Classic wooden boats cruise in to Tahoe’s Carnelian Bay

Photo courtesy Mark Mclaughlin

This weekend the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay is hosting Lake Tahoeand#8217;s prestigious classic wooden boat show, the 37th annual Concours dand#8217;Elegance. Itand#8217;s the perfect opportunity to admire more than 100 antique watercraft, including pre- and post-war vessels, stylish Rivas from Italy and other classic boats. This yearand#8217;s Marque Class, or featured style, is the Blonde Deck Runabout.

Beautiful Carnelian Bay has been considered a choice location on Lake Tahoe since the 19th century. A regular stop for early visitors to the Lake, it is one of the best points to enjoy panoramic views from north to south down the nearly 22-mile length of this famous alpine lake.

Initially called and#8220;Cornelian Bayand#8221; for the pretty, semi-precious red and yellow carnelian stones found on its beaches, this small bay was renamed Carnelian Bay in the 1880s. In the early days when the only way around the lake was by steamer, it was the last stopping point starting south from Tahoe City or the first when starting north and east. A popular pastime for visitors was to fill their pockets with the translucent, jewel-like stones that littered the beach. Even today, a sharp-eyed person can still find colorful carnelians along the shoreline here.

History does not record whether the Washoe Indians from present-day western Nevada found the carnelians quite so delightful, but they certainly spent a lot of time along Watson Creek near where it empties into the lake. Carnelian Bay was an important summer camping spot for the Washoe Tribe, where they would fish, hunt ground squirrels, gather seeds and collect mushrooms and berries.

In 1871, Dr. George M. Bourne established a health spa in Carnelian Bay. Dr. Bourne, who ran successful health clinics in San Francisco and Sacramento, decided Tahoeand#8217;s pleasant summer climate and beneficial sun and healing waters would help his patients. Dr. Bourne advised his guests to take invigorating walks along the beach by tempting them with the thought of finding sparkling gems during their stroll.

Dr. Bourne died in the 1880s and by 1890 the stage and wagon road that connected Tahoe City with Campbelland#8217;s Hot Springs (Brockway) passed through Carnelian Bay. The small community is considered one of the lakeand#8217;s first permanent settlements.

In 1909, the bayand#8217;s lakefront property was sold to the Carnelian Bay Improvement Company (CBIC) for development into a summer residence resort. Every home in the subdivision was promised piped in water from a mountain spring in the hills above. To provide modern plumbing for the expected hotel, the CBIC built a pump station powered by a large windmill to catch the prevailing southwesterly breeze.

The new 81-acre Carnelian Bay resort, dubbed the Tahoe Country Club, was designed for the common man, with relatively small, inexpensive lots, sold only to buyers who promised to promptly build a house, cottage or bungalow for their own use. Prices ranged from $125 for a lot a bit up the hill (with a view) to $300 or $400 for a lakefront location. During the 1930s and 1940s, Carnelian Bay became a hot spot for boat racing. In 1952, the Sierra Boat Company was built a few hundred yards east of Dr. Bourneand#8217;s old digs.

The Concourse dand#8217;Elegance is a fitting tribute to Carnelian Bayand#8217;s legacy of scenic, maritime history.

and#8212;Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlinand#8217;s award-winning books are available at local bookstores. Mark can be reached at

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