funds for a statewide system of hiking and riding trails; and increases in Park staff to administer park expansion and administration.
In addition, state, local, and private interests conducted recreation studies to determine the Golden State's needs. The study shown here, proposed by the Committee for the Study of Recreation in California in 1946 and funded by the Rosenberg Foundation, emphasized the various responsibilities of state government in relation to recreation. In this time period, federal, state, and local governments as well as private entities were often confused about their sometimes overlapping responsibilities for managing recreational facilities and parks.
Conducting a park survey in a redwood grove (1952) by Fred Meyer CollectionCalifornia State Archives
Recreation studies and subsequent planning continued through the 1950s. In this 1952 photograph, two State Parks employees are conducting a survey of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Designated as a state park in 1931, the area includes two groves of giant sequoias, including the grove where the "Mother of the Forest" once stood. The remains of this 321-foot-tall behemoth can still be seen at the park.
A 1957 Senate Interim Committee report on recreation pointed out a major shift in public demand, for the "establishment of more recreational areas and facilities, as distinguished from 'natural' parks." Many people now wanted areas to play sports, enjoy outdoor hobbies, and have fun, rather than contemplate natural grandeur.
Furthermore, California's population boom had shifted the state from a primarily rural-based populace to a mostly urban society with large cities and sprawling suburbs. Those living in economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods typically had very little access to recreational facilities. City parks were often in overcrowded areas congested with traffic and urban housing, or were not present at all, creating a void that the state stepped in to fill.
California Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown, Sr. on horseback (1965) by Edmund "Pat" Brown PapersCalifornia State Archives
In November 1958, Californians elected Edmund "Pat" Brown, Sr. as their new governor. Although much of Governor Brown's early administration concentrated upon civil rights legislation and the massive State Water Project, Brown had a personal interest in the state's parks.
Governor Brown was an active sportsman and avid camper. He visited many of the parks across the Golden State and took a yearly pack trip into the mountains, often accompanied by other government officials such as Chief Justice and former California Governor Earl Warren. This photograph was likely taken on one of those trips in the 1960s.
A year prior to Governor Pat Brown's election, the State Legislature passed a bill requiring the development of a "California Public Outdoor Recreation Plan," to determine the present and future needs of California's populace for outdoor recreation facilities. When completed in 1961, the plan identified the "most urgent" need for people within urban areas as the development of recreation facilities close to home, within an hour's ride by car, in part to provide recreation opportunities for every age group, income level, and interest.
"Recreation Policy of the State of California" "Recreation Policy of the State of California" (1962) by Department of Fish and Game RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The 1961 plan called for the formal adoption of a Recreation Policy. This policy, adopted by Governor Brown in 1962, provided for "a variety of recreational opportunities for all population groups," including protecting open spaces in California's scenic landscapes; acquisition of additional land to accommodate facilities for outdoor recreation; preservation of historically significant sites and buildings; development of a state system of scenic roads; urban recreational facilities; expansion of infrastructure such as camp grounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, water sports facilities, and snow play areas; and integration with the recreation opportunities presented by the new State Water Plan.
In an introductory letter to the new Recreation Policy (shown here), Brown cited his own interest, in both his public and private life, in the recreational possibilities of the state. He declared his intention to work with the State Legislature and "foster a new and progressive program in the field of public recreation."
Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown (standing) and his son Jerry, California's present governor (1960) by Edmund G. "Pat" Brown PapersCalifornia State Archives
Governor Brown’s personal interest in California’s natural resources led him to take an active role in their preservation even beyond the development of a recreation policy for the state. He appointed new members to the State Park Commission who convinced the State Legislature to approve bills ending state parks' reliance on oil royalty revenues and instead placing the department under the general fund. Brown called for the doubling of state park campsites, as well as the construction of new facilities for swimming, boating, and other water recreation activities.
In the 1962 Recreation Policy, Governor Brown recognized recreation as "a necessity to the mental and physical well-being of all the people and to the culture and economy of State of California." He instilled his deep interest in outdoor recreation in his son and present California governor, Edmund "Jerry" Brown, Jr. Like his father, Governor Jerry Brown has taken an active role in preserving and protecting California's parks, signing several bills to strengthen the park system.
Protectors of Our Parks
California's State Park Rangers are instrumental in preserving and protecting the State Park System, ensuring that past, present, and future visitors can enjoy the natural and cultural diversity of the Golden State. Rangers provide law enforcement and patrol services; protect and manage each park's resources; assist visitors by providing general park information, ecological and historical interpretation, and medical assistance; and develop, administer, and implement conservation programs, among a wide variety of other duties.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (1954) by Fred Meyer CollectionCalifornia State Archives
The first state park ranger in California is generally considered to be Galen Clark, the first Guardian of Yosemite. Clark and other early “guardians," “wardens,” and “custodians” were often long-time park area residents. They acted as caretakers, maintenance workers, campfire builders, nature guides, gatekeepers, and fee collectors. They assisted tourists but also protected the parks from damage caused by careless visitors. Until the 1970s, only males could hold the title of "warden." The term warden was changed to ranger in 1940.
