Preserving Tahoe’s nautical history
Dottie Batchelor slowly opens the door of a spacious Truckee warehouse, flicks on the lights and the history of Lake Tahoe boating flashes into view.
The collection of more than two dozen watercraft relics that span more than a century of Tahoe’s rich boating history is the prize of the Tahoe Maritime Museum, a nonprofit member organization that has grown rapidly into one the top freshwater historical collections in the country.
The boats are wintering in a Truckee storage location until summer when they will be wheeled over to the Homewood museum for exhibition.
“I think the collection we have is right up there with anyone in the world,” said Tom Bredt, president of the museum’s board of directors.
Look at the 1950s hydroplane racing boat shaped like an oblong flying saucer, one of the oldest functioning Chris-Crafts, and the 1890s hull recently rescued from the floor of Lake Tahoe all sitting side by side and its hard to disagree.
The breadth and variety of crafts are an accurate reflection of Tahoe’s nautical past. Early boats on the lake were working vessels, often used to carry logs cut from Tahoe’s slopes to fuel the mining boom in Virginia City. Later, the boats began to mirror the recreation activities on the lake. Some, such as the hydroplane, were used to test the limits of man’s need for speed.
And, perhaps most famously, nothing reflects the heyday of Tahoe’s recreational boating past better than the meticulously polished teak of the dozens of classic woodies that round out the collection. Many boats provide historical connections to such famous Tahoe family names as Dollar and Bliss.
“We’re trying to get historically significant boats,” said Batchelor, the director of the museum, who says the collection of boats has grown exponentially over the last several years.
“Four years ago, we had one boat and now we have something like 28,” she said.
And the vessels are not just museum pieces. The organization prides itself on keeping as many of the boats as possible in working condition, ready for a launch into Big Blue.
“Part of the motto of the museum is ‘living history,’ and they are not living unless they are lake-worthy,” Batchelor said.
Bredt emphasized that despite the incredible collection of Tahoe boats, the museum is much more than a boat display.
The commerce, industry and culture of boating are also highlighted in the 1950s Homewood hotel that museum patrons have refurbished to hold the museum.
“If you want to see a boat, come see us,” Bredt said. “But if you want to see how boats have influenced the history of Tahoe, it’s also a good place to come.”
The museum is planning to build a new facility on the Homewood property soon. Museum directors plan to have the new location hold between six and seven boats, Batchelor said.
But despite the costs of operating the museum and constructing a new building, the Tahoe Maritime Museum has a staunch belief in keeping the museum free to anyone who wants to see a representative slice of Tahoe nautical history.
“We want people to be a part of it,” Bredt said. “We don’t want it to be an exclusive organization at all.”
For more information on the Tahoe Maritime Museum, visit http://www.tahoemaritimemuseum.org. The museum, operational during the summer, is located next to the Homewood Mountain Resort.
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