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Our History

History of the Chapel of the Transfiguration and the St Nicholas’ Episcopal Church

Written by Julia Hathaway Shaheen in partial completion of Master’s Thesis, University of Nevada – Reno

 

The recorded history of the Episcopal Church in Tahoe City starts July 27, 1900 when The Very Reverend Edgar J Lion of the Diocese of California baptized two children and organized a Sunday School.

 

Mr. Lion so advised the Bishop Moreland of the Missionary District of Sacramento. Within less than a month the Bishop and his wife came to the Lake Tahoe area, visiting with interested families in Tahoe City, Truckee, and Tallac.

 

On August 29th, he held evening services for St Stephen’s Mission, Tahoe City in the schoolhouse. Before he left he appointed officers of the Sunday School. In The Sacramento Missionary of 1903, Bishop Moreland described the area and reported that “A Sunday School has been formed at Tahoe City, and in a year or two we home to see a church erected from the contributions of summer visitors. In the winter this country is buried in ten feet of snow.”

The construction of the Outdoor Chapel took place during the summer of 1909 under the dirrection [sic] of Faville and Bliss, architects of San Francisco, “costing $2,200 for which the Bishop was responsible.” Built on 2 acres of land donated by the Bliss family, also owners and managers of the nearby hotel, the Tahoe Tavern, the Reverend Charles N. Lathrop of San Francisco was the first clergy-in-charge. On September 5th of that year, Bishop Moreland noted in his diary, “At Tahoe, held my first service in the unique and impressive outdoor Chapel of the Transfiguration just completed. Celebrated Holy communion, also read evening service and preached. About twenty were at the Holy Sacrament, and sixty at the evening service. Confirmed one, a young man – a bellboy at the Tahoe Tavern.” He then placed the Chapel in charge of the Reverend CE Jameson of Reno until October 15th when the hotel closed. Famed for its beauty and outstanding clarity, people from all over the world came to visit Lake Tahoe. Coming by narrow gauge railway from Truckee, many stayed at the Tahoe Tavern.

 

Each summer, he appointed priests from the diocese to take charge of the Chapel for a few weeks. Many men came with their families, staying in a “tent-house” that was adjacent to the chapel, which by 1923 had fallen into pieces. The Bishop had the opportunity to purchase the lakefront property and house of William Wallace across the trail from the Chapel of the Transfiguration. In the Annual Journal, the Bishop writes: “This excellent property consists of a lot 85×500 feet in the giant pines on the lake front, and a large house of ten rooms and two baths, completely furnished for $8,000.00.” A man of amazing vision, he goes on to explain, “I see great possibilities for its use for clergy, missionaries, and tired workers who need relief from the summer heat of our valleys as well as for summer school and boys’ and girls’ camps. Situated, as it is, at one of the most famous resorts in the world, in a location becoming more and more valuable, I feel that it is a real achievement to have secured this house, and its possession has given the diocese a standing and the church an influence around the lake hot [sic] heretofore enjoyed.” By 1928 the house, which Moreland called Inspiration Lodge, had been electrified and a new chimney added.

 

In 1933, the Venerable Dr Archie William Noel Porter became the next bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento. Coming from the Diocese of California, he had an admirable reputation for this eloquence in writing and speaking, and a great compassion and pastoral concern for his clergy and all for the people in his diocese. Possessing a very charismatic and social personality, Porter made friends easily. Although he has been described as a very regal and awesome person, the warmth of his personality overcame any reserve.

Calling the Outdoor Chapel, ‘the Summer Cathedral’, the Bishop spent a great deal of time in residence at Lake Tahoe, frequently community to Sacramento and elsewhere in the Diocese when the need arose. Not only to escape the summer heat of the Valley, he saw Tahoe as an unusual missionary challenge. With all the summer visitors, the Outdoor Chapel was the only Protestant church at the Lake. As his preaching fame speak, it became necessary to add new pews to accommodate the crowds. The rich and famous as well as the common folk gathered each Sunday to hear this remarkable man.

 

In 1948 local year round residents approached Bishop Noel Porter requesting a permanent church in Tahoe City. Weather permitting, the small congregation worshipped as various locations around the town. The current facility, purchased for $14.00 in 1958 from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, had been used as a train crewmen’s dormitory. Extensively remodeled inside by the parishioners, the Church became an organized mission in the same year. At last, the congregation had an official home. Their first full time priest arrived in early 1957.

Some forty-four years later, an architect member of St Nicholas enlarged the building on the north side to increasing the seating capacity to one hundred-twenty persons. Clergy to have permanently served St Nicholas’ Episcopal Church and The Chapel of the Transfiguration:

The Rev. Charles N Lathrop

The Rev. Dr. Paul Little

The Rev. Stanley Walsh

The Rev. Canon Leonard Shaheen

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer E Liem

In the early days, the organization of Sunday Schools in the Episcopal Church meant a gathering of interested people of all ages (not limited to children), meeting for the purpose of Christian fellowship and study. Sometimes this group was referred to as an Unorganized Mission, that is, the interested people have not yet committed their time and talents to the long term investment of maintaining a facility. The appointment of officers was de rigeur. If they were fortunate, supply clergy came on an irregular basis to preach and offer the sacraments. Once a congregation made the necessary commitments, the congregation petitioned the bishop of the Diocese for admittance into the union of Episcopal churches at the following convention.

 

The organized Episcopal Church in California began in 1854 with the arrival of Bishop William Ingraham Kip to the shores of San Francisco. By 1874 the work in the Diocese of California became too extensive, a new diocese was carved out of the northern half of the state. The reason for this specific geographical separation was the gold mining industry and the railroads, which to the eastern people of the General Convention of 1874 assured wealth and success of the missionary efforts. Under the leadership of the scholarly Bishop John Henry Ducachet Wingfield, the new diocese – the Missionary Jusisdiction [sic] of Northern California which comprised the twenty-four counties of the northern third of the state, expanded into the Sacramento Valley, the Foothills, and into the Mother Lode.

 

The General Convention of 1898 enlarged the diocese to also include western Nevada. And in 1899, William Halle Moreland began his episcopacy in the Missionary District of Sacramento. (General Convention established a separate diocese for Nevada in 1907.) A more energetic and politically conscious man, the new bishop travelled throughout the diocese establishing churches in the Napa Valley and the northwestern mountain and coastal areas of California. To be a self-supporting diocese without aid from the National Church was an important goal for him upon his consecration as bishop. By means of concentrated efforts he raised the necessary money, and in 1910 it became the Diocese of Sacramento.

 

How the Tahoe City congregation became named St Stephen’s is not known, but Bishop Moreland listed this group as an Unorganized Mission in the early diocesan journals. Nothing more has been uncovered about this group following 1903.

 

Moreland described the Chapel of the Transfiguration as “situated in a forest of pines half a mile south of Tahoe Tavern. A trail and road through the woods leads to it and the narrow-gauge railway passes rustic style, with massive rubble walls, the stones being dug out of the mountain sides; long [sic] framework for the roof and covering of shakes. The congregation is seated under the canopy of heaven, the seats bing [sic] placed in a grove of pins [sic] facing the broad opening of the chancel.”

 

Indeed, many clergy and their families, including subsequent bishops, as well as many hundreds of girls and boys of the Diocesan Camp Noel Porter enjoyed the beach and the facilities of this property.

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