Digest>Archives> July 1998

Light or Outhouse?

By Mary K. Hanley

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The author, Mary K. Hanley in from of the remains ...

Ducking under a tree that lay suspended across the trail, and turning a corner, I came upon a little wooden building at the edge of the cliff overlooking beautiful Lake Tahoe. Surely I had taken a wrong turn, My search was for a lighthouse and instead, I thought I had stumbled upon an outhouse. A wooden sign nailed over the door, assured me it indeed was a lighthouse, Naturally, being curious, I decided to find out more about this strange structure.

Bob Burke, Park Ranger with the California's State Parks told me "this is the typical reaction to the lighthouse: when hikers come upon this little known place overlooking Lake Tahoe on Rubicon Point in the D.L. Bliss State Park."

The lighthouse was built in 1916 by the United States Coast Guard under the direction of J. J. Bodilsen. Although most records show that the lighthouse was maintained for three years until 1919, there were some conflicting reports. David J. Stollery Jr., in his book, Tales of Tahoe, quotes Ernie Pomin, Captain of the S. S. Tahoe, as stating, "The lighthouse was in use during the 1920's and 1930's."

Acetylene gas kept the light burning. The tanks, each weighing 300 lbs., were delivered to Emerald Bay by the S.S. Tahoe on its daily run around the lake. From there they were hauled up to the lighthouse by mule or wagon. The light could be seen from most places on the lake. This was of great use as there were few homes or buildings around the lake at that time so the shore did not have many lights as it does today. To keep the light burning was a costly and time consuming job. As far as anyone knows, that is the reason the little house was abandoned.

Because of its resemblance to an outhouse, the little lighthouse is the butt of many laughs, but it does have the distinction of being on the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States. According to Bob Burke, the elevation is approximately 6300 feet. Bill Lindmann, Interpretive Specialist for the State parks Service, states that "From this vantage point, you can see over 80 feet into the depths of Lake Tahoe as it overlooks one of the deepest off shore areas of the lake."

The lighthouse is neglected and in need or repairs. Ann Johnson, trustee of the Tahoe Heritage Foundation and Linda Cole, Advisor to the Foundation, told me they are working on plans to fund restoration to the lighthouse and the access trail. The trail is not long or difficult, but the last two winters have left their mark. The Foundation's goal is for an improved and safer trail, so young and old alike may visit and enjoy this little "outhouse/lighthouse" and the beautiful scenery of Lake Tahoe.

Bill Lindmann said: "When the lighthouse is restored we hope to lead special night tours to the house where the light would burn again, this time by a special Coleman light."

The Tahoe Heritage Foundation has only been in existence a few years. If you are interested in knowing more about their work in preserving the culture and history of the Tahoe region, you may call Ann Johnson at #530-544-3029 or Linda Cole at #530-544-7206. For camping information call Sue Burke at #530-525-7232.

Because of the Foundation and people who care, perhaps one more lighthouse will escape the Doomsday List.

This story appeared in the July 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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