Echo Summit

By Michael Raffety 9-8-14

Recently I received a book called “Echo Summit.” It’s 126 pages of historical pictures and captions. The cover is a photo of a huge snow bank left near the summit that had been cut through to allow freight wagons to pass through. The snow bank was higher than the wagons.

The book’s intro notes that more than 1 million tourists travel up Highway 50 over Echo Summit now.

I never stopped to ponder why the grade from South Lake Tahoe to Genoa, Nev., is called Kingsbury Grade. It’s not named after Judge Suzanne Kingsbury. It’s named after David Kingsbury, who along with John McDonald built a wagon toll road from Genoa over Daggett Pass through Lake Valley. The Daggett Pass route intersects with Lake Tahoe south of Zephyr Cove. It’s still called Kingsbury Grade Road (also Route 207) and takes off from Highway 50 shortly after passing Stateline. The rest of Highway 50 follows the lake around and crosses over into Carson Valley, Nev., through Spooner Summit.

In Lake Valley one of the stops for teamsters and stagecoaches was Yank’s Station, established by Ephraim “Yank” Clement in 1859. The historical building is gone, but there is still a business in Meyers named Yank’s Station; it’s a shopping center.

Friday’s Station, built in 1859 by Martin K. “Friday” Burke and James Washington Small, is still standing. A search of the Internet reveals it is on the fifth green of Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Edgewood is one of my favorite places to dine when we go to Tahoe. Great view, great food and prices that will not break the bank. In fact, one of its longtime waiters is originally from Rescue. Now I’m going to have to hunt down Friday Station.

Another old building still standing is the Osgood Toll House. Reputed to be the oldest building in Lake Tahoe, it was like all the other buildings mentioned above, built in 1859. Nehemiah Osgood was hired by Kingsbury and McDonald to build the Osgood Grade from Lake Valley to Echo Summit. “The typical toll was 5 cents per animal and 6 bits for men and their wagons,” according to the Website, Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture.

The most interesting thing about the Osgood Toll House was it was located between Osgood Grade and Echo Creek next to the road to Luther Pass (Highway 89). In 1911, the Echo Lake Dam collapsed and flooded Lake Valley, knocking the Osgood Toll House off its foundation.

Echo Lake’s dam and canal system was part of the more than 23 miles of flumes and canals built by the El Dorado Water and Deep Gravel Mining Co. in 1876. That outfit also hired Chinese workers to build a 1,058-foot-long tunnel underneath Echo Summit, according to the book. When Echo Lake dam gave way June 9, 1911, according to the book, it let loose a wall of water 20 to 100 yards wide and 1,000 feet high “cascading over Echo Summit.” It washed buildings in Meyers off their foundations, including the Osgood Toll House, which was relocated to Meyers. The flooded area included the Celio ranch, which had used the tool house for storage. A Celio descendant retired not too long ago as superintendent of the county road crew and lives across the valley from us in the vicinity of the Indian casino.

The Celio family moved the Osgood Toll House to the museum in South Lake Tahoe in 1974. It can be seen at the corner of Highway 50 and Rufus Allen Boulevard.

The dam was rebuilt in 1928 by Western States Electric Co. In 1992, PG&E rebuilt it as a concrete structure, according to Jake Eymann, dam engineer for the El Dorado Irrigation District. Western States had raised all the dams for Echo Lake, Lake Aloha, Silver Lake and Caples Lake. In 1999, EID bought the whole project that had originally been built in 1876, and improved by Western States and later PG&E. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission designated it Project 184. EID now operates Project 184, which includes a 21-megawatt powerhouse, 15,080 acre-feet of domestic water and another 17,000 acre-feet of potable water rights.

The project has provided enough water to keep Sly Park from turning into a mud puddle after two dry years, with the rain season of 2013-14 being the fourth driest on record.

The Echo Lake flood on 1911 is a cautionary tale about the danger of dam failure and the importance of being on the safe side when it comes to dams.


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