Donner Summit…center of California history.   Leave a comment

Castle Peak at Donner Summit

Castle Peak at Donner Summit

 

 The history of Donner Summit is about much more than the horrible struggle of one party of California bound travelers that gave the area it’s name. Donner Summit is a center of California history because unbelievably it was one of the easiest ways to get over the Sierra, but as we all know, it can be an incredibly challenging passage, especially if you try to do it in a snowstorm.

 The first wagon train to reach California was the Stephens Murphy Townshend Party in 1844, which traveled over Donner Pass two years before the ill-fated Donner Party. They stopped on their journey at Big Bend long enough for the first European baby to be born in California, Elizabeth Yuba Murphy. One member of the party was Moses Schallenberger who spent the winter at Donner Lake, and later had the ridge above the lake named after him. Other party members went on to start the cities of Sunnyvale, Murphy’s and Stockton.

 The Railroad was completed in 1869, but to get over Donner Summit required fifteen massive tunnels, including Tunnel 6, which was over 1500 feet long and blasted through solid granite by crews of Chinese workers. Some of the rock removed from the tunnels was used to construct the still visible China wall, which was built without the use of mortar.

Serene Lakes

Serene Lakes

 

Without refrigeration, ice was a necessary commodity in the west in the mid 1800s, but it was transported all the way from Boston or Alaska at great expense. So when the railroad opened, entrepreneurs saw opportunity in our cold climes.  The Summit Ice Company began operation in 1868 at what were then known as the Ice Lakes, later the Serene Lakes. But the operation only lasted four years before Donner Summit’s heavy snows made nearby Prosser Lake, which had even colder temperatures, but little snow, a more attractive alternative.

 The three Serene Lakes, were turned into present day Serena and Dulzura with the raising of the water behind a dam in 1941. The construction of a new road into the lakes in 1959, issued a development opportunity, leading to the creation of eight separate subdivisions at the lakes, and over 600 homes as well as Royal Gorge Cross-Country, and the Ice Lakes Lodge.

 

 

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