What’s in a name? Rich history behind well-known Tahoe spots
July 3, 2010
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Visitors to the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum are usually curious about the names around town: Tallac, Bijou, and of course, Tahoe.
“They always ask those questions,” said Diane L. Johnson, museum chairperson. “Those are the three main ones.”
A small book, tucked into the library at the back of the museum, holds most of the answers.
“Tahoe Place Names: The Origin and History of Names in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” is by Barbara Lekisch, who herself was puzzled by certain names in the region.
On a hike in the Desolation Wilderness (named for its isolated location), Lekisch came upon the name “Jabu,” a tiny lake near Cracked Crag, she explains the book’s forward. Lekisch, head librarian at the California Historic Society and former librarian for the Sierra Club, learned that “Jabu” was a composite using the first two letters of man’s first and last names: Jack Butler, a member of the Mount Ralston Fish Planting Club. Other similarly derived names include “Ropi” (Ross Pierce), “Waca” (Walter Campbell), “Gefo” (George Foss) and “Toem” for Tom Emery.
Although there is rich Washoe Indian heritage in the area, only a few Washoe names still exist on modern day maps: Tahoe and Tallac. Tahoe itself is a Washoe name, meaning “Big Waters.” At 9,785 feet, Mount Tallac means “Great Mountain,” derived from the Washoe word Talah-act, among other spellings.
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Zephyr Cove is named after Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind. Mark Twain and Dan De Quille both wrote about the strong west winds that blow over Lake Tahoe and on into Nevada, called the “Washoe Zephyr.”
The Al Tahoe community of South Lake Tahoe is named for Almerin R. Sprauge, who built the Al Tahoe Hotel in 1907, naming it after himself. When a post office was established in 1908, he became the area’s first postmaster. The community of Al Tahoe took its name from the hotel.
Globin is another name spied around town; there’s Globin Hall at St. Theresa Catholic Church on Lyons Avenue (named for the Rev. Patrick Lyons, the parish’s first pastor in 1951), and The Globin Building on Highway 50, which now houses a laundromat, sandwich shop, bookstore and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Frank Globin bought the Al Tahoe Hotel in 1924, adding cabins and casinos. After 44 years, Globin’s Al Tahoe Resort closed in 1968. A sign from the defunct hotel now hangs in the museum’s bookstore.
The Bijou area of South Lake Tahoe comes from the French word meaning “jem, jewel or treasure.” According to author Lekisch, there are a few theories about this one: It could have been coined in the late 1880s by French Canadian lumberjacks; or by Cary Platt and William S. Bliss, son of D.L. Bliss (for which the California State Park is named); or by Bonnie Oakley, a local school teacher.
Angora, the site of devastating fire in the summer of 2007, was named for the herd of Angora goats that Nathan Gilmore pastured in the region.
Baldwin Beach in Emerald Bay is named for one-time owner and Virginia City miner E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. By 1926, Baldwin had collected 2,647 acres in the area; his Hotel Tallac was well-known throughout the West.
“The Saga of Lake Tahoe” by Edward B. Scott reveals a menu from the Hotel Tallac dated July 4, 1889. The evening’s options featured baked Lake Tahoe trout, blanket of sweet breads with mushrooms, beef tongue, prime rib of Nevada beef and a young sucking pig with apple sauce. Dessert was English plum pudding with Baldwin’s brandy sauce.
“The Saga of Lake Tahoe” and “Tahoe Place Names” are both available at the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum at 3058 Lake Tahoe Blvd. The museum is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call (530) 541-5458.