Explore Lake County History

July 8, 2020

Lake County is full of exciting Old West lore and little known nuggets of California history. While we eagerly await the day when we can invite you back to our beautiful part of the world again, we’re diving into some fascinating stories from days gone by.

Lake County History: Taking the Waters and the Scenic Route

The City of Lakeport was a miniature steamboat brought to Clear Lake in 1875.
The City of Lakeport was a miniature steamboat brought to Clear Lake in 1875

From a rich resource for indigenous hunter-gatherers to a pioneer-era mining and agriculture boom, humans have called the bountiful Clear Lake Basin home for around 12,000 years.

Today, Lake County represents the northern end of California’s Wine Country, and it’s a destination for bass fishermen and watersport enthusiasts. Much like the first generation of Lake County vacationers, modern visitors come for our truly wild landscapes and quaint resorts.

Natural Northern California Hot Spring Resorts

Thanks to an abundance of geothermal activity and the Victorian popularity of “taking the waters,” myriad hot springs resorts were built (or shall we say, “sprung up”) in the late 1800s. Much like Calistoga to the south, Lake County’s mineral baths drew in weekenders from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Harbin Hot Springs Entrance Gate, 1931. Photo: Harbin.Org

Originally modest cabins, the resorts became larger and more opulent as they grew in notoriety. By the mid-1900s, it seems the bathhouse fad had run its course, and the grandest resorts began to close down. Though it’s been rebuilt since the pioneer days, the clothing optional Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown stands as a modern reminder of Lake County’s historic hot spring boom.


Barn at the Ely Stage Stop. Photo: Lake County Historical Society

Swinging Hotels and Stage Stops

Like so many schemes to open the West, plans to connect Lake County with neighboring Napa and Mendocino counties by rail never saw fruition. Instead a precarious stage route over Mount Saint Helena hauled mail and Wells Fargo strong boxes (sometimes carrying the take from nearby mines) from the upper end of the Napa Valley to Lake County and back.

Old newspaper accounts point to numerous wrecks and (a few holdups) on the route that loosely mirrors today’s Highway 29.

Tallman Hotel, 1920s

Tallman Hotel, 1920s

On the north end of Lake County, travelers en route to logging and fishing towns in Mendocino sought rest and libations at Upper Lake’s Tallman House Hotel. Restored to its earlier glory in the mid-2000s, the hotel and adjacent saloon melds the spirit of the former stage stop with a contemporary bed and breakfast feel.

First built in 1874, and rebuilt after a fire in 1895, the Tallman joins the Ely Stage Stop and the Lakeport Courthouse Museum as some of the county’s finest examples of pioneer architecture.


Courthouse Museum, Lakeport

Whether you’re into stories from the frontier or anecdotes from more recent years, Lake County is packed with history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty. We’re looking forward to opening our doors to you again, and just as we have for the past 160 years, we’ll be here.