The Degnan Family

Family of 9 stands on their home's porch
From Ireland, the Degnans struggled to make their way in Yosemite, starting a bakery business in the 1890s that still feeds today's visitors.

Yosemite Research Library

Stone and wood addition put on back of house
In 1900, the Degnans added a bakery to the back of their Yosemite Valley house.

Bridget and John Degnan immigrated to California from Ireland in 1884 to build a life in the picturesque Yosemite Valley. Arriving with an infant son in their arms, the resourceful Irish couple sought out work to provide for their family. John worked steadily as a road and trail laborer for the park administrators, but it was Bridget who became the family’s breadwinner, of sorts. Her baking skills not only nourished her family of 10 but also an entire community for more than 50 years.

A devout Catholic with a thick Irish brogue, Bridget built her successful bakery with her faith, much patience, and perhaps a little Irish luck, too. When the couple first arrived in Yosemite, their living quarters were in an end of a barn near the present site of the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Bridget industriously carried water for the household from Yosemite Creek in five-gallon oil cans and baked bread in a small portable oven over the burning coals of a fireplace. Life was challenging for Bridget, who was afraid of American Indians and homesick for Ireland. She recounted that she cried for several years following her arrival at Yosemite Valley.

In 1898, John Degnan built a new one-story house for his wife and eight children with four bedrooms and two baths in Old Yosemite Village, near where the Yosemite Chapel sits today.

Portrait of an older Bridget Degnan
Bridget Degnan in her older years.

Demand for Bridget’s bread increased steadily as travel to Yosemite grew. Her use of a larger portable oven, capable of producing 50 loaves a day, allowed Bridget to expand her production and her family’s income, selling each loaf for 12½ cents. Her bread became a staple for both hungry travelers and local residents: the busy bakery frequently sold out by the end of the day.

The bakery in the front of the house expanded as visitors asked for a glass of milk, a sandwich or something else to eat or drink; a small restaurant cafe was set up in the dining room of the house.

In 1900, to accommodate growing demand for bread, the Degnans added a bakery to the back of their Yosemite Valley house and moved their business there. Around this time, the Degnans ordered a large brick Dutch oven that could bake more than 100 loaves of bread at a time. Eventually, the couple even added a small grocery store.

“I was so busy making bread and raising my children I did not have time to consider whether I was successful or not. I only knew that God’s will would be done.”
-- Bridget Degnan in The Augonaut

Close-up of oven
This brick Dutch oven could bake more than 100 loaves of bread at a time.

Praising God for their success, the Degnans wanted to instill their spiritual values in their children, establishing regular Catholic services in the Valley. Although their son Alfred died during childhood, their surviving seven children all attended the Yosemite Valley School and later graduated from college. Profits from the Degnans’ restaurant funded both their children’s college education and a 50th wedding anniversary trip to Ireland for John and Bridget.

John and Bridget died in 1943 and 1940, respectively, leaving the growing business to their descendants to continue their legacy. In 1958, during the major park infrastructure project known as Mission 66, the Degnans’ operation constructed a new modern A-frame building in Yosemite Village to house the business. Degnan’s Kitchen remained a family-run, independent park concessioner until the Yosemite Park & Curry Company purchased the business in 1974. The family’s decision to sell was forced, in part, due to bankruptcy. The expenses associated with construction and moving into a new building had been too much for the small business.

In the end, an entrepreneurial venture by a determined couple grew into an iconic, long-standing concession catering to Yosemite’s tourists since 1884, the oldest extant business in the park. Even today, tourists can walk through the doors of Degnan’s Kitchen in Yosemite Valley to eat their fill of sandwiches that come with a few bites of Yosemite history.

Wooden structure in a park setting
To preserve a piece of the park's history, the Degnan's bakery was moved to the Yosemite History Center in Wawona.

Visitors can see the historic Degnan’s bakery, once attached to the back of the family’s 1898 home, in the Yosemite History Center. Located in the southern part of the park at Wawona, this site contains many significant buildings from Yosemite’s history. The Degnan’s bakery and large brick oven was moved to the History Center in the 1980s where it remains today.


  • Degnan, L.V. & Hubbard, D.H. (1962). The Old Stagedriver’s Yosemite Yarns. (Author Laurence V. Degnan is the son of John and Bridget Degnan.) Fresno, Calif.: Awani Press.
  • Greene, L. (1987). Yosemite: The Park and Its Resources; A History of the Discovery, Management, and Physical Development of Yosemite National Park, California. NPS: Yosemite.
  • Johnston, H. (1995). The Yosemite Grant 1864-1906: A Pictorial History. Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Association.
  • Russell, C.P. (1992, omnibus edition). One Hundred Years in Yosemite: The Story of a Great Park and Its Friends. Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Association. (First edition was in 1931 by Stanford University)
  • Sargent, S. (1992, seventh edition). Pioneers in Petticoats: Yosemite’s Early Women 1856-1900. Yosemite National Park: Flying Spur Press.
  • Sargent, S. (2000). Yosemite’s Innkeepers: The Story of a Great Park and its Chief Concessionaires. Yosemite, Calif.: Ponderosa Press

Last updated: November 7, 2023

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