Tea with Mrs. Tevis
Carol Bordeaux is preserving a portion of American culture. She has given money, sweat, time and sometimes even tears.
The history teacher had never even heard of the Tallac estates until she answered an ad in a magazine for RV travelers. Now it is her devotion. Her return is measured in personal satisfaction.
“I had an RV that I had to either use or get rid of, so I started looking for places not too far away to try it out,” Bordeaux said.
Her first trip from Quincy, Calif., brought her to the volunteer program at the Tallac Historic Site, and she has been coming back ever since.
“I come as soon as school is out, and I don’t go back until school starts,” she said. “You don’t get paid, but I like it.”
Bordeaux knew nothing about the history of the Pope family, or any of the historic estates left standing on the shores of Lake Tahoe when she arrived. Today, more than seven years later, she is a wealth of information.
Like many of the volunteers, Bordeaux brings to the site her personal gifts. An avid gardener, Bordeaux set about reviving the Pope estate’s arboretum. It sparked an interest in the original creators of the garden – the Tevis family, members of elite San Francisco society in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Bordeaux did some research, wrote a script for a historical reenactment, and four years ago “Tea with Mrs. Tevis” was born.
In the first year Bordeaux was a one-woman show, shopping, cooking, and serving guests every Thursday afternoon on the veranda of the Pope house. In 1999, the gentile entertainment is staffed by two maids, and at $10 a head the program is sold out for the rest of the summer. All of the money raised goes toward refurbishing the garden.
During a stroll through the arboretum, Mable Pacheco Tevis tells her guests that a staff of 15 gardeners attends the grounds. In reality, Bordeaux admits later on it is only one – herself. Even with some help, Bordeaux still spends the evening before the program cooking scones and cookies. Long hours in front of an antique sewing machine resulted in an addition to Mrs. Tevis’ wardrobe this year. A hand-detailed dress, appropriate for 1902, completes Bordeaux’s portrayal of a woman of substantial means.
The guests who come to tea can not help but sit up a little straighter, and speak with added pleasantries as they enjoy their tea and crumpets. “Thank you” and “please” dot the conversation. They leave with a new appreciation of the lake’s early summer residents, and feeling slightly refined by the experience.
The main part of the Pope estate was built by George Payne Tallant in 1894. A San Francisco financier, Tallant established what is now Wells Fargo Bank. Lloyd Tevis began a purchase of the property in 1899. But it was his son, William Tevis who completed the sale after his father’s death.
The house is now known for the Popes – its final occupants from 1923 to 1965 – but Bordeaux said much of the structure is a Tevis legacy.
“The character of the house is Pope, but it was the Tevis family who enlarged the house. They added a dining room and enclosed the north end of the porch and enlarged the living room. The Tevises also built many of the outbuildings to house guests and extended family,” she said.
Bordeaux said thanks are owed to numerous volunteers for the revival of the estate.
“The volunteers come from all over the country. I don’t believe the higher-ups in the U.S. Forest Service really appreciate all the work and effort that has been donated to this site.”
It is Bordeaux’s devotion to the site that make it even harder for her to accept acts of vandalism that occurred earlier in the season.
“They tore up the sprinkler system and dumped several things in the arboretum’s pond. They trampled flowers and pulled up fencing,” she said, her voice catching emotion. “I just don’t understand it. It had no purpose.”
Luckily for the many visitors that tour the grounds, Bordeaux and a staff of volunteers were there to help right the damage.
Activities at the Tallac Historic Site
n Tours of the Pope house are offered daily (except Thursdays) at 11 a.m., noon, 1 and 2 p.m. Reservations recommended. The cost is $3 per person.
Children’s programs, reservations required, the cost is $4 per child.
n “When Grandma was a Kid” sends youngsters back to a 1920s school room. Tuesdays at 1 p.m.
n “Kitchen Kids” lets children cook and clean-up the way it was done in the old days. Wednesdays at 1 p.m., for children aged 8-12.
n “Wonders of Watercraft” introduces youngsters to the various power sources used by boats on Lake Tahoe.
n “A Children’s Garden Party” set in the 1920s, and complete with a teddy bear fashion show. Fridays at 1 p.m.
For more information, call (530) 541-5227.
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