History and Facts
About Pine Mountain Lake

History and Facts About Pine Mountain Lake


By Marc Fossum

Aerial View of Pine Mountain Lake, California

The Groveland/Big Oak Flat and Pine Mountain Lake area is locally referred to as “South of the River”, “Up the Hill” or “Southern Tuolumne County” (we also have over half of Yosemite National Park in our portion of the county). Any and all of the above are acceptable when referring to our community. Our community has a very unique and proud history.

Prior to 1849, Native Americans (Mi Wuk Indians) inhabited the area for over 10,000 years. Grinding stones, known as bed rock mortars or “BRMs” can be found throughout the area as evidence of their residency.

In 1849, James Savage discovered the Big Oak Flat and its wealth of placer gold. He, along with his numerous Indian wives mined gold and established a trading post in Big Oak Flat (known at that time as Savage’s Diggings.) The trading post was reported to be located at the site of the current stone building known as the Gamble Building. Before the end of 1849 Savage was forced to leave Big Oak Flat because of friction between his Indian wives and the numerous miners that had arrived. Savage went on to the Merced River Canyon, just downstream of Yosemite, and established another trading post.

What had earlier been referred to as Savage’s Diggings became known as Big Oak Flat, due to the fantastic oak tree that stood at the center of the mining settlement. The diameter of the oak tree was reported to measure 13 feet at the base and 11 feet at a man’s height.

Over the “Divide” to the east of Big Oak Flat two additional mining camps sprang up. The camps were referred to as First Garrote and Second Garrote. The word “garrote” is a French word meaning death by strangulation or hanging. Both towns were named for the quick justice delivered by their inhabitants to thieves and murderers. First Garrote was later re-named Groveland, as some of the residents did not like the stigma of Garrote associated with their fair town.

Gold production was so great in Big Oak Flat that a mining settlement was established and permanent buildings began to pop up. The large stone structure known as the Gamble Building was completed in 1852. Big Oak Flat’s great weakness was the lack of a permanent water source. By June of each year the seasonal creek that ran through Big Oak Flat, Rattlesnake Creek, would dry up. The nearest water was the Tuolumne River, five miles away and over 2,000 feet down the Priest Grade. The miners would leave town and not return until the rains would arrive the following year. The stone buildings would be shuttered up with their steel doors and the town would be empty for six months.

In 1854, the miners began building a “ditch” to bring water from the South Fork of the Tuolumne River to Big Oak Flat in order to provide a reliable year-round source of water. The ditch was 40 miles long and delivered its first drop of water in March, 1860. With water available year-round the mining camp flourished. The camp incorporated and the population of Big Oak Flat and its surrounding area was reported to reach 6,000 souls. As with most gold rush towns the population was very diverse, with a large China Town community, Mexicans, Bolivians, Hawaiians (known as Kanakas) and representation from around the world. In the early 1860s Big Oak Flat flourished as a rambunctious city producing great wealth and was even competing with Sonora to be the County Seat. The town featured the finest hotels, saloons, fandango houses, joss houses and every other conceivable means of entertainment for the miners.

All the tremendous growth and prosperity came to an abrupt halt in October, 1863 when the entire town went up in flames. All that remained were the few stone buildings still standing today. With most of the easy-pickings surface gold all panned-out, the residents chose to abandon Big Oak Flat and not rebuild. The population plummeted to a handful of stalwarts and the town was dis-incorporated in 1864.

Big Oak Flat was nearly non-existent for 10 years until the construction of the first road into Yosemite Park commenced in 1874. The construction and subsequent tourism traffic brought new economic viability to Big Oak Flat, Groveland and the sleepy community of Second Garrote. During this time the advent of hard rock mining was taking hold in all the old mining districts. Big Oak Flat and Groveland were both host to many prosperous hard rock mines and supported populations of workers employed by those mines. Hard rock mining continued to be a strong economic base for Big Oak Flat and Groveland until the 1930s.

In 1913 the U.S. Congress passed the Raker Act, giving the City and County of San Francisco the right to dam the Tuolumne River at the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The Raker Act also permitted construction of dam at Lake Eleanor and Cherry Creek to divert water to San Francisco and the Bay Area. The projects required that a railroad be built right through Big Oak Flat and Groveland. Groveland was chosen as “Mountain Headquarters” for the project. For the next 30 years the communities of Southern Tuolumne County enjoyed the prosperity that comes with hosting a major construction project. Many of the employees of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power continue to live in the Big Oak Flat / Groveland communities. With the completion of the Hetch Hetchy project and the removal of the railroad line the local towns returned to a sleepy existence. Gold mining operations were nonexistent. Tourism, recreation, forestry activities and minor agricultural industry were all that supported the communities.


The township of Groveland came to be during the famous California Gold Rush of 1849. Prior to the arrival of the gold miners only Native Americans had lived in the area. The Mi Wuk Indians inhabited the area for nearly 10,000 years. Bed rock mortars (BRMs) are found throughout the area as evidence of their residency. The main Indian village or “Rancheria” was located at the bottom of what is now Pine Mountain Lake. Groveland was first named by the miners as Garrote, a European word meaning death by strangulation, or hanging. The naming of the mining camp occurred in July, 1849 when a Mexican miner was accused of stealing another’s gold. Swift justice lead to his hanging from an oak tree in front of what is now the Groveland Community Hall. As Garrote became inhabited by families the townsfolk decided to change its moniker to a more civilized name. In honor of a town in Massachusetts, Garrote was changed to Groveland in 1875 (a community just a couple miles up the highway is still known as Second Garrote, where another hanging was reported to have taken place).

