John Jay Cook
John Jay Cook, the first of a number of family members to be associated with Yosemite, was an entrepreneur who was instrumental with his brother-in-law, Henry Washburn, in building up what is now the Wawona Hotel. But later he and his son, John Bruce Cook, took on management of Black’s Hotel in the Valley Floor and later the Stoneman House (which burnt down in 1896). His grandson was elected to the state house and used his influence to help the family business.
J.J., as he was sometimes called, was born June 4, 1837 in Dutchess County, New York. He grew up in the east and became quite skilled in business. He was taken on as a partner at the dry goods store where he worked. He expanded into other interests, as well. He got into the import business of silk and lace. He even became a pharmacist under the tutelage of his brother Dr. Steven G. Cook. As many did in that time, at the approach of the Civil War, he got out of town. He and his wife, Fanny, moved to California and settled in Mariposa.
There his good fortune continued as he ventured into a drug and variety store. He expanded his influence as far west as San Francisco. He invested in a number of enterprises, one of which would begin to change the course of his life. His sister would marry Henry Washburn. Washburn had a vision of the newly discovered Yosemite Valley and his brothers, Edward and John and other partners, began putting in a road to a small group of structures known as Clark’s Station. These structures were owned by Galen Clark. Clark went on to become Yosemite’s first Guardian and, due to financial troubles, would sell Clark’s Station to the Washburn brothers in 1875. The Washburns and their partners, which now included J.J. Cook, would rename Clark’s Station to Wawona and it became the grandest hotels in the region. Clark was given free residence FOR LIFE!
In 1883, Cook expanded his interests in Yosemite. He took on management of Black’s Hotel on the valley floor. He bid for and won the proprietorship of a new hotel, Stoneman House, constructed as overseen by the Yosemite Commissioners, in 1889. One of the conditions of the bid was that for the first 10 years, only one other hotel would be allowed to operate in the Valley. The commissioners agreed and chose to keep the Yosemite Falls Hotel (which would be called the Sentinel Hotel beginning in 1895). The Stoneman House was destroyed by fire in 1896. Cook then took on the Sentinel House which he managed until his death in 1904. His son, John Bruce Cook, would continue management until Christmas, 1910 when he took his own life because of constant stomach problems and impending investigation over improprieties at the Yosemite Post Office where he had worked.
Cook’s Meadow was named in the honor of the family. This is where he would graze his cattle while he ran the Stoneman House and is now from where many a photo is taken of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and “the Elm” tree. On the way to Glacier Point, you can stop at an overlook called Washburn’s Point named in honor of the Washburn brothers.