Naturally, The Land Trust was thrilled to acquire Webber Lake and Lacey Meadows; 3,000 acres of enormous biological importance and opportunities for public recreation. But, something else of real importance came with the purchase. Something really important; one of northern California’s oldest standing buildings and one of great significance in California’s early history, the Webber Lake Hotel.
Dr. David Gould Webber built the Webber Lake Hotel in 1860. The hotel, just steps from the north side of Webber Lake itself, sits on Henness Pass Road, a popular stage route that in its heyday could see 100 wagons a day.
The hotel became celebrated and entertained guests such as Old Block Delano, an early comic writer, Charles Nahl, an early California artist, and Thomas Hill, a renowned painter. The three-story hotel provided respite for emigrants and miners while drawing hunters, fishermen, botanizers, boaters, and businessmen who enjoyed the lake.
The hotel’s true glory days arrived with the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, as a stage stop on the Henness Pass Road, which was a major supply line for the mines in Nevada.
It is not unusual for a land trust to acquire an historic structure but land trusts emphasize acquisition and management of lands and open space. An historic restoration can be a colossal undertaking for any land trust.
Says K.V. Van Lom, who is heading the Land Trust’s restoration efforts, “The Webber Lake Hotel is unique to California, the region, and deserves to be here for history buffs and visitors to explore forever. I just can’t overstate how important it is for this building to be saved,” she adds.
Tim Beals, Sierra County Director of Transportation and Planning says, “Webber Lake is one of Sierra County's most precious assets, and I will be looking forward to keeping the County Board of Supervisors updated and directly involved in any recreation planning so that the uses proposed at Webber Lake are consistent with the County General Plan.
The Land Trust has appointed Truckee architect Dennis E. Zirbel, experienced with restoring some of Truckee’s older buildings, to produce an Historic Structures Report, the first step needed for a restoration project. The report is currently in process.
Says Doug Gadow, owner of Linchpin Structural Engineering. “The building appears to be holding up very well. However, it has no apparent foundation and has settled significantly into the soil. The structure will need to be lifted, straightened, provided a foundation, and deteriorated framing will need to be repaired or replaced. The foundation work and wood deterioration repair will be costly, but definitely worth it considering the good condition of the rest of the structure.”
A Truckee local as well, Gadow too has extensive experience in historic restoration projects, and the Land Trust feels it is in the good hands of experts.
The Land Trust’s immediate plan is simple: clean out the building and make it structurally sound. Once this is accomplished, the front parlor will be restored to period, will display exhibits, and two upstairs sleeping rooms will be restored to period. The original external color of the hotel, white, will be applied as well. The building will also be put on the National Historic Register.
The Land Trust is now working with the Sierra County Historical Society, the Truckee Donner Historical Society and other agencies to collect artifacts, create exhibits, restore rooms, and search for funding sources.
“The Sierra County Historical Society is delighted to play a supportive role in the restoration of the Webber Lake Hotel. Its historic significance is undeniable, “ says Mary Nourse, the Historical Society’s president. She adds, "The structure is truly an historic gem and it is the logical repository for artifacts of a bygone era. Our membership will work to help preserve that history in order to provide a link to the past for generations to come.”
Dr. Webber was a well-known and respected leader in Sierra County, rumored to have adopted as many as 50 children. His contribution to Sierra County is notable.
“Dr. Webber figures prominently in the hotel’s restoration”, says Van Lom. “Not only was he a great gentleman, he built the hotel, and he also named nearby Mt. Lola after Lola Montez, the famous and scandalous courtesan who is rumored to have once stayed at the hotel. We absolutely need to obtain some of his personal items to honor him with an exhibit in the parlor.”
The Land Trust is asking for folks to search for Dr. Webber’s ancestors, artifacts, furniture, photos and time period items as well as to volunteer for in-kind projects such as debris removal, painting, expert services, etc. More importantly, if you would like to make a contribution towards the restoration, you can make a secure online donation at www.tdlandtrust.org, or send a check to the Truckee Donner Land Trust, P.O. Box 8816, Truckee, CA 96162. Be sure to note that your donation is for the Webber Lake Hotel Restoration.