By Kathy Brown
Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society / Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum
For most of its known history Buck Meadows has been a traveler's stop on the road to Yosemite. Because of the abundance of oak trees ringing a beautiful meadow there, it was long a gathering place for the Mono tribes on their annual trek to harvest acorns, their staple food which did not grow in the Eastern Sierra.
That meadow became known as Hamilton Station in 1874 when Alvah and Johannah Hamilton moved to the lower elevation from Tamarack Flat above Yosemite Valley where they had been running a seasonal hospice. They opened another hospice, farmed the meadow area, raised their own beef and pork, and planted orchards that included apples, peaches and Bartlett pears. Hamiltons' daughters, Nora and Eva, helped run the station.
Their new location, across the road from the byway to the popular tourist attraction, Bower Cave, made Hamilton’s a perfect stopping place on that journey as well as on the trip to Yosemite. It was also popular as a place to stop for a drink of cold spring water. Though Hamiltons settled there in 1874 they did not seek a Homestead patent on their 160 acres until 1892 when another early meadow settler, George Bartlett, also received a patent for his land at the meadow.
Here is Paden and Schlichtmann's description of the late 1800s Hamilton Station in The Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite:
“In spite of a certain crudity of construction Hamilton Station was always kept inviting. The lean-to milk house stood under a large black oak and over an icy spring which provided a sort of cooling system for the food. …One habitual traveler of the road wrote, ‘I could enjoy a meal there as well as at the Palace in San Francisco.’”
Hamilton’s became a stop for freight wagon drivers, Hetch Hetchy Railroad workers, and cattlemen driving stock to high country, as well as tourists. Hamilton Station's business, which became George Bartlett's in 1916, increased from 1914 - 1924 during the building O'Shaughnessy Dam just a few miles down the road. A small but permanent population developed there with enough children to have its own school and a small grocery store. When Bartlett took over the station, after he returned from service in WWI, he renamed it Buck Meadows for the many large bucks found there. Drinking at the saloon and dancing in the pavilion became a popular pastimes. Bartlett's son Charles ran the station after 1929.
An article in the Union Democrat in Sept 1916 just after Bartlett took over the Station reads:
“George F. Bartlett, of Buck Meadows, who is building a town at the popular stopping place on the Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite Valley … has just finished a contract on the Hetch Hetchy Dam project and is now preparing to operate trucks in delivering supplies for construction work on the dam. Buck Meadows, until recently known as Hamilton Station, has been converted into an ideal stopping place by Mr. Bartlett. …Indeed it is a delightful spot to spend a summer vacation and many were the long period guests at the Buck Meadows Hotel, which is rapidly gaining a reputation for providing the best meals to be obtained at any mountain resort. …The place is being enlarged and new cottages are being erected.”
Be sure to look for more about Buck Meadows in the next Weekly, with the stories of the collapse of the Big Gap Flume and the establishment of the 1930s CCC camp there.