This circa 1954 photograph shows a California Park Ranger standing on Oakzanita Peak overlooking the Green Valley area of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County. The park's 24,700 acres feature over one hundred miles of riding and hiking trails through forests and meadow-lands.
Park Ranger Task List Park Ranger Task List (1956) by Department of Natural Resources RecordsCalifornia State Archives
This 1956 Park Ranger Task List, part of the training materials used at that time, illustrates the many duties associated with being a California State Park Ranger.
By the early 1970s, park rangers became sworn peace officers, which required training in law enforcement and weapons. The new centralized park ranger training program -- the first in the nation -- also included courses in park maintenance and administration, resource management, history, natural history, and interpretive techniques. Park rangers took on more interpretation, education, and outreach duties, giving programs throughout the year.
The first woman officially classified as a California State Park Ranger, Paula Peterson, was instrumental in developing one of these programs, the defensive tactics training program. Peterson broke the gender barrier that had existed since the inception of California's state parks to become a ranger in 1972. She eventually became the Chief Ranger of the Monterey District.
Prior to Peterson, women could serve the parks system as caretakers, volunteers, or seasonal recreation leaders like Harriet Weaver (discussed previously in this exhibit), but could not officially hold the title of "ranger." While our society has progressed in terms of equalizing employment opportunities and salaries for women, sadly the lack of official recognition for the contributions of these early women to the state park system means that records of their service are scarce.
Fire Lookout and Ranger Cabin, Mt. Bielawski (1927) by Department of Finance, Historical Record PhotographsCalifornia State Archives
One of the many duties of California's park rangers is fire patrol and lookout, crucial in protecting the parks during the Golden State's hot, dry summers.
This facility at Mt. Bielawski in the Santa Cruz Mountains was the first state-funded fire lookout in California. Built in 1922, the sixty-foot steel tower overlooks most of the California Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Park rangers often live within or near the parks that they administer, in state-constructed cabins such as this one.
Columbia: Gem of the Southern Mines
The Gold Rush town of Columbia in Tuolumne County is a lovely example of historic preservation in action. Many individuals and citizen groups worked for years to raise funds and gather support to make the town of Columbia a state park. It was first considered worthy of preservation during Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr.'s 1928 State Park Survey. Olmsted designated Columbia as one of the most authentic and best preserved mining towns in California's Mother Lode. Recognizing the opportunity to preserve the historic town, the State Legislature passed a bill to create Columbia Historic State Park which Governor Earl Warren signed on July 15, 1945. Columbia State Historic Park is now run as a living, open-air museum, where individuals in period costume operate stores and demonstrate nineteenth-century skills.
California Governor Earl Warren (center, no hat) (1945-07-15) by Earl Warren PapersCalifornia State Archives
California Governor Earl Warren (in the back seat of the buggy, on the left) attended the ceremonies dedicating Columbia as part of the state park system in 1945.
Wells Fargo Building Restoration by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Restoring Columbia's Wells Fargo Building was one of the major projects undertaken while preparing the park for the public. These photographs of various stages in the Wells Fargo Building restoration show (from upper left clockwise around): the work crew responsible for much of the restoration; scaffolding erected to stabilize the building during restoration; roof replacement work; and work on the underlying roof joints.
Wells Fargo Building Interior, Before and After Restoration by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
The interior of the Wells Fargo Building in Columbia, California, before (left) and after (right) restoration.
Columbia State Park Map (1950) by General Ephemera CollectionCalifornia State Archives
This map, part of a 1950 brochure, shows the historic buildings that visitors can explore at Columbia Historic State Park. The park hosts over 400,000 visitors a year.
California's Parks at Present
California's State Capitol Building (1930) by Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture RecordsCalifornia State Archives
Today, California's Department of Parks and Recreation manages 280 park units, 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of river and lake frontage, 15,000 campsites, and 4,500 miles of trails. These holdings include California's State Capitol Building and surrounding 40-acre Capitol Park, shown in this circa 1930 photograph.
According to the Department of Parks and Recreation's website, "California State Parks contains the largest and most diverse natural and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation." Over 67 million visitors per year enjoy parks that celebrate and preserve California's multitude of natural wonders and cultural heritage.
To learn more about California's state park system, please visit the California Department of Parks and Recreation website.
All images from records of the California State Archives.
Curation of physical exhibit by Melissa Tyler and Lisa Prince, with assistance from Juan Ramos and Kevin Turner (2014)
Digital adaptation by Jessica Herrick (2016)
Imaging by Jessica Herrick, Melissa Tyler, and Lisa Prince
Editing by Rebecca Wendt, Jacqueline Kinney, and Bill Mabie
California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
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