Lake Tahoe, the "Jewel of the Sierra" is a beautiful and unique national treasure with a rich history. The Washoe Tribe, the original inhabitants, had long enjoyed a private settlement of the area, and called the lake "Da-ow-a-ga". Then in 1844, John Fremont came upon Lake Tahoe and wrote in his journal, " I ascended today the highest peak.from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet.".
Fremont first christened the big blue, Lake Bonpland, after a French botanist and then later changed it to "Mountain Lake". In 1853 the State of California mapmaker used the name "Lake Bigler" recognizing the governor at the time. Neither name had much staying power however and sometime later in 1862, the Indian word "tahoe" which means "big water" was officially adopted, and Lake Tahoe was named.
For many years, Lake Tahoe remained virtually unvisited. Then in the early 1850's, news came from the mountains of western Nevada that miners had discovered a colossal deposit of silver thereby introducing the Comstock Lode of Virginia City. Would-be miners rushed through Lake Tahoe over northerly Beckworth Pass and Donner Pass, site of the famous wagon train tragedy and Carson Pass to the south. Soon the number of travelers was so great that the "Bonanza Road", later to become Highway 50, was forged across the mountains.
As passage increased, a string of hotels, corrals, stores and businesses had been established along the lakes south shore to accommodate the travelers. Hay to feed the endless stream of pack animals was in such high demand that one entrepreneur grew, harvested and hand-bailed his crop on the west shore and delivered it on a two-masted schooner to the docks on the south shore where it sold for as much as $250 a ton!
By 1861, the Comstock Mines insatiable need for timbers and fuel had prompted the beginning of a logging industry on Tahoe's East Shore. Early timberland prospectors included the likes of Samuel Clemens and the more notable logging empire entrepreneur, Duane L. Bliss.
Samuel Clemens arrived in Carson City in August 1861 as unofficial assistant to his older brother Orion, who had been appointed Territorial Secretary by President Abraham Lincoln. Nevada's get rich contagion had immediately hit both brothers hard. Samuel, the more outgoing and confident of the two, went headlong in pursuit of wealth, filing timber claims along the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Young Clemens hiked the 12 rugged miles up to the East Shore of the Lake from Carson City to check out his claim. "So singularly clear was the water," he wrote years later in Roughing IT, " that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air!"
Clemens however had already had a taste of work in a quartz mill, long hours of shoveling silver-bearing ore into the pulverizing machinery. Having little tolerance for manual labor, he left Tahoe to more business-like developers after inadvertently setting a raging forest fire in is camp and rowing out into the lake for dear life.
From his arrival in Nevada, Sam Clemens had been submitting letters to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Impressed by the Clemens letters, the Enterprise offered the post of local reporter, at a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. It is here, that Clemens starting signing his contributions with "Mark Twain". Later Samuel wrote, "A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top and a fool at the bottom."
By the 1890's tourism was the only industry to show promise and so the rush began to build resorts. Lake Tahoe became a popular retreat for the wealthy of San Francisco, Sacramento and Virginia City. Vacationers would board one train to Truckee and then a second that rode on a narrow gauge track to Tahoe City.
Arriving at the Lake, they would have their choice of fabulous resorts, the marvelously gabled four-story Tahoe Tavern, in Tahoe City; the Brockway Springs Hotel near Crystal Bay; the Tallac House, on the West Shore, or the Glenbrook House on the East Shore. Of course, without a completed road around the lake, the only way to reach these distant resorts was aboard the many luxurious steamships and ferries plying the lake.
About this time, enterprising eyes also focused on Tahoe's waters. In 1900, A.W. Von Schmidt, president of the Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Water Works, proposed to supply San Francisco with a water system which would deliver thirty million gallons of Lake Tahoe water a day in return for $17,690,000. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors even visited the proposed dam site before the idea was allowed to lapse. A second attempt came three years later from a San Francisco attorney named Waymire. He proposed to blast a tunnel through the side of the Tahoe basin and drain the lake in to the Rubicon branch of the American river.
The third attempt to capitalize on Lake Tahoe's water nearly succeeded. The US Reclamation Service moved to acquire the outlet dam and control gates in 1903. The Reclamation Service engineers planned to release water to farmers downriver in Nevada. Negotiations with the Truckee Electric Company who controlled the land dragged were begun and an agreement was reached that bestowed a guaranteed flow to the electric company and usage of the gates to the Reclamation Company. Fortunately, the chief Forester for the Department of Agriculture caught wind of this outrageous contract before it could be signed. He waged an aggressive battle against it. In 1912, property owners of the Lake succeeded in getting an injunction against the power company to prevent it from cutting into the rim of the lake.
One side effect of the affair was to raise again the question of ownership of Tahoe's waters. In 1935 an agreement was reached guaranteeing lake levels would be maintained at a minimum elevation of 6,223 feet above seal level and a maximum elevation of 6229.1 feet. Thus the top six feet of Tahoe are in essence reserved for farmers in Nevada. Included in this calculation are the million and a half tons of water a day that are lost to evaporation.
The next hint of the future came in 1911. Developers began to subdivide lots in Tahoe Vista on the North Shore. A team of over one hundred salesmen was selling lots from offices in San Francisco. Through 1927, Tahoe land was being subdivided at a grave speed; forty thousand lots had been split from Robert Sherman's holdings in Kings Beach, Tahoe Vista and Brockway for the modest sale price of $500 or less. By the time the stock market crashed two year later, seventeen thousand lots had been sold.
Lake Tahoe's next transformation came in the 1950's as skiing gained in popularity across the country. In 1958, with one ski lift, two rope tows, and a small ski lodge, Alex Cushing approached the International Olympic Committee. Many considered this to be nothing more than an excellent marketing campaign but in 1960 Squaw Valley had the honor of hosting the Olympic Games. Time magazine later quoted Cushing in a 1959 interview: "I had no more interest in getting the Olympics than the man on the moon".
Today, Lake Tahoe is an internationally acclaimed year round resort enduring a timeless grandeur. Visitors and residents alike can share in Mark Twain's wonder when he observed Lake Tahoe as ". . . surely the fairest picture the whole earth affords." Although the area offers world class hotels, restaurants and ski resorts, the areas main attractions continue to be the restful silence of the wilderness and the awe-inspiring beauty of Lake Tahoe.
Matt Gelso Real Estate in Truckee, California serving the greater Tahoe - Truckee area including Tahoe Donner, Prosser, Glenshire, Sierra Meadows,
Northstar, Lahontan, Donner Lake, Central Truckee, Donner Summit, Incline Village, Tahoe City, West Shore Lake Tahoe, Kings Beach, Carnelian
Bay, Northstar, Alpine Meadows & Squaw Valley. For over 30 years our clients have become our friends! Our experience in the Tahoe Truckee
region can make home buying a simple, pleasant adventure. We live and work in the Tahoe Truckee area and can share our intimate understanding
with you. The Matt Gelso Real Estate website provides a complete listing of all properties available from Truckee to Tahoe City, and Lahontan to
Northstar. We also offer complete maps of the Tahoe Truckee region including Incline Village and Alpine Meadows.