Tallac Site Gives Visitors A Stroll Back In Time

  • By Jean Norman, Tallac Site Director, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, USDA Forest Service
The arboretum area is nestled in the trees between Camp Richardson and the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Volunteers give demonstrations of old-time crafts such as blacksmithing.

Lake Tahoe is a busy place in the summertime, but visitors to the Tallac Historic Site on the South Shore often feel like they’ve suddenly stepped by into a time when the world was less hectic and more relaxing.

The historic site consists of nearly 20 historic structures, including the summer homes of several old-time families, nestled among groves of Jeffry pine along the shoreline of Tahoe between Camp Richardson and the Taylor Creek Visitor Center.

Rich Human History

Managed by the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), the site has a rich human history. The various cultures that define the area’s history is interpreted from the early days of the native Washoe to the days when notable families, including the Baldwins, Tevises, Popes, and Hellers, frequented their summer homes between the late 1800s to the 1960s. The buildings, programs, demonstrations, and voluteers help visitors learn about the lifestyles of Tahoe’s rich and famous.

Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was an early owner of the property, which originally stretched from Taylor Creek to the south Upper Truckee River in the early 1900s. Parcels of land were sold to prominent families like the Tevises and the Popes. The elaborate summer homes they built saw many famous people, including silent-film actor Rudolph Valentino, famous boxers, and artists.

The front doors faced the water because guests and family arrived by steamboat, not auto. Servants catered to the families’ daily needs and lived in small cabins on the estate. These wealthy families and guests enjoyed polo races, guided horseback riding into the Sierra Nevada, golf, croquet, gambling, live music, dancing, and eating extravagant multi-course meals.

Historic Pope House and Baldwin Estate

“My most memorable experiences while at Tallac were working with an adventuresome group of volunteers,” said Tahoe Heritage Foundation volunteer Don Wells.

Today, the historic Pope House is furnished with original and reproduction pieces that depict the 1920s era. The servants’ outbuildings are similarly “dressed” for the time and include quarters for the butler, governess, cook, seamstress, chief gardener, and others on the Pope Estate. One can look through these outbuildings and screened doors to better understand what their lives must have been like. Working for the Tevis and Pope families was considered a great job by most servants’ standards.

Dextra Baldwin (the granddaughter of “Lucky” Baldwin) built her summer home in a more rustic style on the Baldwin Estate. These days, the Forest Service uses most of this space as a museum with period-appropriate pieces that depict the 1920s.

One can also view a 13-minute historic slideshow to better understand the early years and families of Tahoe. There is also a gift shop, Washoe Room with traditional baskets and Native American artifacts, and a welcoming volunteer docent to assist visitors with questions.

The Tallac Historic Site offers a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of busy city life. Listen to a chatty Stellar’s jay or the nearby waves on Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. One can leisurely stroll through the site among the nearly 20 historic structures dating from 1894 to 1923. Many enjoy exploring the Pope Estate’s historic gardens, gazebo, and pond, with its trickling waterfall, and participating in free family activities each Wednesday in July and August during Heritage Days. The site offers daily historic home tours, walking tours, children’s programs, and living history programs.

“The Tahoe Heritage Foundation provides funding for interpretive programs, restoration projects, and ongoing maintenance projects at the Tallac Historic Site,” said THF’s Director of Operations Jude Markward. “We also coordinate the services of over 80 volunteers each year through our partnership with the LTBMU, which is vital for the success of this cherished site’s operation.”

The Baldwin and Pope Estates host a variety of free events and activities thanks to the LTBMU’s nonprofit partner, the Tahoe Heritage Foundation (THF). Visitors can take advantage of the many daily, organized tours available throughout the summer or enjoy the site through self-guided activities or watching living history blacksmithing.

The LTBMU and THF host approximately 250,000 visitors to this cultural centerpiece each year, Markward said, noting that many stumble across the site while visiting nearby Camp Richardson or Taylor Creek Visitor Center.

For more information, contact the Tallac Historic Site at 530-541-5227 or visit tahoeheritage.org. The area is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week from May 25 to the end of September.