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Taking You Back in History: Priest Station Part II

By Kathy Brown

Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society / Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum

Margaret Priest brought her niece Jessie Carlaw from Scotland to assist her in running the busy station. In 1899 Jessie married Daniel Corcoran, who had left his family's ranch in Deer Flat in his teens to work as a handyman at Priest's. Jessie and Dan assisted Margaret in running the station. William died in 1900, and after Margaret's death in 1905, the Corcorans assumed proprietorship of Priest Station.

Dan and Jessie's only child Margaret spent her childhood at the station. In her 70s she shared these memories, “We had the first plumbing on this side of the [Tuolumne] River. …In the early days local women did the cooking. After the 1890s there was always a Chinese cook. He lived at the hotel and prepared [meals]. He prepared lunches for the miners who boarded there, which they carried in tin buckets when they walked to nearby mines. One of my fondest childhood memories is of cream puffs with real cream for dessert.”

Priest Station Hotel, c. 1920. The sign on the porch of the hotel says “Stage Ticket Office”, letting us know that stages still ran to Priest's although cars were now able to make it up the New Grade. This hotel burned to the ground in the 1926 fire that destroyed the entire complex.

Margaret also related this sad memory, “One day in August 1926, a devastating brush fire wiped out the entire establishment. In a few moments of fiery holocaust all of the famous hostelry was gone.” Only a few possessions were saved during that fire, which destroyed all 22 buildings. One of those items was their cash register which is now in the Priest Station display at the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum. Disheartened after the fire, the Corcorans rebuilt on a much smaller scale by 1927. They added a service station and continued the family tradition of serving the traveling public.

In 1927 Dan and Jessie's daughter, Margaret Corcoran, married Joe Anker who worked as an inspector for San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy project. They added the current cabins. After Jessie died in 1933, Dan continued to run the station until his death in 1936. Margaret Corcoran Anker owned the station from 1936 to 1969. The Station, but not the ranch, was sold and owned out of the family in the subsequent 38 years.

Joe and Margaret's son Wallace “Wally” Anker was raised on the ranch but moved away to pursue his education and a career in international banking. He lived abroad during most of this time with his wife Helga and children, Kim, Conrad, Denise and Steve. Wally and Helga returned to the area upon retirement and became very active in the local community. They were among the handful of founding members of STCHS and instrumental in building the Groveland Museum. In 2007 they reacquired Priest Station, and in 2009 they opened Priest Station Cafe and Cabins, bringing the site at the top of Priest grade back to the family and to its original roots of serving the public.

Amazingly, the area at the top of Priest Grade is still functioning as a stopping place almost 170 years later. Even more amazingly, it is still run by the extended Anker family, 5th and 6th generation descendants of the original Kirkwood/Priest family founders.


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