From 1886 until the completion of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in 1907, the closest you could get to Yosemite by rail was the town of Raymond in the foothills of Madera County. Far more comfortable than stagecoach, many visitors chose to take the train to Raymond in order to shorten their stagecoach ride. When President Teddy Roosevelt visited the park in 1905 to meet and camp with conservationist John Muir, this is the way he traveled.
Although the tracks are gone and most people have never heard of Raymond, the town still survives in the hills between Eastman and Hensley Lakes. Since 2008, it has boasted a great museum.
The Charles Miller House
The museum is located in the town’s first building – the Charles Miller House – built in 1886. What’s interesting about it is that it contains both the history of the town and a lot of information and photos of early travel to Yosemite.
The house is furnished to look the way it would have looked in the 1880’s – furnishings interspersed with extensive displays of historic photos and artifacts.
The nearby quarry at Knowles has provided “Sierra White” granite for many of the state’s greatest public buildings including the Los Angeles City Hall, the Campanile at UC Berkeley, and many of the civic buildings constructed in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
The museum has a room devoted to Knowles and its quarry. Outside is a huge granite saw – the oldest in California.
If you have kids, they will enjoy the fully-restored Southern Pacific caboose in front of the museum. The interior is exactly the way it would have been when it was operational. It was recently brought back to this condition by dedicated local volunteers.
In addition to the Charles Miller House and the caboose, there’s a fully-restored carriage house with a wagon, a buggy, harnesses, tack, ranch equipment, and historic photos.
How to find
To find Raymond, head south from Merced on Highway 99 and exit at Robertson Boulevard in Chowchilla. Drive east over the freeway and follow signs to Raymond: East on Road 26, South (right) on Road 29, East (left) on Road 603, Left (north) on Road 600.
When you arrive in Raymond, the museum will be on your right. Look for the red caboose and you won’t miss it.
The address is 31956 Road 600 (also known as Raymond Road) – slightly less than an hour’s drive from Merced. It is open Sundays from noon to 4PM and by appointment.
School and homeschool groups are welcome and there are tables where you can enjoy a picnic or sandwiches from the town’s general store. The Frontier Inn also offers food.
A good museum or historic site only has the opportunity to become a great one when there’s someone who knows all about it and has a passion to explain it to everyone who comes to visit.
Raymond area cattle ranchers Lynn and Wayne Northrop have poured thousands of hours into making this museum a fun place to learn about history and I really enjoyed meeting Lynn on my recent visit. She knows just about everything there is to know about Raymond, its history, and its many connections with Yosemite and her enthusiasm about it is contagious.
Although hot in summer, Raymond is an enjoyable place to visit in the fall, winter, or spring – especially during wildflower season (late March through May).
For more information about special events
Raymond’s general store/bar has the unofficial status of a living museum. It hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1914. The left side of the building is occupied by the bar, while the right side is occupied by the store. The store offers sandwiches, and the Frontier Inn Tavern on Front Street (visible from the main road) also offers food.
Another place you can enjoy a good meal and historic photos at the same time is the Hills Pride Inn in nearby Knowles.
To visit Knowles, continue through Raymond on Road 600 and turn right on Road 415. Turn right again on Knolwes Road (Road 606).
After you pass the Hills Pride Inn on the right, look for the quarry on the left and the granite St. Anne’s Chapel on the right. This beautiful structure was originally built as the Knowles School in 1920, abandoned in 1942, and restored as a church in 1961-1962.
If you find Raymond’s transportation history interesting, you can find one of the stagecoaches that ran the Raymond to Yosemite route in the Madera County Museum.
For more information about the Raymond Museum, go to:
You can also contact the museum’s curator, Lynn Northrop, at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by calling (559) 689-1886.