On this date in 1864, President Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to California for “public use, resort, and restoration.” A homesteader, Galen Clark, had been so awed by the giant sequoia trees that he vowed to save them from logging; his cause gained momentum and support from photographer Carleton Watkins and senator John Conness. The Department of the Interior helped them craft a bill, which passed both houses of Congress and was signed by the president in the height of the Civil War. The Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 marked the first time the federal government set aside land specifically for preservation and recreational use. It didn’t have the authority to evict homesteaders, though, and that battle continued until 1872, when the Supreme Court voided the homesteaders’ claims. Yosemite was declared the nation’s third national park on October 1, 1890.
In 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted wrote a treatise on national parks at the request of the Board of Yosemite Commissioners. In it, the landscape architect — whose most famous work is New York’s Central Park — wrote:
“It is a scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character, particularly if this contemplation occurs in connection with relief from ordinary cares, change of air and change of habits, is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect beyond any other conditions which can be offered them, that it not only gives pleasure for the time being but increases the subsequent capacity for happiness and the means of securing happiness.”