History & Natural History – D.L. Bliss State Park

Native People

The Washoe (aboriginal Washo) natives were the first humans to inhabit the Lake Tahoe basin and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range. Historians and archaeologists estimate that Washoe have lived in the Tahoe basin for nearly 10,000 years. They lived as nomads, hunting, fishing and gathering seasonal food. In autumn, the Washoes moved from near the lake, which they called da ow a ga, to Washoe Lake in Carson Valley for the winter. Between 1848 and 1862, the Washoe people estimated 10,000 square miles of lake and surrounding land were taken during the gold and silver rush.

The natives’ descendants, the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, are now trying to reclaim portions of their land. Tribe members run the Meeks Bay resort campground and concession north of D.L. Bliss State Park. The Washoe are reviving their native language, teaching it to preschoolers, while pursuing traditional arts like basketry, dancing, and drumming.

Duane L. Bliss

D.L. Bliss State Park is named for a pioneering lumberman, railroad owner, and banker of the region, Duane L. Bliss, born in 1833. The D.L. Bliss family donated 744 acres to the California State Park system in 1929.

In 1849, at the age of 16, Duane left Massachusetts for the El Dorado of the time: California. He arrived in San Francisco in 1850, after being delayed in Panama for several months due to illness. He first mined a small claim in the Marysville area, then, in 1860, moved to Gold Hill, Nevada where he managed a quartz mill and became a partner in a banking firm. In 1863, he returned to the east coast to marry his bride, Elizabeth Tobey, also of Massachusetts; they would have five children.

In 1865, Bank of California bought out the Gold Hill firm of Almarin B. Paul, Duane L. Bliss, and W.H. Baker. In 1871, Bliss, formed the firm Yerington, Bliss & Co. with Henry Yerington and Darius Mills and begin buying Tahoe area timberland. In 1872, Bliss moved his family to Carson City (from Gold Hill). In 1873, he formed the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company with his partners and James Rigby. Bliss was president and general manager of the company’s three divisions: logging, milling and transportation.

During the 1890s, as the lumber industry at Tahoe was approaching an end, Duane Bliss began to work on three projects: a passenger ship to transport visitors across Lake Tahoe, a railroad to connect Tahoe City with the Southern Pacific Tracks at Truckee and a luxurious resort hotel at Tahoe City, to be known as the Tahoe Tavern.

The April 1901 edition of the Truckee Republican notes that D.L. Bliss, manager of the new rail line, had run the first train for the season into Truckee from Tahoe City. Despite the fact that the 15-mile trip took several days, owing to slight repairs enroute and the diversion of snow waters from the track, the road was said to be in excellent condition and regular trips were scheduled to begin after May 15 of that year.

The next year, in 1902, the Tahoe Tavern opened its doors to an enthusiastic clientele and remained a Tahoe City hotspot for the next 62 years, outliving its founder, D.L. Bliss, who died in 1907.

[Sources: Tahoe Heritage: The Bliss Family of Glenbrook, Nevada by Sessions S. Wheeler with William W. Bliss (University of Nevada Press, 1992)]