By the late 19th century, Lake Tahoe had become a popular vacation spot for wealthy San Francisco residents. Beginning in 1887, Robert M. Watson, who later became Tahoe’s first constable, ran an inn called the Tahoe House with his wife and five children. In 1901, the original Tahoe Tavern was constructed by Walter Danforth Bliss. Over the next several decades, the Tavern was expanded to include such amenities as a casino with a bowling alley, ballroom (which was later converted to a movie theater), physician’s office, laundry, steam plant and water system. Both the Tahoe House and Tahoe Tavern were located in Tahoe City on the West Shore. Today, modern buildings bearing the same names commemorate their existence. Other notable hotels and residencies around the Lake included the Glenbrook Inn on the East Shore; Tallac House on the West Shore; and Brockway Springs Hotel near Crystal Bay, which was originally constructed as a getaway for Comstock miners.
In 1904, when Tahoe House owner Watson returned from trying his luck at gold mining, North Lake Tahoe was so well populated that the citizens decided a full- time constable was necessary, and they elected Watson to the position. Watson, who was known to local youth as “Grandpa,” is famous for having declared the Tahoe City jail unsuitable even for miscreants and allowing prisoners to sleep on his kitchen floor.
Guests of these popular resorts could take a South Pacific train from San Francisco all the way to Truckee. The Lake Tahoe Railway would then take them into Tahoe City, where they either settled down into one of the nearby lodging options, or climbed aboard a steamship that could deliver them to several spots around the Lake.
North Lake Tahoe Today
With a total population of 65,000 and approximately 3 million visitors each year, the Tahoe Basin remains the same awe-inspiring place that drew the Washoe Indians here 10 thousand years ago. Tourism booms as the area’s main source of income, while visitors and locals alike bask in the outdoor and indoor recreational options available at every turn. North Lake Tahoe continues to produce nationally ranked athletes year after year; the rich and famous continue to flock here; and the wildlife continues to abound. Most importantly though, the Lake remains an icon of American history, tradition and values.
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