Hot Springs Hotel was one of Tahoes first resorts | SierraSun.com

Hot Springs Hotel was one of Tahoes first resorts

Gordon Richards

Coutesy Truckee Donner Historical SocietyThe main attraction for early North Shore visitors was bathing in the thermal pools built on hot springs, right on the edge of the lakeshore.

The first true tourist resorts at North Lake Tahoe were established in the late 1860s, and one of the first was the Hot Springs Resort, built by William Campbell of Truckee. In May 1869, the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad across the country began a wave of tourism, and a few hotel operators foresaw the coming boom to the incredible scenic mountain lake. William Campbell had already built a hotel in Coburns Station (now named Truckee), as early as 1867, and after that establishment burned, went on to build the original Truckee Hotel next to the railroad tracks. The Truckee Hotel also served as the rail passenger depot.In June 1869, contractor James Feagler started construction on a hotel next to the hot springs near the California-Nevada border. Campbell and Truckee lumberman George Schaffer teamed up to build a first-class wagon road through Martis Valley, over the summit and down to Lake Tahoe. This road would become todays Highway 267.The general area was known as Cornelian Bay with an O referring to the water-washed agates that could be found in large numbers along the beaches of the lake.

The main attraction was bathing in the thermal pools built at the springs, right on the edge of the lakeshore. The four pools had a 20 square-foot building constructed for privacy, as well as a sweat room over the hottest spring (at 130 degrees), and a cold shower room. The sulphur- and mineral-rich springs emitted a strong odor, but the odor was advertised as a health benefit.Mountain residents often suffered from debilitating rheumatism, and a few days of soaking in the warm water could go a long way to curing the problem. The mineral content was also advertised as being extremely beneficial for the balance of health.The lakeside hotel was spacious, with fine horsehair stuffed oak and walnut furniture, and brass beds in the rooms. This was the resort choice of the wealthy around California.In 1871, Campbell took on a partner in the resort, Henry Burke, who also invested in a Tahoe City hotel, steamboat, and stage line. Additional cottages were built, so that by 1872, 75 guests could be accommodated at the flourishing resort.Other than the obvious attraction of breathtaking Lake Tahoe, boat rentals were popular, as were horseback trips into the surrounding hills above the lake. Guests could play croquet, lawn tennis, or reach breathtaking heights on large swings.Campbell was so sure of Tahoes future as a tourist destination that he also built a small steamboat and named it Truckee. It plied the waters of Tahoe, with its base at the wharf at Hot Springs Resort.

In 1872, Campbell hired Truckee Methodist Church Reverend R. A. Ricker to run the hotel. In the fall, Ricker known for his hard-driving conservative sermons when at the pulpit accommodated a large group of woman suffragists who were meeting at the resort to discuss advancing womens rights. Ricker disagreed with everything that was discussed, and held nothing back in his views, but in the end he was outnumbered and out-voiced by the group of forward-thinking women.Every Sunday Ricker would ride out on horseback to Truckee, and occasionally Carson City, to give sermons to those who were in need of his fiery speech. The devil was Rickers constant enemy, and he lectured to all who would listen about the temptations of evil. During the week he would swing an axe and adze, hand-hewing timbers and cutting firewood for the mines of Virginia City in the hills around Hot Springs. For years, Nevada claimed that the resort was in Nevada, though Campbell paid his taxes to Placer County. It wasnt until a more exact 1890s survey that the issue was finally resolved, and the boundary moved east to Stateline Point.The wharf was used to transfer huge quantities of freight, brought from Truckee by wagon, onto various lake steamers, and then delivered to lumber camps along the east and south shores of Tahoe. Through-travelers could take a stage from Truckee, a steamer from Hot Springs to Glenbrook, and then a stagecoach to Carson City in a day.

Truckee residents were fond of Sunday excursions by stage to Hot Springs, followed by a steamer trip around Lake Tahoe, with a stop at Emerald Bay, then a return to a sumptuous banquet at Hot Springs, followed by a moonlight coach ride back to Truckee. On other occasions during the off-season, stages or sleigh trips would take party goers to the resort, dine and feast on the finest foods, dance at a grand ball, and spend the night there. After a morning bath in the springs, they would return to Truckee.After 1874 several different leasees operated the Hot Springs resort, but overall it continued to be a popular, though not always profitable, place for tourists and locals alike.C.A. Richardson of Truckee was one of the most successful, running the resort through the mid-70s. Constant maintenance and improvements were required of the grounds, the baths, and the hotel to satisfy the demands of the wealthier patrons from all over the country.The heat of the springs was not always so healthy. In 1875, a female guest fell through the wooden slats covering the springs while basking in the steam room. She was severely scalded on her legs, and, had she been completely submerged, her fall would have proven fatal. As it was, she suffered extensive second degree burns, but survived and eventually recovered.Competition with Tahoe City resort hotels was fierce at times, and as Tahoe City grew and the road along the Truckee River was improved, business fell off at Hot Springs. By the mid 1880s the hotel was showing its age, and was losing popularity to other Tahoe resorts along the west shore and at Tahoe City.Even a name change in the mid 80s, to Tahoe Hot Springs, didnt increase business markedly. It took a major investment by California merchants Sisson Crocker & Company to rescue the resort. They added to the hotel, rebuilt the baths, and added other attractions.By 1900 the allure had faded again as other resorts around Tahoe and competition from other California leisure destinations led to the hotel being closed for a few seasons.

Fortunately, Hot Springs was bought by Frank Brockway Alverson, who added his middle name to the resort, and Brockway Hot Springs was born. As with other owners, he improved the property, operated it for a few years, then was forced to sell it in 1909.Melville Lawrence and Harry Comstock had long observed the potential as they operated the Tallac resort at the southwest corner of the lake. They bought Brockway Hot Springs, and as others had, embarked on major improvements and additions.As the Tahoe vacation scene increased with auto travel in the late 1920s and 30s, The Hot Springs Resort became known throughout the country. Instead of steamers, vacationers traveled around Tahoe in gas powered wooden boats. Legal gambling at the nearby CalNeva Lodge brought a more fun-loving crowd, including many Hollywood types to enjoy a soak in the springs.The success of the resort came with the new owners and over the years, the resort grew with the addition of more casinos, the Brockway Golf Course, and the residential and commercial development of Kings Beach.The history of the resort all boils down to the 130-degree water at the edge of Californias most scenic mountain lake, and those businessmen and visitors who came to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Gordon Richards is the Research Historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society website at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is tdhs@inreach.com. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at SierraSun.Com in the archives.