By Cory Peterman
Webber Lake Guests
In 2018, thanks to the wonderful efforts of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, Corri Jimenez (current Vice-President of the Sierra County Historical Society and expert in historic preservation) and others, Sierra County became home to another building listed on the National Register of Historic Places – the Webber Lake Hotel constructed in 1860.
Once a key stop on Henness Pass Road, the hotel was constructed by Dr. David Gould Webber, who also constructed the original county courthouse earlier in 1854 (this beautiful structure burned down in 1947). Webber Lake has been a recreational haven for decades, and many people have visited the Webber Lake Hotel, including quite a few well-known characters.
The Truckee Donner Land Trust states that actress Lola Montez (1821-1861) was once a guest at the hotel. However, I do not find this claim accurate (Ms. Jimenez also questioned the veracity of this statement as well in her historic structures report). I invite my readers to refer to my article from March of this year entitled “The Elusive Lola Montez.” Frankly, I believe it is impossible Lola Montez stayed at the Webber Lake Hotel, as she left California in 1856, spent some time in Britain, and soon after returned to the East Coast, where by 1860, she was withering away from the effects of tertiary syphilis. She died the following year in New York City. Considering the Webber Lake Hotel was built in 1860, a stay from Lola Montez seems implausible – though she quite likely passed by the lake on her earlier journey to nearby Independence Lake in 1853.
Alonzo “Old Block” Delano (1806-1874), a friend of Lola Montez and a contemporary of Mark Twain and Bret Harte, is said to have stayed at the Webber Lake Hotel, as well as his friend Charles Nahl (1818-1878), a well-known painter and illustrator. Delano had made a well-documented visit to the area in 1861, visiting Independence Lake. Another artist who is said to have stayed at the hotel was famous landscape painter Thomas Hill (1829-1908). John Ross Browne (1821-1875), a writer who also influenced Mark Twain and Bret Harte, also stayed at the hotel.
A documented guest of the Webber Lake Hotel was Clara Barton (1821-1912), who in the words of author Elizabeth Brown Pryor, traveled from San Francisco “forty miles a day on foot and horseback to Webber Lake. There she and her friends hunted and fished, supped on venison and wild honey.” Barton stated she reveled in a “sky as clear and blue as indigo could have made it” and later acknowledged her “memories of the little camp up among the pines [grew] sweeter every month.”
In his book Nine Miles In: Living 25 Years at Webber Lake, Doug Garton describes visits from modern well-known figures during his tenure as caretaker of the grounds at Webber Lake. Garton’s father-in-law was special effects artist Augie Lohman (1911-1989), who was nominated at the 33rd Academy Awards for Best Special Effects for the film The Last Voyage. One special guest at the lake was radio and television personality Art Linkletter (1912-2010). Garton wrote that Linkletter and his cohorts were “really curious about the place and asked many questions. It was an unsuspected, surprising moment that came out of the blue and one to remember. We were pleased with his visit and proud to show him the paradise where we lived. We talked for about an hour and then they went on their way. What a nice man!”
Another visitor was Carl Switzer (1929-1957) who played Alfalfa in the TV series Our Gang. Garton wrote that Switzer “visited with all of us for quite some time and enjoyed our old buildings, photos, and hearing about Webber Lake history.” Garton stated his friend David Kelley (born 1928), a former member of the State Assembly and State Senate, was a regular guest at the lake as well. Actress Patty Duke (1946-2016) was another visitor to Webber Lake with her husband Michael Tell (the group also dined at the Calpine Lodge in Calpine after their visit to the lake).
Famous golfer George Archer (1939-2005) was another regular visitor to Webber Lake. Garton wrote that for over five years, Archer “was one of the 50 members in our fly fishing catch and release program. It was zero limit, strictly barbless hooks. I could see why he was such a good golfer. He would go out in his float tube and sometimes put in 10 hours of fishing time on the lake, all 6 feet 7 inches of him! He didn’t have a campsite but came in for a day of fishing from his home in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. George made a film – part of it at Lake Tahoe – and the rest at Webber Lake. The film explained our fishery. The interesting thing I learned about George didn’t happen until after he died. I knew he had cancer and a short time to live. He came to the lake two weeks prior to his death. Before he left he came over to talk to [my wife] and me, turned in his key to the gate, and thanked both of us. He died a short time later.”
Now that Webber Lake is open back to the public, who knows which future guests may show up to visit this stellar location!