My driver was in a reflective mood, and as he pointed these things out to me, made some sage and pertinent remarks about the peculiar features of some industries which required large expenditures to operate, all of which were useless in a comparatively short time. Mainly uphill the road continues through groves of cottonwood, by logged-over mountain slopes and sheep-inhabited meadows until the divide is reached. Here a very rapid down hill speedily brings us to the south edge of Marlette Lake. Skirting the southern end we follow the road to the caretaker’s house, tie our horses, and walk down to the dam, and then on the flume or by its side to a point overlooking Lake Tahoe, from which a marvelously expansive view is to be obtained. We return now to Marlette and while drinking a cup of coffee prepared for us by the hospitable caretaker, glean the following facts in regard to the history and uses of Marlette Lake.
Marlette is an artificial lake, fifteen hundred feet above the level of Lake Tahoe, and about three miles from its easterly shore. Its waters are conveyed by tunnel, flume, etc., over the mountains, the Washoe Valley and up the mountain again to Virginia City. Originally the only supply of water available for Virginia City was from a few springs and mining tunnels. This supply soon became insufficient and many tunnels were run into hills both north and south from Virginia for the express purpose of tapping water. These soon failed and it became necessary to look for a permanent supply to the main range of the Sierra Nevada twenty-five or more miles away. Accordingly the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company called upon Mr. Hermann Schussler, the engineer under whose supervision the Spring Valley Water Works of San Francisco were constructed. After a careful survey of the ground he found water at Hobart Creek, in the mountains on the east side of Lake Tahoe, and in the spring of 1872, received orders to go ahead and install a water system. He ordered pipe made to fit every portion of the route. It had to pass across the deep depression of Washoe Valley with water at a perpendicular pressure of 1720 feet, equivalent to 800 pounds to the square inch.
The first operations were so successful that as needs grew the supply flume was extended eight and a half miles to Marlette Lake, thus making the total distance to Virginia City thirty-one and a half miles. This Lake was named after S.H. Marlette, formerly Surveyor General of Nevada, who was associated with W.S. Hobart, of San Francisco, the owner of the land and one of the original projectors of the Water Company. The site was a natural basin, the dam of which had been broken down or eroded centuries ago. A dam was built in 1875, and later raised eleven feet higher so as to afford more storage capacity. The area of the lake is now about 600 acres (before the heightening of the dam it was 300 acres), and its storage capacity is about two billion gallons.