By Kathy Brown, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
The first part of this article covered the “when, where and who” of the ownership of Washington/Savory Hotel. But what was the hotel really like, who stayed there, and how do we know?
Comments about the hotel can be found in 1870s California travel magazines such as this one published by James Hutchings, “ ‘Breakfast!’ shouts the coachman (a musical sound indeed even though his voice were cracked and it isn’t) as he pulls up at Savory's, the jovial and obliging landlord of the Washington Hotel, Garrote. We predict that if he knows that we are coming, and we are certain that he does, he will spread before us an excellent repast - especially for a mining town.”
Early hotel information was gathered about 1950 in an interview done with Anna Jones Reid by Margaret Schlichtmann and Irene Paden for their book The Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite. In it Anna reminisced about previous hotel owners and the hotel's final three years under her husband Thomas R. Reid, “It was just an ordinary mountain hotel. The boarders were mostly miners. No woman or child ever set foot inside the bar.”
New information came to light in 2020 when Jojy (Smith) Hayden gifted the Groveland Museum a collection of artifacts that had been passed down through Groveland's Reid and Smith families. Probably the most important item in the collection is the 1870s guest book of the Washington/Savory Hotel. The register contains names and home towns of guests. A wealth of information was gathered from reading guests' and registrars' comments about the hotel, their travels and the weather. One unique 1881 note reads, “President Garfield shot July 2, at 9:30 AM at Depot in Washington DC.”
In its earliest years the hotel probably housed and fed miners, visiting mine owners, and early homesteaders traveling to or from outlying ranches and Yosemite Valley. After 1864 when Yosemite officially became a park and the Big Oak Flat Road was completed, tourism brought travelers on their way to see the wonders of Yosemite. A comment in the hotel ledger on June 12, 1873 reads, “The advice of all returning from and going to the Valley - to stop at Mr. Savory's as long as they can, for a more thorough gentleman and hospitable host cannot be found anywhere.”
The hotel had a bar and a billiards table and was noted for its food. In the 1870s groups such as Mossell's Comedy Group, California Minstrel Troupe and San Francisco Minstrels are found written in the hotel guest book with the notation “Entertainment tonight!” On July 22, 1874 Colonel Warren, Editor of the magazine California Forever (for whom Bret Harte wrote), commented in the ledger, “Traveling in stage with the merriest and happiest passengers I’ll ever know for live-long year. Returning from Yosemite Valley Celebration … we knew we should all be refreshed with a “Savory” dinner at the Washington Hotel.”
By researching entries in the guest ledger we found that, with Yosemite as draw, people from all over the US and the world stopped at Savory's. They were often wealthy since long distance travel was costly. There were few or no guest entries in the winters when weather prevented travel to Yosemite.
The ledger informs us that many well-known people stopped at the Savory. Just a few of them were environmentalist John Muir, poet and author Helen Hunt [Jackson], landscape artist Albert Bierstadt, Clarence King and Josiah Whitney of the US Geological Survey, Premier of New Zealand Honorable William Fox, Adm. Thomas Selfridge Commodore Mare Island Navy Yard, explorer Richard Shackleton, Philo Remington of Remington Rifle and typewriter family, and diplomat Augustus Jay.
The Washington/Savory Hotel held an important place in Groveland’s history. The next time you walk past the Hotel Charlotte look beyond it and see the Washington/Savory Hotel, a “Ghost of Hotels Past” that once stood there.
Taking You Back in History is provided by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) and the Groveland Gateway Museum. The Museum is open Friday - Sunday 10a - 2p.