A Lake Tahoe History Lesson

Tallac Historic Site, South Lake Tahoe, United States

We are all well aware of the beautiful views and endless recreational opportunities that are present in Lake Tahoe, but how did it all begin? It is easy to be distracted by the amazing adventures and entertainment possibilities in this outdoorsy city, but like any favored destination, there is a story behind it all. Read on to learn a little Lake Tahoe history to better understand how it became the ideal vacation spot that it is today.

Way Back When

Lake Tahoe was originally populated by the Washoe Native Americans. The Washoe Tribe had been here for over 10,000 years before United States Senator and explorer John C. Fremont arrived here in 1844. The Washoe people cherished this land and felt that Lake Tahoe was a sacred source of water. On this land, the Washoe people lived out their lives by camping, hunting, and fishing on this terrain.

Lake Tahoe’s name actually originates from the Washoe language. Although the name has gone through many changes throughout the years, in 1945, California legislatures officially named the lake “Lake Tahoe” based on the indigenous name meaning “big water.”

Fun Facts:

  • To the Washoe, Lake Tahoe was considered a spiritual place with healing powers that many went to in order to rid themselves of worries and problems
  • The Tribe’s name derives from the Washoe word, waashiw, meaning “people from here”

Washoe Myths & Legends

Swimming Prohibited

Like any historic destination, Lake Tahoe has many myths and legends that also originated from the Washoe people. Legend has it that the Washoe had their suspicions about the existence of odd creatures in the lake. One story says that there was a bird that lived at the bottom of Lake Tahoe and it would snatch up any Washoe Tribe member who went for a quick swim.

Tahoe Tessie

Another very popular myth that came from the Washoe Tribe was that there was a 60 foot long snake-like monster living in Lake Tahoe, one similar to the Loch Ness Monster, but this one was known as Tahoe Tessie. Tahoe Tessie was known for it’s cruel and brutal actions towards humans. Even in the 1970’s when Jacques Cousteau allegedly went deep water diving in Lake Tahoe, he said that “the world was not ready to see what was down there!” Yikes!


In 1859 explorers returned to the Lake Tahoe area. The Comstock Lode of silver ore was discovered in Virginia City. With being the almost “middleman” destination between the silver mines of Virginia City and the Central Pacific Railroad, there was a sharp increase in jobs, people, and money in Lake Tahoe. With this rise in action, the land was not cherished like it had been in the past which led to large amounts of deforestation that changed the terrain forever. A once hidden gem was quickly transformed from the undisturbed land it once was.

Fun Facts:

  • The Comstock Lode was the first major silver discovery in United States history
  • Since then, the appreciation of Lake Tahoe and its natural resources has grown
  • A portion of the Central Pacific Railroad can be seen from Highway 80 in Lake Tahoe and is still considered an impressive feat of engineering

Start Building the Hotels!

With hundreds of thousands of people relocating to surrounding areas, hotels and resorts were beginning to be a hot comedy around town. So many people had their eyes set on San Francisco, Sacramento, and Virginia City, so Lake Tahoe became a popular retreat for these wealthy families. With that being said, hotels and resorts were starting to be built in order to host everyone that came to stay or visit. A new era was born.

Fun Facts:

  • The California Gold Rush also played a major role of the increase in population in Lake Tahoe
  • Lake Tahoe’s economic growth was also positively affected by the Olympic Games from Squaw Valley
  • Nearly every community in Tahoe owes its existence today to a resort or hotel

First Resort in Tahoe

As logging and mining activity started to dwindle, tourism developed which led to a rush to build fancy resorts. In 1923, the Tallac Historic Site was the first of many resorts to be built in Lake Tahoe. The resort included 2 hotels, a casino, and various additions and outbuildings. This historic site is still open to the public today with exhibits, tours, and events available. Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel was built a short 68 years later in 1991 and was renovated in 2014. Although we may have not been the first resort in Lake Tahoe, today we are considered one of the best!

Fun Facts:

  • Today, thousands of people annually visit the Tallac Historic Site to recapture this significant era in Tahoe’s history
  • The Tallac Historic Site is only 8.5 miles away from the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel
  • Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel is South Lake Tahoe’s only all-suite lodging option

Recreation Continues

Today, outdoor recreation continues to be the foundation of Lake Tahoe’s local economy. There are endless options for both locals and visitors from all around the world to enjoy the outdoor activities and take in the beauty of Lake Tahoe. If you do plan to cool off in the water, keep an eye out for Tahoe Tessie! Book your stay now and explore the historic land of Lake Tahoe!

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