We are looking east from the west side of Donner Lake, approx 1920’s. The building seen is the office for the Donner Lake Camp, an early “autoist” campground. In the close up below we can see a “Red Crown” gasoline sign, as well as a car headed down the road. The road curves around the lower part of the photo and ends up at the right side where it would soon start the climb up towards the summit.
On June 10th, 1909 a dedication ceremony was held at the site of the Breen cabin, members of the Donner Party. This dedication was to formally mark the spot that would, in about three years, hold the massive statue and support for the Donner Party Memorial. An immense granite cornerstone was inscribed and placed at the corner of what was the site of the Breen cabin.
The inscription on the stone read, "This cornerstone marks the site of the Donner Party cabins where a monument will be erected under the auspices of The Native Sons of the Golden West to the pioneers that crossed the plains."
This evocative photograph shows CF Mc Glashan, Truckee attorney, who spearheaded the monument construction, speaking to the assembled audience. Sitting on the stand listening are three of the survivors of the Donner Party, Virginia Reed Murphy, Patty Reed Lewis, and dressed in white, Francis Donner Wilder. All three women would show up three years later for the monument dedication.
I am working on a video concerning the construction of The Donner Pioneer Monument and came upon this intriguing photo. It shows the Donner Memorial without the statue of the family on top. The base was hand built and the sculpture installed piece by piece.
What captured my attention was the immense cornerstone sitting next to the base. The stone was dedicated a few years before as the start of the year's long effort to get the statue up. It marked the corner of the Breen cabin, who were members of the Donner Party. We see the cornerstone in pictures taken before, during, and just after the monument was dedicated. However, sometime after that, it went missing, and no one knows what happened to it.
These two photos from Jack Duncan seem to show Highway 40 "near Donner Summit," according to the caption. I'm having a hard time locating this particular spot. It looks much like the area between Cisco Grove and Big Bend, but the old road on the right rises much more rapidly at that location. The second photo below seems to show the same area, but check out all the traffic. If you know where this photo location is, please let us know.
The following photographs go with our YouTube video, where Norm Sayler of the Donner Summit Historical Society describes to Trey what we are seeing. You can watch the video at the bottom of this post.
The above photograph shows the first snow removal equipment on Donner Pass. These vehicles didn’t work The Lincoln, but the early Highway 40, which followed the second-generation Lincoln Highway.
Another great photograph is showing the first snow removal equipment on Donner Summit.
The above photo shows an automobile headed down the grade at Donner Summit. This photograph is before the snow removal equipment. The snow was hand dug by eager merchants and others who were looking for the first customer to come over the summit.
A fantastic shot of a couple of automobiles headed down into the auto subway under the Southern Pacific tracks next to the China Wall. The snow looks dirty as the very same people who hand-dug the snow would bring ash and coal dust to sprinkle on the snow in an attempt to help it melt faster.
This view is of the very beginning of the construction of The Rainbow Bridge. We are looking at the right abutment or approach to the bridge. You can see the railroad snow tunnels on the mountain behind. Notice the automobile on the road just before the abutment.
What looks like the Rainbow Bridge is the scaffolding for the new bridge. The actual height of the bridge will reach those two abutments we see towards the top of the photo.
Here is a cool photograph of the construction of the Rainbow Bridge. We can see the new bridge, the roads approaching, and if you look very closely at the very bottom right, you can see an automobile headed up by the small pond and using the original alignment of The Lincoln Highway since the bridge is not yet complete. Then small pond the car is passing was formed by the construction of the second-generation Lincoln, which blocked its outflow.
A beautiful postcard photograph is showing the newly completed second-generation Lincoln Highway bridge, complete with dirt approaches, which changed to asphalt when the road became Highway 40. The plaque pictured used to be at the lookout point near the bridge. It now rests at the Donner Summit Historical Society.
The photo shows an automobile traveling on the Lincoln Highway sometime after 1916 since it shows a large reservoir that almost touches the road. The original alignment of the Lincoln followed Lake Van Norden's northern side from Soda Springs at Highway 80, north of Lake Van Norden, to the now long gone Summit Hotel.
Traveling up the old Highway 40, today's Donner Summit Road, towards Soda Springs one passes Summit Valley off to the right. During the winter it's a snow-covered valley, but in spring with the snowmelt, it turns into Lake Van Norden. It was 1872 when a dam was built across the south fork Yuba River creating the lake. We are not sure why the dam was built, but for awhile the water stored was sent downstream to operate hydraulic mines. In 1886 hydraulic mining was outlawed, so the water was used to irrigate the rapidly growing Central Valley and foothill orchard industry.
In 1916 the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) became the owner of the lake and enlarged it to a total of 5600-acre-feet. Every spring the lake would fill with snowmelt, and the slowly lowered during the summer to supply downstream uses. The lowering lake supported a large sheep industry that would use the grass that grew as food.
In 1976 the dam was found to be unsafe, so it was notched to allow less water to be stored. The new lake was only 150-acre-feet in size but still provided recreation and water for wildlife. In 2012 the lake was bought by the Truckee Donner Land Trust from failed developers. According to the Donner Summit Historical Society newsletter, "they inherited a problem because the developers had been told by the State to drain the lake to below fifty acre feet. The Land Trust wanted to sell the valley to the Forest Service which would not take the valley with any lake. The Land Trust did not entertain any other solutions and so opened the drain and completely drained the lake in 2015. If the Forest Service consummates the purchase their plan is to restore the dry meadow to what it was before there was any dam and no summer river." The Truckee Donner Land Trust sees the removal of the dam and lake as a win for the environment, which they detail here.
Be sure to check out the lake within the next couple of weeks, because 2019 is the last year that Lake Van Norden will exist. Destroying Lake Van Norden seems an odd move for a state that seems to always be on the verge of a drought, and is unwilling to build new water storage facilities.