The Yosemite Curry Village was known as Camp Curry when it was first opened, and was the first affordable accommodation in Yosemite National Park. It was established by former teachers David and Jennie Curry in June of 1899 as an alternative to the expensive hotels that existed in Yosemite Valley at the time.
In the 1890’s a visit to Yosemite was too expensive for most Americans to afford...
It was not unusual for the trip to Yosemite to cost more than one hundred dollars per person!
A trip to Yosemite valley could not be made in less than three days back then, and there were train and stage fares as well as the costs of food and lodging along the way.
And of course, there was the return trip with similar expenses going back out of the valley.
As Jennie would later recall in her historical account...
At the time, Yosemite Valley’s Sentinel Hotel had a minimum charge of $4.00 a day, plus tips, with no alternative but primitive camping.
With earlier experiences leading fellow teachers on regular summer tours into Yellowstone National Park, on a teachers budget, the enterprising young couple recognized an opportunity in Yosemite.
Their philosophy was “what do the people want, and how do we give it to them?” They already knew the answer...
So for $2.00 a day they would provide guests with a tent, good food and the company of like-minded Souls.
Because of the sites spectacular views of Half Dome and the Tenaya Canyon, a location for the Camp was selected at the far eastern end of Yosemite Valley amongst huge cedar trees and at the base of Glacier Point.
Permission to use the site was granted by Yosemite Guardian Galen Clark.
Not surprisingly, most of the couples first guests were educators. The visiting teachers, professors and administrators spread positive reports of their experiences and more came.
At first, the numbers were still small compared to the guests at the Sentinel Hotel. But unlike the Sentinel, many stayed for as long as a month at a time…and the Camp began to flourish.
In 1964 in recognition of the Yosemite Centennial, Jennie and Davids daughter Mary Curry Tressider shared her personal family account written by her mother Jennie and herself. It was entitled “Early Days At Camp Curry”.
(Originally written for the Yosemite Centennial in 1964 by Mary Curry Tressider)...
Camp Curry has existed for sixty-four of the hundred years which the centennial is celebrating.
To begin with, let me quote from an account of its early days written by my mother, Jennie Foster Curry, some years before her death in 1948.
"In the summer of 1899 David A. Curry and his wife Jennie Foster Curry, both Hoosier school teachers who had come west on the installment plan and finally landed in California, came to Yosemite and established a small camp for the entertainment of guests.
They had formerly taken parties through Yellowstone with a movable camp. Both had been given an unusual love for nature and the out of doors through their training in nature lore under Dr. David Starr Jordan at Indiana University where they were both members and graduates of the class of '83.
"They secured from the Guardian of the Valley (which was then a state park) permission to use the site of the present camp where with their first purchase of seven tents they began their enterprise.
As everything had to be transported by wagon from Merced, a hundred miles away, their equipment was scanty-tents with burlap floors, bed springs on wooden legs, mattresses, comfortable and clean bedding, wash stands made from cracker boxes with an oilcloth cover and a calico curtain, a few chairs, and tables. The dining tent seated twenty persons.
The only paid employee was the cook, the remainder of the duties about camp being performed by Mr. and Mrs. Curry assisted by two or three Stanford students who worked a certain number of weeks in return for room and board and a week's free vacation in the park....
The seven tents grew during the first season to twenty-five and the number of guests reached almost three hundred which was considered a very good beginning....
The guests came chiefly from educational groups, Mr. and Mrs. Curry being known to them through their teaching contacts.
Each guest seemed to take a personal interest in the young concern and it was by their personal recommendations to their friends that Camp Curry - as the camp came to be called by its neighbors - had its immediate and steady growth.
Mr. Curry's personality added largely to this.
Big in body, mind and soul, interested in life and people, simple in his ways and habits, absolutely without any affectation, his friendly spirit and genial whole-souledness appealed to people...
When the railroad reached El Portal in 1907 it greatly increased travel to the park and made possible many improvements in camp equipment and efficiency.
No longer were furniture, eatables, in fact everything used in camp, brought in ten-horse or mule wagons from Merced, but these came by train to El Portal only fifteen miles away and connected with Yosemite by a good road.
Bedsteads, dressers, rugs, better kitchen equipment, all added to the comfort of the camp and made it possible better to serve the always increasing numbers that found their way to its open gateway.
