Of the structures in public use in Yosemite National Park, the Yosemite Valley Chapel is now the oldest. This little New England style church was built under the sponsorship of the California State Sunday School Association, partly by subscriptions from the children, but mainly from the voluntary contributions of prominent members of the Association.
The Chapel was built in 1879 by those who recognized that the God who created our wonderful surroundings is even more incredible than His creation. As the psalmist declares "O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places" (Psalm 68:35).
Mr. Charles Geddes, a leading architect of San Francisco, made and presented the plans. Mr. E. Thomson, also of San Francisco, erected the building at a cost of between three and four thousand dollars. It will seat an audience of about two hundred and fifty. Mr. H. D. Bacon of Oakland donated the bell.
The first service was held on June 7, 1879, and the church was filled to overflowing by delegates to the National Sunday School Assembly who were meeting in Yosemite Valley at that time.
The first organ in the Chapel was given by Miss Mary Porter of Philadelphia in memory of Florence Hutchings. Florence was the unofficial, but faithful caretaker of the Chapel during the summer of 1879-1881. She died in a climbing accident at the tender age of 17.
In 1887, on the death of President Grant, a memorial service was held in the Chapel. The organist for the day was Sir Arthur Sullivan, famed composer and collaborator with Sir William Gilbert in the famous Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. Sir Arthur was visiting in the Valley at the time and was asked to assist in the service.
The original location of the Chapel structure was on rising ground near the base of the Four Mile trail, a mile or so down the Valley from its present site on the south side of Yosemite Valley.
In the passage of years, the old Chapel, built in the midst of a busy community, lost one by one its companion buildings, until, with the moving on of community activity to other parts of the Valley, it stood alone. In 1901, it was taken down and moved to its present site.
The Yosemite Valley Chapel was given Historic American building status by the National Park Service in 1965. Following this, its interior was restored and a new foundation was placed under it.
This little Chapel continues to serve as a place of worship for residents and visitors alike, as it has done for over 100 years.