Thunderbird Lake Tahoe
To better preserve and interpret the history of the entire Lake Tahoe region, Incline Village Crystal Bay Historical Society has merged with Thunderbird Lake Tahoe. Click here to become a member of Thunderbird Lake Tahoe and support these Valuable Programs.

Over One Hundred Years of History 1844-1974

Lake Tahoe was historically the summer home of the Washoe, a migratory Native American tribe that occupied land in Nevada and California. John C. Fremont was the first Euro-American to discover Lake Tahoe in 1844.

Soon after Nevada gained statehood in 1864, the Tahoe Basin was actively logged and the timbers were taken to the Comstock Lode to support the mine shafts and the buildings in the boom towns of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City and the mill town along the Carson River – Dayton. The timbers, comprised of native fir, cedar, and pine trees, arrived in Virginia City by way of water flumes and after 1869 the Virginia and Truckee Railroad.

By the late 1800s, most of the original stands of old growth trees surrounding Lake Tahoe were gone. The sparsely-forested area did not stop visitors from coming to the lake. Vacationers came from San Francisco to Truckee by the Central Pacific Railroad, taking a narrow gauge to Lake Tahoe, where they would be transported by steamer to visit the newly created resorts that dotted the lakeshore: Tallac, Meek’s Bay, McKinney’s, Glenbrook, Brockway Springs, and the Tahoe Tavern. Families began to build individual summer homes when automobiles became more prevalent and the roads were improved. The early roads made travel slow and laborious. A single route around the Lake would not be completed until 1935.

During the 1930s, Tahoe’s enormous scenic acreage of wilderness attracted the interest of gambler turned real estate tycoon, Norman Biltz who marketed Tahoe’s North Shore to the wealthy. In 1935, George Whittell Jr., widely regarded as Tahoe’s first conservationist, purchased approximately 26 miles of shoreline and 40,000 acres between Crystal Bay and Zephyr Cove – roughly 95% of the Nevada shoreline of Lake Tahoe.

Between 1935 and 1969, George Whittell owned vast acreage in Washoe, Carson, and Douglas Counties on the Nevada side of the basin, where he constructed his summer home, the Thunderbird Lodge. Today, some of this land has been developed for commercial and residential uses, especially on the northern shore of the lake in Washoe County. However, the majority of the Whittell land remains preserved in a natural state, free of commercial or residential development.

Nevada legalized gaming in 1931, but it was during the mid-1950s when the casino industry in Tahoe took hold. The Cal-Neva Lodge became the premiere entertainment spot on the North Shore in the 1930s, and then again in the 1960s, thanks due to the popularity of part owner Frank Sinatra. Lakeview lots in Crystal Bay were offered for sale at a small fraction of today’s costs.

Sinatra’s era, following so quickly behind the Olympics, and coupled with the notoriety brought to the region by the Bonanza television series, made Incline Village and Crystal Bay highly desirable communities. Many celebrities who had fled the metropolitan rat race settled on the north shore of Lake Tahoe to rear their children in relative peace and quiet.

The planned community of Incline Village – a year-round recreational town – was developed in 1960. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, essential projects such as roads, schools, beaches, grocery stores, banks, restaurants, a golf course, and a ski resort were added.