It would be difficult to indicate all the embarrassing moments that had occurred when for instance the stages which brought perishables daily and any other freight they had room for, being anxiously awaited to bring tents for waiting guests, arrived perhaps with the canvas but no poles...
Or the freight wagon was overdue and finally arrived with a driver who had sustained a broken leg.
When in 1913 automobiles were admitted to the park another impetus was added to travel.
The 1915 Fair in San Francisco brought more than the usual number of eastern visitors and in that and the following year, the camp reached the gratifying number of over 5,000 guests and a capacity of 1,000 guests...
From the beginning until 1917, the camp operated on a year to year permit, until the investment had reached many thousands of dollars.
Always there was the request for a longer lease but not until 1917, a few weeks before Mr. Curry's death was a five year lease granted, and financing improvements was always difficult, the banks thinking, as Mr. Curry expressed it, that he was either a fool or a gambler'."
As I was a child of five when we first came in, my recollections of those first days are necessarily rather limited and chaotic.
I remember the wild ride down the old Coulterville Road with Driver Eddie Webb on our first trip in, and I remember how the 4-horse stages used to wheel into the turn-around at the front, with a crack of the driver's whip out of a cloud of dust.
My father and a porter or two and any guests who had not gone for hikes or rides would be assembled for the big event of the day, and there would be a warm welcome for the travelers, with much flourishing of feather dusters.
Ladies had their hats tied down with heavy veils, and unfortunate was he or she who didn't sport a linen dust-coat. Even in 1915 there was only one mile of hard-paved road in the Valley.
Visitors stayed longer in Yosemite in those halcyon times when reaching it took a couple of days by horse stage. It was a very friendly place, with many families spending their summer vacations there.
Nightly there was campfire, which in the earlier years was often a "faggot party", where people brought their own small bundles of wood to feed the flames, and told a story, sang a song or entertained in some other way while their faggots burned.
After the first year there was with increasing frequency a "Firefall" from Glacier Point, - an event initiated by James McCauley who built the hotel there in 1878 - while everyone sang "America".
My father enjoyed presiding at these gatherings, first he would introduce "the Mule Man" from the stables across the Valley, who arranged rides and drives for the following day.
Then he would discourse on topics of the day, the beauties of Yosemite, its geology, etc., answering questions from his audience.
There were still a number of Indians living in Yosemite part of the year, I remember particularly a couple of the women, Mary, and Lucy who used to take my sister and me to pick wild strawberries in the meadows.
They were plentiful in those days, and the women used to bring heaping cans of them to camp and sell them for wild strawberry sundaes."
Sometimes, too, "Cap’n Sam" or "Cap'n Tom" would come from the high country or across the crest from Mono through Bloody Canyon with trout in willow creels, packed with ferns and almost icy cold, which at that time they were allowed to sell to us.
A day at the camp started early, breakfast hours were six to eight, and by seven-thirty my father would be calling, in a voice to rouse the Seven Sleepers...
"Have you used Ivory Soap?" (This was an unauthorized adaptation of the current Pear Soap slogan), or "At eight o'clock.... the cooks get hot. . . and burn the breakfast!"
He took great pleasure in the resonance and carrying power of his voice, and his evening call for the Firefall, and liked to recite the Homeric source for his appellation, "The Stentor of Yosemite...
Stentor was that famous Greek of antiquity who could command 10,000 troops without a megaphone."
"Daddy" Kussman, a German, was the chef for many years, and his wife ran the pantry and dining room.
The waiters and waitresses, as well as the porters (who in addition to their routine duties, wrapped hot rocks in thick layers of paper and put them in the beds of those with enough forethought to order them), were a fine group of independent students, eking out their finances at college.
My mother -- "Mother Curry" as she was known fondly throughout the Valley for years meanwhile was the power behind the throne, the Court of Last Appeal for the employees.
She used to say that she had done every job around camp except that of porter, from supervising the hundreds of lunches that were put up daily to making soap with lye from wood-ashes in a huge open kettle in the backyard, or baking dozens of pies or loaves of bread.
She stayed out of the public eye as completely as my father filled it, but was always at one with him in their devotion to Camp Curry and to Yosemite.