Lake Tahoe

North Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museums and Exhibits

Gatekeeper's Museum

130 West Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, California

The Gatekeeper’s Museum is a reconstruction of the original Gatekeeper’s Cabin, on the same site where the original stood until it was destroyed by arson fire in the early 1980s.

The original Gatekeeper’s cabin was built by Robert Montgomery Watson—also the builder of the Watson Cabin—to be the home of the Watermaster who controlled the flow of water out of Lake Tahoe. We still have a Watermaster, but s/he no longer lives in this cabin. Instead, the cabin showcases Tahoe history, from the Washoe people through the logging and mining eras and the establishment of the tourism industry at Lake Tahoe. Exhibits include Native American baskets, resort memorabilia, historical photographs, clothing, oral histories, maps, archival documents, newspapers and artifacts.

Our resource library allows researchers on-site access to historical documents. Copies of historic photographs can also be ordered and purchased from the Museum.

Some highlights include:

Marian Steinbach Indian Basket Museum

The Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum was added to the Gatekeeper’s Museum in 1992, after her personal collection was donated to NLTHS.

Marion Steinbach pursued a wide variety of interests throughout her lifetime, and loved anything that had to do with nature—the study of which inspired her collections.

Throughout her lifetime, Marion amassed a world-class collection of over 800 utilitarian and fine baskets from 85 tribes throughout California and western North America. In addition to collecting baskets, Marion also collected Native clothing, jewelry, tools and pottery. Pottery from Maria Martinez is featured in the collection.

Desire for knowledge about the art of basket weaving sent Marion looking for the few contemporary Indian women who were weaving fine baskets using traditional methods. Trips to remote areas frequently led to an afternoon sitting under a big shady oak tree, visiting with a weaver. Marion cultivated relationships with these women, and would sit with her notebook and pencil, taking meticulous notes, trying to learn as much as she could about this art. Her fear was that one day, these women of great skill would be gone and fine basketmaking would become a lost art. Sharing her knowledge by teaching basket weaving classes, talking with others and showing her baskets gave Marion much pleasure.

Along with her collection were extensive notes about basketry techniques and records of where, when and how much she originally paid for each basket. The collection was her treasure that she wanted to share with others. Her wish was that the baskets remain together displayed as a single collection. After her passing, the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society received the collection from Marion’s family, and helped to realize Marion’s dream with the construction of the Steinbach Indian Basket Museum to house her collection.

Watson Cabin

560 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, California

Open until September 14th.

The Watson Cabin still stands on the original site where the Robert Montgomery Watson built it in 1909, and remains an outstanding example of turn-of-the-century construction. It is the oldest building in Tahoe City that still sits where it was built, in the heart of Tahoe City, above Commons Beach, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first residents of the Cabin were Watson’s son Robert, his wife Stella and their daughter, Mildred. While the cabin is a testament to the simplicity of pioneer life, it was one of the first in Tahoe City to have indoor plumbing! Originally, the cabin contained a living room, kitchen and an outdoor porch. Upstairs there were 2 bedrooms, a sewing room, and amazingly, indoor plumbing in the bathroom! Eventually, the outdoor porch was extended and enclosed to make room for the family of three who for many years lived here year ‘round.

The other house of note that Robert M. Watson built was the Gatekeeper’s Cabin next to Fanny Bridge, now the Gatekeeper’s Museum.

Special Exhibits

Ursus Among Us: The American Black Bear in the Tahoe Basin

Black Bears have lived in the Tahoe Basin for roughly the last 11,000 years. In recent years, they have made headlines as their numbers have increased and some have made their way into developed areas in their never-ending search for food. Now local celebrities, Tahoe bears appear in the media almost every summer month, and they are always a topic of conversation around the lake. We are pleased to open this new exhibit, making the museum the only place on the Lake where you can find detailed information about this fascinating native resident.

The exhibit features two main themes: "Bears Up Close and Personal," which details information about black bears in their wild state, and "Bears and People: It's Complicated," which examines the at-times-complex relationship between people and bears in the basin, from ancient Washoe times up to present day. In addition to historical information, this section includes information from the Bear League, the local nonprofit that is focused on bears in the basin, as well as the California Department of Fish and Game and California State Parks.

NLTHS staff worked with many advisors on this project, from researchers to state agencies, nonprofits and other museums, and consulted many printed resources as well. The presentation of bear information is somewhat innovative, featured on beautifully sculpted metal art pieces by artist Lauren O’Malley that enhance the presentation. In addition, there is a tactile center where people can feel a real bear hide and examine a replica skull and more, and a crafts table where children of all ages can stencil a life-size bear paw print and create art rubbings to take home. Most importantly, the exhibit features a real black bear. As the old vaudevillians used to say, “don’t worry, he won’t eat you: he’s already stuffed!”