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Senator John Conness of California, photograph, ca. 1860

Senator John Conness of California arrived in the state during the 1849 Gold Rush and grew to appreciate its unique natural beauty. In his single term in the 38th Congress (1863–1865) he introduced the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, passed in June 1864.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

this bill proposes to make a grant of certain premises located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the state of California, that are for all public purposes worthless, but which constitute, perhaps, some of the greatest wonders of the world.

Senator John Conness of California, May 17, 1864

Senator John Conness of California, photograph, ca. 1860

Yosemite National Park

The development of the West attracted a growing population. As settlement impacted natural resources, conservationists urged Congress to preserve some of the West’s most scenic and fragile environments. In 1864 Senator John Conness of California introduced a bill making Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias the first parklands set aside by the federal government. Congress initially granted them to California, but in 1890 designated them a National Park. Congress protected Yosemite from encroachment and made it part of the National Park Service established in 1916.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.

John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912