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Taking You Back in History: Life at Priest Hotel

By Margaret Corcoran Anker courtesy of Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society

Jessie Corcoran and Margaret Corcoran Anker

This month Taking You Back in History is sharing The Reminiscences of Life at the Priest Hotel by Margaret Corcoran Anker. STCHS was fortunate to have Margaret Corcoran Anker share her memories, which were printed in 1992 STCHS Newsletters. She passed away just a few years later in 1995.

Here are some of the Priest/Corcoran family names through the generations to help you place Margaret Corcoran Anker and other family members mentioned in her reminiscences in the history of Priest Station.

Margaret Dick Kirkwood Priest, 1835 - 1905, first owner of Priest Station; Married - (1)

Alexander Kirkwood, 1857; (2) William Priest, 1871; (had no children)

Janet “Jessie” Carlaw Corcoran, 1857 - 1931, Margaret's niece brought from Scotland to help run Priest's Hotel; Married Daniel Corcoran of Deer Flat

Margaret Corcoran Anker, 1903 - 1995, daughter of Jessie and Dan; grandniece of Margaret Priest; author of these reminiscences; Married Joseph L. Anker, 1899

Wallace “Wally" Anker, 1928 - 2010, son of Margaret and Joe Anker; married Helga

Kim, Conrad, Steve, Denise Anker, children of Wally and Helga Anker, current Priest's owners

Reminiscences of Life at the Priest's Hotel


Margaret Corcoran Anker

I. Margaret Priest

Margaret [Dick] Kirkwood Priest, the Scottish owner of Priest's Hotel was still alive when I came into this world. It was a cold snowy January day in 1903 when I first arrived at Priest's Hotel via horse and buggy. Because my grandfather and my baby brother had previously died due to lack of adequate medical care in our area, my mother Jessie Carlaw Corcoran decided that I should be born in Sonora. Accordingly, I didn’t make it home to Priest's until I was two weeks old.

The stories about Mrs. Priest - this strong pioneer woman - are legendary. Her first husband Alexander Kirkwood died here in 1870 and her second, William Priest, died in 1900. She always slept with a small Derringer under her pillow and it accompanied her when she rode up the road to Yosemite and Tioga to collect the week's receipts from the toll collectors. I accompanied Aunty Priest several times on these trips to the toll stations. Priest's was the headquarters for the Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite.

When I knew Mrs. Priest, she was always dressed in black. Perhaps that is because she was twice widowed. When she was young she went to San Francisco every August for her new clothes. One of her fashionable dresses is in the Coulterville Museum.

My strongest remaining impression of Mrs. Priest is the large bunch of keys she carried with her at all times. Although Mrs. Priest was very hospitable, she kept everything locked at all times. As a good Scot, Mrs. Priest wanted to make sure there were no mysterious disappearances from the hotel.

Daniel Corcoran, my father, left the family ranch in Deer Flat in 1879 to work at Priest's Hotel when he was sixteen. He stayed at Priest's Hotel (renamed Priest's Station after the 1926 fire) the rest of his life. Because Mr. and Mrs. Priest had no children, they brought my mother, Mrs. Priest's niece Jessie Carlaw, from Scotland to work with them in the hotel in the 1880s. My mother and father were married in San Francisco in 1896.

Mrs. Priest died in 1906 [records show 1905], at the age of sixty-six. My mother and father became the proprietors of the Hotel at that time. Mrs. Priest was gone but her influence and reputation remained at the Hotel and in the area for many years to come.

Margaret Corcoran Anker will tell us more about the Priest Hotel during the age of the Stage Coach and Horse and Buggy Era in her next installment.

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


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