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.
Sierra Nevada history
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.
In 1919 the U.S. Army decided to send a convoy of trucks, motorcycles, tractors, and men on a transcontinental trip from Washington DC to San Francisco. The road they would follow was the recently completed Lincoln Highway. Some of the convoy's journey was filmed, and we look at the section from western Nevada to San Francisco, California. The text comes from a diary and film record made during the trip.
Monica and I headed upcountry to Donner Summit the other day. Whenever possible, we take the old Lincoln Highway/Highway 40 route. It's slower-paced, and you get to see the small towns along the way. This is the "old-trading" post at Gold Run. I had not seen this photo before, but was familiar with the spot, as it's where the current Gold Run post office is located. This was the old Lincoln Highway before it became Highway 40 in 1928. Gold Run's history goes back to the gold rush era and hydraulic mining, which is how Gold Run made its fortune. When hydraulic gold mining was outlawed in the latter 19th Century, the town dwindled in size and importance.
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.
Monica and I headed up to Weimar to continue the Lincoln Highway logo project. Weimar is located just above Auburn and below Colfax, along present day Highway 80.
Just outside of Truckee we found a Trails West "T" marker, located at Old Greenwood Golf Course and housing development. T-35 is the number printed on the marker, which means it's the 35th marker describing The Truckee Trail. There are 34 markers before this one, each representing an event or remembrance of that particular spot. Marker T-35 is titled "Truckee Trail-Magnificent View." This marker sit's in the middle of the old trail, as you can see the wagon ruts that have left their impression, still visible after 150 years.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Trails West Organization, who has marked many of the old immigrant and wagon roads across the west. If these historic trails are not marked and mapped, they will disappear into the mists of time. Imagine trying to find those old wagon ruts if not for the marker or trail guide. To be able to stand in the middle of such a famous trail that carried thousands of emigrants to California in the 19th Century is a thrill. You can imagine the covered wagons and people marching over this un-familiar land headed to their new lives in the west.
Map of location.
Monday found Monica and I heading up to the Big Bend area, specifically Hampshire Rocks campground. Along the way in Weimar, we painted a Lincoln Highway "L" on the Union Pacific railroad subway. This particular subway, built in 1928, during the last year of The Lincoln Highway.
We had intended to head to Prosser Reservoir, just outside Truckee for a night of camping, but instead found ourselves staying at The Hampshire Rocks Campground, near Big Bend. This particular campground had only recently opened two week earlier, due to the massive amount of snow that was still on the ground. The snow was all gone in the camp, so we found ourselves a beautiful spot right next to The South Fork of The Yuba River. Everything about this place is great, except your only a hundred or so yards from Highway 80, so traffic noise is a constant unless you get down next to the flowing river. This place's location among the natural beauty and incredible history, is what makes it so desirable. The Lincoln Highway runs right through the camp if you know where to look.
Just a few hundred yards west of the camp entrance, on Hampshire Rocks Road, is a most unusual structure. What looks like a fireplace chimney, but has no flue, has kept locals mystified since it's origins, whenever that was. One local say's it's related to The Overland Emigrant Trail, which passes right in front of it. While looking at the mystery obelisk, we almost tripped over a "C" marker, as we call it. These concrete posts are what is called a "right of way" marker. The state would bury them, and I'm told they are 4 feet tall, to mark their area of influence along the road. Someone else had put some "marking tape" around it, but the three or four other times we had stopped here, it eluded us.
The next day found ourselves heading to Truckee and hunting down some Trails West “T” Markers for The Johnson Cut-Off Trail of the 1850’s and some Nevada sections of The Lincoln Highway. More on that in the next post.
It was on July 7th, 1919 that The Army's Motor Transport Corps convoy left Washington DC headed towards San Francisco. The trip was to see if the military could move men and machines across the country using the recently "completed" Lincoln Highway as the route. They almost didn't make it, arriving in Oakland seven day's behind schedule.
The convoy included, "24 expeditionary officers, 15 War Department staff observation officers, including a young, Bvt Lt Col Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Tank Corps, and 258 enlisted men." The experience Eisenhower had on the trip helped formulate his plan as President for an Interstate Highway System, still in place today.
The National Archives has a video of some of the trip. It's fascinating to watch, and at the 18:47 mark we start to see the mountains of Nevada and California, and the climb up Meyers Grade, across the summit, and down into Kyburz at the 21:45 mark.