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Historical society turns 40

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun
Nick Cruit/Sierra SunStefanie Givens stands next to a cardboard cut out of Dat-so-la-lee, the woman whose collection of woven baskets is featured in the Gatekeeper's Museum, to explain the Woven Legacy exhibit. While Dat-so-la-lee might have sold one of her miniature baskets for $2 between 1900 -1921, the collection of 62 baskets at the Gatekeeper's Museum is worth approximately $2.1 million today.
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TAHOE CITY ” In the early 1960s, a local group adamant about preserving the history behind Lake Tahoe banded together to prevent the Tahoe Tavern, a mainstay of Tahoe City since 1901, from being torn down.

By 1969, however, the luxury hotel had been demolished and condominiums were built on its footprint.

But the group of citizens brought together by an admiration for our local history weren’t about to leave the fate of Tahoe’s heritage in the hands of others, and in 1969, the group formed the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society.

Today, 40 years later, the historical society and the museums they run continue to preserve and present the history of North Lake Tahoe through living history and exhibits found in the Gatekeeper’s Museum and Watson Cabin in Tahoe City.

“When people visit our area, they may not come with an appreciation for the history,” said the Historical Society’s Executive Director Stefanie Givens. “But after visiting our museums, they develop a connection with the area and they gain so much by coming in here and learning about the culture.”

The historical society’s first project was rebuilding the Gatekeeper’s Cabin near Fanny Bridge, which was destroyed by arson fire in 1978. In 1981, the cabin reopened as a museum dedicated to the original structure ” built in 1916 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ” and the water master who controlled the flow over the dam.

The museum showcases a range of Tahoe history from the Native inhabitants through the logging era and the establishment of the tourism industry at Lake Tahoe.

But while the Gatekeeper’s Museum was rebuilt to house the history of Tahoe, Watson Cabin has remained a living history of the early settlers of Lake Tahoe, still perched above Commons Beach in Tahoe City the way it did 100 years ago.

The oldest building constructed onsite in Tahoe City that is still standing, Watson Cabin is a testament to turn-of-the-century construction and the simplicity of pioneer life.

It was built in 1909 by Robert M. Watson and his son, Robert Jr., to be occupied by the younger Watson, his wife and daughter ” one of the first year-round Tahoe families.

Originally, the cabin contained a living room, kitchen and an outdoor porch. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, a sewing room and a bathroom ” one of the first in Tahoe City to have indoor plumbing. Eventually, the outdoor porch was extended and enclosed to make room for the family of three who lived there year-round.

And while Watson Cabin is closed to visitors during the winter, the historical society is looking forward to a summer of centennial celebrations.

The kick-off celebration is set for June 11 when the historical society will host a North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce mixer at the cabin, Givens said. Walking tours through Tahoe City, pioneer craft days and possibly some volunteers dressed like the Watsons are all possible activities the historical society plans to offer throughout the summer.

“There have been people involved with the historical society for 20 plus years,” said Givens. “For them to see the things we’ve accomplished and the strides we’ve taken in improving our exhibits is great.”


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