Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Ship earns historic designation
SS Tahoe sits under hundreds of feet of water
By SEAN WHALEY
REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU
The SS Tahoe in its heyday. The ship, which ferried tourists to lakeside resorts, was sunk in 1940.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO LIBRARY
The SS Tahoe is seen underneath about 400 feet of water.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW MILLENNIUM DIVE EXPEDITIONS
CARSON CITY -- The wreck of the SS Tahoe was named Monday to the National Register of Historic Places, the first piece of Nevada's maritime history to earn the honor, a state official said.
"I think it's fantastic," said Ron James, state historic preservation officer. "Nevada does have a maritime history, and that is a surprise to many.
"But we do have that history, and it certainly warrants recognition."
Getting the Tahoe listed was no easy task. The steamer sits in more than 385 feet of water in Lake Tahoe, a relic from the early 20th century that helped usher in the age of modern tourism at the lake.
Thanks to the Reno group New Millennium Dive Expeditions, which set a high altitude diving record by reaching the wreck in 2002, enough information was gathered to satisfy requirements for federal protection, James said.
"The big challenge for underwater resources is that we need to know the location and condition," he said.
Without the work of Martin McClellan and New Millennium, there wold not have been enough information to list the Tahoe, James said.
The listing will offer protection and potential sources of funding to further explore and document the nearly 170-foot twin-screw steamer.
The Tahoe was one of several steamships operated by the Bliss family from Glenbrook on the east side of Lake Tahoe. The ship was constructed by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco and shipped by rail to Carson City in pieces. It was taken to Glenbrook by wagon from Carson City, assembled and launched on the lake in 1896 amid much fanfare.
By the 1930s however, with the Great Depression underway and road construction around the lake reducing the need for steamships, the Tahoe and two other ships, the Meteor and Nevada, were left docked and deserted at Tahoe City.
Rather than sell the ships for scrap, the decision was made to scuttle the steamers.
The Meteor and the Nevada were scuttled in very deep water in the lake, in April 1939 and October 1940. Their precise location is unknown.
The plan for the Tahoe was to sink it in about 100 feet of water off Glenbrook, where it could be an attraction for glass bottom boats.
Unaware of the topography of the lake bottom however, the ship slid down the steep incline off Glenbrook, ending up at at a 30 degree angle in much deeper water. The bow rests to the east at a depth of about 385 feet, while her stern is to the west at a depth of about 460 feet.
James said the site of the wreck means that most people will have to enjoy the artifact through historical photos or the underwater footage taken by the divers.
"It's a pretty exclusive resource," he said.
Other maritime artifacts might one day join the Tahoe on the national register. Research is under way on a B-29 bomber that crashed and sank in Lake Mead in 1948, James said. The research could lead to its listing as well, he said.