Tony Krizan

Searching for Fort Monroe along forgotten trails

Clem Bingham and Fred Cochran looking for Tony next to Fort Monroe Dump.
Clem Bingham and Fred Cochran looking for Tony next to Fort Monroe Dump. Special to the Sierra Star

During the past few months, I’ve received a few inquiries about a forgotten Yosemite historical site.

This site was called Fort Monroe, located along the old Wawona Stage Coach Road. A few years back, Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I decided to search for that historic location. Enclosed is a revision of that 2013 hike following the Old Wawona Stage Coach Road.

Since the 1880s, this old established route was the western gateway into Yosemite National Park. This is a long day hike starting at Bridalveil parking lot. A secondary trail will be located at the scenic parking lot next to the Wawona Tunnel. Trailhead is called the Pohono Trail. This stagecoach road and Pohono Trail intersect, which gives one a choice of starting locations. Both routes intersect once again at the new Inspiration Point. An old stone monument at this location identifies the trail leading down to the view point.

Second choice is to keep following the old road a half mile to the forgotten relay station called Fort Monroe. In 1891 this station was converted to a military outpost and also served as the park’s entrance.

From the second junction, we continued following the road south as it increased in elevation. Following this forgotten road, we experienced downed trees and weather abused asphalt. But remember, this road character was formed after it was abandoned in 1933 when the Wawona Tunnel was completed. We continued following this winding road south until it turned east, then, roughly after 175 yards, it turns south again and this is the location of Fort Monroe (GPS… Latitude 37.71021and Longitude 119.69517).

After 1933, when the Wawona Tunnel was completed, Fort Monroe was abandoned and the military removed all existing structures. All that is visible today are the graded flat areas and soil cut-outs which were the locations of old structures. Of course, to help identify the location, we located its dump only 50 yards from the existing road.

Early research stated there was an alternate trail behind the main structure that led to the original Inspiration Point. We found that trail, which was quite steep and research stated that if the passengers were stranded overnight, this was an alternate activity to help pass the time. Today, this forgotten trail looks more like a game trail, displaying tracks of the local inhabitants. It’s been decades since it has been maintained, if ever!

Fort Monroe was named after stagecoach driver George H. Monroe. He drove wagons for the A. H. Washburn Stage Coach Line in the late 1800s. His reputation was flawless as being a kind and generous person. Professionally, he was known as the best wagon operator of the stagecoach line. He guided many dignitaries such as Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes over this road into Yosemite Valley.

George Monroe was born in Georgia and migrated with his parents to California when he was 12 years old. He was employed as a stage driver by the Washburn Stage Lines until his untimely death at the young age of 42. An accident occurred as he was attempting to control a run-away stage, which he was a passenger. Like in an old western movie he jumped from horse to horse until reaching the lead horse to bring them under control. He sustained an injury from his heroism and sad to say he passes away a few days later at his parent’s ranch located in Mariposa.

With 2018 almost concluded and snow levels being at this location, we’ll have to wait until spring of 2019. The rewards in spring are the colorful wildflower lining this forgotten road. Set a date for this adventure, you will not be disappointed.

Someone somewhere has to have a photo of this historic location. Even Yosemite’s library could not locate an image. If any of my readers locate a photo, please contact me.