Lake Tahoe History
For untold centuries before explorers John Fremont
and Kit Carson discovered Lake Tahoe in 1844, the Lake Tahoe Basin was a
summer gathering place for three bands of peaceful Washoe Indians. Lake
Tahoe held a spiritual meaning for the tribe and many sacred ceremonies were
held along the southern shores.
The California Gold Rush lured emigrants and
fortune seekers to the rugged Sierra. Prospective miners used passes to the
north and south to circumnavigate the treacherous Tahoe Basin. The first
West-to-East road across the mountains, the "Bonanza Road," was built to
handle travelers eager to cash in on Virginia City's massive Comstock Lode
which was discovered in 1859. Highway 50 now covers this route.
Way stations, stables and toll houses sprang up
along the route. These stations were the basis for most development in the
area, from Friday's Station at Stateline, which served as a Pony Express
stop, to Yank's Resort in Meyer's, which was built in 1851.
The discovery of the Comstock Lode not only
increased traffic, it inflated the use of the Tahoe Basin's natural
resources to a dangerous level. Wood was needed for fuel and to support the
labyrinth of mines being constructed beneath Virginia City. Between 1860 and
1890, Tahoe's forests were nearly stripped of trees. The decline of the
Comstock Lode may have been the saving of the Tahoe forest.
Reports of Lake Tahoe's beauty did not go
unnoticed by the wealthy families of San Francisco. By the turn of the
century, the lake had become a haven for the well-to-do. Popular hotels of
the era included the Tallac House, Tahoe Tavern and the Glenbrook Inn. This
period marked the heyday of steamship transportation around the lake, with
mail and supply delivery around the lake, and lavish transport for visitors.
During the '20s and '30s, the roads through the
mountains were paved, bringing in greater numbers of people and sparking
growth of smaller, middle-class lodges.
Development at Lake Tahoe began in earnest in
the 1950's. Roads to the Basin began to be plowed year-round, enabling
permanent residence. The 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley put Lake Tahoe
firmly on the map as the skiing center of the western United States.
In 1968, growing environmental concerns caused
California and Nevada to form the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to oversee
environmentally responsible development in the Basin. Work began on a master
plan designed to improve the local tourism industry while protecting the
fragile environment on which it is based.
Today, Lake Tahoe continues to offer visitors a
bit of may historic eras. While hotel/casinos and ski resorts draw millions
of guests each year, the main attraction continues to be the quiet beauty of
the Sierra and the timeless inspiration of the lake itself, little changed
from the days of the Washoe Indians.