Groveland has had its booms and busts. The Gold Rush of the 1850s represents the first boom. Soon, after the easy-pickings surface gold was all harvested, a decades-long bust ensued. The next boom came with the construction of the first wagon road into Yosemite National Park in the 1880s. Tourism managed to sustain the small community, bolstered by spikes in the hard rock mining industry that took hold to bore into the earth and take the treasures buried deep in solid granite. The sleepy community again flourished with the monumental construction project of the Hetch Hetchy rail road and the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, resulting in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Groveland served as the mountain headquarters for the project. The Hetch Hetchy system provides some of the purest water found on this earth for much of the San Francisco Bay Area. Following the completion of the Hetch Hetchy system, the town went back to sleep. The two world wars kept the town in a state of dormancy.

In the late 1960s, the town reenergized with the development of the Pine Mountain Lake subdivision. A lake was created, golf course built, air strip laid down and over 3,500 residential lots were made available. With Yosemite National Park only 25 minutes away and the High Sierra overlooking the community, Groveland is enjoying its most prosperous era yet.


By Val Bruce

Pine Mountain Lake is a gated community with 24 hour fixed and mobile security guards, located in the Central Sierra Nevada foothills of California.

Pine Mountain Lake was originally built in 1969 by Boise Cascade. The development featured 4,141 residential lots, a private lake, championship golf course and public airport. The development totally sold out by 1974.

The Country Club, Equestrian Center and airport are all open to the public. The championship golf course is semi-private and open to public play. All other amenities such as, Tennis/Pickleball Courts, Lake, Swimming pool, etc. are available only to property owners and their guests.

Pine Mountain Lake is around 2500-3000 feet in elevation. Our moniker is above the smog/fog and below the snow. The summer nights are cool and winter snows are light so we can enjoy the beauty of it and not the headache (or bother). Roads are open year-round. Daytime temperatures are usually in the 60’s in the winter and 80’s in the summer. Spring and Fall temperatures are usually in the 70’s.

Pine Mountain Lake is located in the unincorporated community of Groveland, Ca. on State Hwy. 120, the Northern Gateway to Yosemite National Park. It’s approximately 140 mi. from San Francisco and San Jose, 115 mi. from Sacramento, 80 mi. from Stockton, 70 mi. from Modesto, 120 mi. from Fresno, 27 mi. from Sonora and only 26 mi. from Yosemite National Park.


California’s Sierra Nevada range is famous for its unparalleled high country adventure and beauty. The Groveland community and Pine Mountain Lake serve as an excellent base-camp for the Central High Sierra. The Central High Sierra covers over 12,000 square miles of alpine peaks reaching elevations over 14,400 feet. The Central Serra offers thousands of miles of hiking and back packing trails, crystal clear glacial lakes, streams teaming with trout and accommodations for R.V.s and car-camping. Many home sales in our market area are motivated by our close proximity to the High Sierra. Our High Sierra Region is bordered by Yosemite National Park to the south and Lake Tahoe to the north. Mount Whitney and Death Valley National Monument, to the east, are only a few hours drive from Groveland and Pine Mountain Lake. Many well-known alpine skiing resorts are within reach of us. Cross-country skiing and snow-shoe activities are also popular winter sports.


Groveland and Pine Mountain Lake are a mecca for world class white water rafting and kayaking. The Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River Canyon is only minutes from Groveland. The river and canyon are federally protected from development and offer visitors the experience and natural beauty of a rare wild river. Many white-water guide companies are located in the area. The main run on the Tuolumne River is 18 miles long with Class IV+ water. The overall gradient of the Tuolumne is 40 feet per mile. Water volumes run from 600 cfs to 10,000 cfs. Cherry Creek, a tributary of the Tuolumne River, offers Class V white-water rapids. The Cherry Creek gradient is 110 feet per mile overall, with the “Miracle Mile” dropping at over 200 feet per mile. Runnable levels on the Cherry are 600 cfs to 2000 cfs. Many natural pools cool visitors during heat of the day. The Tuolumne River canyon has overnight camp-sites and excellent out-door recreation for all.


Nestled away in theSierra foothills along the SR 120 route to Yosemite National Park you will find a cornucopia of places to recreate. One of these choices is Pine Mountain Lake Association/Groveland which has a world of amenities uniquely included in this gated community. There is something for everybody no matter your age—a private lake and swim center; championship 18- hole golf course and country club; airport with a 3600 ft runway with taxiway connectors to private residences; tennis and pickle ball courts, horse stables and boarding; hiking trails, RV park; gun and archery ranges and even a horse shoe venue. these venues are just the beginning of what our area offers recreation-wise.

The Groveland, Tuolumne County region is a gateway not only to Yosemite and all it offers, but also to snow skiing, water skiing, wine tasting and local vintners, lake and stream fishing, gold country history, antique shopping, and world class mountain climbing and white water rafting, hiking, and bicycling.