Brief History of Lake Tahoe


Explorer John C. Fremont first saw Lake Tahoe in 1844 from the top of Red Lake Peak, which is located south of the basin and what is now Carson Pass. He named it Lake Bonpland after a botanist, but then changed it to Mountain Lake. Subsequently it was named Lake Bigler after a California Governor. The US Department of Interior didn’t care for it either, and commissioned Dr. Henry Degroot, a journalist, to come up with a name. Degroot suggested “Tahoe” an Indian name meaning “big water.” It took decades before the name finally stuck, thanks to action in 1945 by the California State Legislature.

In the 1860’s, Tahoe was the center of a lively commerce that involved the silver mines in Virginia City, where the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859, and the Central Pacific Railroad, which was pushing over the Sierra toward the town of Truckee. To supply wood to the mines, the new boomtown and the railroad created an extensive logging empire which was established on the east shore of the lake, from Incline Village to Glenbrook. The loggers’ clear-cut the entire shore line and left scars for decades, until the early 1880’s. By then, the only business that showed promise was tourism and thus began a new land rush to build resorts.

It is interesting to note that nearly every community in Tahoe owes its existence today to a resort or hotel. During the 19th and early 20th century, travelers from San Francisco would take one train to Truckee and from there board a second train that rode on a narrow gauge track to Tahoe city. When they arrived at the Lake, they would have their choice of fabulous resorts, such as Tahoe Tavern in Tahoe City; Brockway Springs Hotel near Crystal Bay; the Tallac House on the West Shore; and the Glenbrook Inn on the East Shore. Of course, without roads, the only way to reach distant resorts was by passenger ferry and a network of steamships were developed to service the lake.

None of the historic inns have survived to modern times. Most were destroyed by fire, a problem that constantly bedeviled Virginia City and Truckee. What fire fighting methods existed were primitive at best.

Click here to learn more of the History of Lake Tahoe.

Today, Lake Tahoe endures imperforate grandeur. Nothing can diminish first impressions when driving to Lake Tahoe and seeing this giant pool of indigo-blue water cradled between mountain ranges. Nothing can detract from the experience of entering Emerald Bay and finding yourself surrounded by cathedrals of granite. It is, as the famous American author Mark Twain wrote, “Surely the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” I believe the City of South Lake Tahoe is located in one of the most unique settings in the world — at the edge of an Alpine lake of great natural beauty and environmental value.

Since the late 50’s, the attraction of the scenic wonders, the adjacent Nevada gaming casinos, boating, hiking, and the excellent skiing facilities, have all contributed to the area’s reputation as a popular year-around destination resort.