Lake Tahoe – “The Lake of the Sky, “Part VI – The “Yanks” are Coming

Yank's Station from the East - 1866

Yank’s Station from the East – 1866

In 1868 the tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad reached Truckee. From there a narrow gauge railroad, built from the remnants of the lumber railroads that had proliferated in the Tahoe Basin during the lumbering years, connected it to Tahoe City at the north end of the lake. This resulted in development of summer resorts at the northern end of the lake, but there was no similar railroad connection to the southern end of the lake.

The southern end of Lake Tahoe was still only connected to the outside world by the roads that had carried the emigrants into California and the freight and passengers from Sacramento to Virginia City. Because of this traffic, some inns, along with eating and drinking establishments had been built along these roads in the middle and late 1800’s. Amongst these would be one located closest to Echo Summit, a place that everyone had to pass by, no matter which of the two routes they took south of the lake. Its progressive development is in many ways typical of all others in the Tahoe Basin and worth looking at. It was known as “Yanks Station”

As mentioned before, the first white settler in the area at the southern end of the lake, a place known as Lake Valley, was Martin Smith. An real entrepreneur, he arrived in 1851 and built a simple way station at a place along the main road, seven and one half miles south of the Lake. When it burned down he, and a partner named Jim Muir, rebuilt it and added barns, a corral and stables.

When the first stagecoach crossed the Sierra into the Tahoe Basin in 1857, Smith and Muir’s way station was where they stopped. Although it was nothing more than simply a place to get minimal food and drink, a reporter of the time is said to have described it as “a spacious, well-kept hostelry…with obliging proprietors and…a respectable air about he place.”

Soon Muir would sell his interest to George Douglass, who ran another way station nearby. In 1859, Smith and Douglass would sell out to a very interesting character by the name of Ephraim Clement.

“Yank” Clement, as he was known, was a renowned teller of tall tales who attempted to retain the image of a “mountain man” by dressing in buckskins and moccasins and letting his curly hair grow. Over the next few years “Yank”, and his wife Lydia D. Mark Clement, fortunately a much more reserved person, expanded the simple facilities considerably, building a three-story, fourteen room hotel, another stable and barn, larger corrals, two saloons, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a cooperage and several private homes. Its saloons would become popular with both the local residents and travellers, along with gamblers and ladies of the evening. This was the place everyone passing along the road stopped. Even the short-lived Pony Express used it as a place to change horses.

Coaches traveling east along the American River route from Sacramento and Placerville first had to make their way up the canyon and then over Echo Summit, before entering the Tahoe Basin. From the summit, at more than 7000 feet elevation, it was a scary downhill run to the first stop at Osgood’s Toll House, where Echo Creek crossed the road. At that point the passengers – and drivers – were ready for a rest and Yank’s was a convenient, short distance away.

There is no doubt that Yank’s was not only the busiest, but also the noisiest place in the Tahoe Basin. Teamsters often blew loud horns to scatter the people and animals from the road on arrival. Added to this was the rumble of huge freight wagons echoing throughout the valley, and the herds of cattle and sheep heading towards the butcher markets near the Nevada mines, along with the accompanying barking dogs, filling the air with their cries. Twenty-four hours a day, this went on.

Yank’s commanded a magnificent view of the Sierra Nevada and the Basin, but, nearly no one came for the view. Yank’s was simply a place for food and drink, replacement mules or horses and needed repairs to equipment. The many travellers and teamsters didn’t have time to enjoy one of the greatest views in the world, they had business elsewhere.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the passenger traffic along the main road through the Tahoe Basin declined significantly. Even though the railroad tracks over the Sierra were primitive and subject to weather problems, the trip and accommodations were far superior to a ride in or on top of a twelve passenger stagecoach over this dusty, rutted, road. Unfortunately, at about the same time, the mining in Nevada started winding down and what little freight that was passing along this route stopped.

Ephraim “Yank” Clement and his wife Lydia continued to operate their station until 1873 when it was sold to one George Henry Dudley Meyers, a native of Germany who already owned another inn, Six Mile House, east of Placerville.

Meyers purchased much of the land adjacent to what had become known as “Yank’s Station”, named the area after himself and raised beef and dairy cattle. The Clements moved to a beautiful place on the southwest shore of the lake, near today’s Camp Richardson, where they would build the Tallac House.

In the early 1900s, the Meyers sold to the Celio family, who had settled in the Tahoe basin in 1863, when Carlo G. Celio established a ranch south of what is now Highway 50. The Celios continued to operate the hotel and their beef and cattle business while expanding into the lumber business on a large scale. In 1938 the old hotel burned down.

As mentioned, from Yank’s Station east, there were two roads past the lake. One passed by the south end of the lake, along the marshland created by the Upper Truckee River. The other had many names: the Placerville and Carson Valley Route, the “Bonanza Road” and the “back road”. Serving as the main road much of the time, it is now know as Pioneer Trail. Along both of these roads, other way stations, hotels and resorts would be built.

Sources for this story include: “Atlas of California”, by Donley, Allan, Caro and Patton (1979); “California Place Names”, by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “The Saga of Lake Tahoe, Volumes I & II, by Edward Scott; “The Mountain Sea”, by Lyndall Landauer (1996); “Lakes of California”, by Don Baxter (1972); “Sierra-Nevada Lakes”, by George and Bliss Hinkle (1949); “Sierra Stories – True Tales of Tahoe”, Volumes 1 & 2, by Mark McLaughlin 1997-1998): “History of El Dorado County”, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); the archives of the Mountain Democrat.

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