Pollard’s Station: Donner Lake’s first resort
November 14, 2005
In June of 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad completed construction of the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road over the Sierra to Nevada. The rough wagon trail passed through Donner Pass and down to Donner Lake, running along the north shore on the present route of Donner Pass Road.Dr. Daniel Strong of Dutch Flat is credited with exploring the Donner Pass route that would eventually become the Pacific Railroad line. He guided Theodore Judah through the pass in 1860, and claimed 350 acres at the west end of Donner Lake with the completion of the wagon road in 1864, calling it Strong’s Ranch.Strong planned to build a hotel on his land to compete with the dozens of stage stops that were springing up every mile or so along the wagon road. Instead, he leased his property to Joseph Delos Pollard, an experienced hotelman. By September 1864, Pollard was erecting a large building, part of which was being used as a hotel. The site was where Donner Pass Road and South Shore Drive now meet, and included the West End Beach frontage.The resort was strategically located to serve teamsters leading huge freight wagons and stagecoaches traveling on the dusty road. The California Stage Company switched its stages from Henness Pass Road running from Nevada City by way of Webber Lake, Sardine Valley and Verdi to the Donner Lake Road.Pollard’s Station was a stage transfer point where travelers would change coaches, grab a quick meal, and roll on with fresh horses and a new driver. The eastbound stage arrived at 6 a.m. and the westbound at midnight, with the rest of the day full of passing freighters. The blacksmith shop was capable of making repairs to all makes of wheeled vehicles. A popular resting place The Atlantic & Pacific States Telegraph Company had installed its telegraph wires along the Donner Lake Road, and Pollard had tapped into the line to keep his guests in touch with the world. His guest read daily California and Nevada newspapers, further enhancing the hotel’s reputation.
Pollard was a New Yorker, a friendly man who made sure his guests were satisfied with their stay in his comfortably elegant resort. He reigned over the large two-story house that had a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor and sleeping rooms on the upper floor.Visitors would find a table full of fresh fish from Donner Lake, fresh game from the surrounding mountains and all kinds of imported foods brought up the mountain by wagon. He hired excellent cooks to feed hungry visitors and well qualified bartenders to wash the dust down.Fishing boats, rowboats and sailboats were available from the beach, and the fish were cooked up for the guests’ next meal. Guests were taken to the Donner Party camp site at the other end of the lake and told tales of their struggle for survival in 1846. Horses were rented from the huge barn for trips throughout the mountains.The advancing railhead directed even more traffic through Pollard’s Station in 1865 through 1867. Wells Fargo shifted its express service from the Placerville route through South Lake Tahoe to the Donner Pass route, bringing even more customers. The wealth of the booming Comstock Lode in Virginia City all passed through Donner Lake.As the railhead moved up to Cisco, the ride got shorter, and the traffic continued to increase. As the railroad construction crews moved to the Donner Pass and Truckee River areas, all of the hotels and road houses along Donner Lake were doing a booming business. Hub of activityPollard was an active community member, serving as an election official for the Donner Lake precinct, and his hotel was a polling place when needed. Donner Lake was the center of activity for the east slope, as very few other stage stops had the right mix of location and atmosphere that Pollard provided.
Winter didn’t stop the trans-Sierra flow of travelers. Sleighs were substituted for wagons and passengers bundled up as they ran over the 20-foot-deep snowpack of Donner Pass. The deep snows of Donner Lake brought the Donner Party tragedy to mind to the travelers as they fought the famous Sierra blizzards.On April 23, 1867, Pollard’s Station Hotel burned to the ground. As with most wooden buildings, destruction by fire was a frequent occurrence. He had $4,500 in insurance and quickly rebuilt using Truckee River lumber to construct a bigger hotel. He completed it in time to handle the huge volume of freight and passenger traffic that passed through in the summer of 1867.That summer the Central Pacific was constructing the tunnels on the summit, and the workers flocked to Donner Lake on their rare days off.Teamsters hauled rails, a locomotive, cars, and materials over the mountain to build a separate section of track down the Truckee River Canyon. This created a daily frenzy of epic proportions as heavy wagons traveled back and forth.Other Donner Lake area road houses fed and housed the massive amounts of traffic, including Billy Mac’s station one mile west, Hatch’s Station one mile east, and Neff’s Station two miles east of Pollard’s.At the east end of the lake, E.S. Drew’s Donner Lake House, later owned by James Grant, was another important stage stop. This was located where the Tahoe Donner Marina is now. Just east of it was the Donner House and further east was Ingraham’s near Donner Creek.A change of ownership
By the summer of 1868, the boom was over, as the Central Pacific broke through the hard granite and finished track laying through the tunnels.Pollard moved to a new town further down the line. Being tired of the snow, he moved to Reno, where he opened another hotel with a stable, a market and eventually a stage line to Virginia City. He continued to run a variety of business ventures until his death in 1885.In 1869 the Donner Lake hotel was enlarged and remodeled and refurnished. Rather than cater to fast moving travelers, A.J. Bayley and John Ross ran the Lake House resort for summer tourists who would stay for a week or longer. They rented boats and fishing tackle for trips on Donner Lake. A stage was on hand for trips through the area, and to carry passengers to and from the Truckee train station. Changing rooms were built on the edge of the lakeshore for swimmers. Bayley and Ross gave dinner dances for Truckee people willing to take the scenic ride to the head of Donner Lake. Boat races from Grant’s Hotel at the east end to the Lake House were great entertainment during 1869. Many tourist parties preferred the Lake House over the upstart resorts of Lake Tahoe, and the other Donner Lake resorts.Fireworks were shot off from the Lake House beach on the Fourth of July in 1869, starting a tradition that continues today. The summer season was short and the profits without the wagon and stage traffic were not enough to keep the hotel running. In the winter of 1870, the hotel suffered a second fire and burned to the ground.So ended the golden years of Pollard’s Station at the west end of Donner Lake. As contemporary West End beach goers recreate, they follow in the footsteps of history from the 1860s. Nearby, at the corner of Donner Pass Road and South Shore Drive, the Clampers have a plaque on a rock dedicated to Pollard’s Station. The research of Clamper member and Truckee resident Lee Schegg contributed significantly to this story of Pollard’s Station.Gordon Richards is the president and research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, and history information are always welcome. Visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.