Maritime history lies on the bottom of Lake Tahoe

Beneath the surface of the brilliant blue waters of Lake Tahoe lies the wreckage of a bygone era of maritime history. The Steamers “Tahoe,” “Nevada” and “Meteor” were scuttled in the watery depths of Tahoe and have been joined by the “Marian B,” lost in a storm.


The “Shanghai” was scuttled by Jake Obexer, raised in 2000 and now resides at the Tahoe Maritime Museum, where her charred remains are a centerpiece of the museum. Emerald Bay is the final resting place to numerous dories, launches, barges and numerous artifacts, and became the state’s first underwater park in recognition of her vast bounty.

Lake Tahoe’s storied past lies not only on her shores but also under her waters where countless wrecks have found a watery grave.

The “Steam Ship Tahoe,” or “Queen of the Lake,” is one of the area’s most famous and well-known steamships. The 168’ long ship with a 17’10” beam was launched on April 24, 1896, in Glenbrook. Duane L. Bliss had the “Queen” built, like many of the ships of the day.

The grand passenger ship that could carry up to 200 featured a dining room, Ladies’ Cabin, Gentlemen’s Smoking Lounge, hot and cold running water, steam heat, an electric searchlight, private stateroom, large gallery and main saloon. The “Tahoe” was built to transport people to the many resorts and communities scattered along Lake Tahoe when road travel was impossible. The “Tahoe” could make the trip around Lake Tahoe in eight hours delivering her passengers and the mail.

She was taken out of service in 1934 when the mail contract was lost and retired to a dock in Tahoe City. She sat for several years before William Seth Bliss ordered her scuttled. Bliss didn’t want the grand dame of the lake to be used for scrap metal for World War II, so he decided to sink her instead, according to “Lake Tahoe: Postcard History Series.”

Despite the efforts of local school children to save her, Bliss had her towed toward Glenbrook and sunk. According to “The Saga of Lake Tahoe,” the next day her flag “Tahoe” washed up at Glenbrook, while a section of her superstructure “drifted past her old berth of Tahoe City” a few days later.

The story of “Tahoe” didn’t end there. On July 20, 2002, New Millennium Dive Expeditions reached the ship in 400’ of water off Glenbrook in a record-setting high-altitude dive. New Millennium aided in the effort to have the site named to the National Register of Historic Places, the first such designation in the country.

While the “Tahoe” lies under the water, the wreckage of the “Shanghai” stands proudly on display at the Tahoe Maritime Museum. The boat is believed to have been owned by Jake Obexer, a maritime pioneer in his own right, who later scuttled the boat. “Shanghai” is believed to have started as an excursion boat with roomy seating and evidence of a canopy, and was later converted to a work boat when a tow hitch was added.


She was raised in 2000 and donated to the museum in 2001 by Edna and Sarah Obexer, making her the first and oldest boat in its collection.

While the boat was filled with dirt and crawfish when she was brought up, the cold water preserved her in a state of arrested decay off Homewood. Her history is unknown other than the word “Shanghai” was on her. Today, signs of the fire that sunk her are still evident on her hull.

For those looking to dive among Tahoe’s wrecks, Emerald Bay offers accessible diving with a treasure trove of artifacts, barges and dories. The area was designated California’s first Underwater State Park in 1994.

The bay is home to many dories, launches, barges and artifacts. On the south shore of the bay is a mooring buoy where two historic barges lay in 35’ of water. The barges, used to transport cargo behind steamships, are now a popular dive spot and location of an interpretive panel.

This area is also thought to be the location of a dump site used by Emerald Bay Resort and others from 1884 to 1953 and the area is ripe with small artifacts. (All artifacts are state property and cannot be removed from the site.)

The former Emerald Bay Resort was located on the north shore of the bay and divers can find old tires, sinks, toilets, an old pier, a diving platform and at least five dories and two launches in this location, according to California State Parks. One diver also reported seeing a Model A Ford.

The 80’ “Meteor,” launched on Aug. 27, 1876, was the first iron-hulled ship on the Lake and reached a record speed of 19.5 knots on her trial run on Sept. 15, 1876. She, too, was ordered to be built by Bliss.

In her day, she was the fastest inland steamer in the world and the fastest boat on the Pacific Coast. The “Meteor” towed thousands of log booms from areas around Lake Tahoe to Glenbrook for the mines of Virginia City between 1876 and 1896. Afterwards, she became a passenger ship and mail carrier. President Rutherford B. Hayes toured Lake Tahoe aboard the “Meteor” during a visit in 1879.

As with the “Tahoe,” she was ordered scuttled after more than 60 years of service. On April 21, 1939, she was towed halfway between Tahoe City and Glenbrook and sunk. Her location is unknown.

Originally named “Tallac,” the 60’ “Nevada” was a steel hulled steamship launched in 1890. The 40-passenger luxury vessel was finished with rare woods, silk brocade and mahogany trim on the superstructure, and was fitted with white scalloped decorations that hung from the deck canopy.

Fire later gutted the “Tallac” and she was rebuilt with an additional 25’ in length and renamed the “Nevada” in 1892. “Nevada” carried the mail for 35 years before being dry-docked in Tahoe City in 1938. In October 1940, the Bliss family deemed her a nuisance and had her towed to the center of the lake, drenched with gasoline and burned. Her location is unknown.

The 42’ “Marion B” marked the end of an era as Tahoe’s last mail carrier. The cruiser-type ship featured raised cabins and an open cockpit and could carry 18 passengers.

“Marion B” ran for seven years before she “disintegrated off the East Shore” in a storm on May 18, 1941, according to “The Saga of Lake Tahoe.” The charred wreckage was later found indicating that an explosion had destroyed her. The three people on board – the pilot, his 10-year-old son and the mail clerk – all perished. The pilot’s body was never found.