Jewel of the Range
● By Style
Photo by Diane Baumflek, courtesy of El Dorado County Library.
Around 1850, Bert and Ed Wright came across a mountain lake filled with good water and surrounded by lush grass for their dairy cows.
The opening of Johnson’s Cutoff over Peavine Ridge two years earlier brought the brothers from Galt to this ideal site where they put up cabins, corrals, barns, milk sheds and spring houses for their dairy operation. The brothers drove their cattle up Peavine Ridge in the spring and, as the snow melted, moved them to their ranches on the lake that now bears their name. Others soon followed suit and settled in neighboring areas. These included familiar dairy, and later, beef cattlemen like Rupley, Minghetti and Forni.
The Wrights Lake area became a favorite spot for hunters and anglers. Early campers organized deer hunts that supplied them with an abundance of meat. The Wright brothers made the first fish planting and other later settlers jointed in stocking nearby lakes and creeks. They scooped up the fish from pools in the American River and hauled them on horseback to the higher lakes and streams in five-gallon cans. Each can held nearly 1,800 minnows. Horses carried two cans apiece on a custom-made wooden pack frame.
In 1916, longtime camper, George Smith made the first inquiry into building a cabin at Wrights Lake. The Forest Service, owners of the property, then and now, issued him a permit but also decided that additional sites should be laid out to enable other interested people to build cabins at the lake. In the fall of 1920, Ranger Robert Berriman assisted Smith in laying out the first ten lots on the west side of the upper lake. Smith used a 33-foot-long cotton rope to measure each lot, allocating each parcel approximately 100 feet of lakeshore frontage.
Since road conditions made it impossible to haul lumber into the Wrights Lake area at that time, early builders fell trees and cut logs with double-edged axes and two-man saws to build the first cabins. They also employed a “frow” to split shakes for roofs and floors. By 1924, the road to the lake became passable to automobiles. Ed Thomas was the first to haul lumber to the lake by tying it to the sides of his Dodge car. It took him about five days and numerous trips to bring in all the material that had been delivered to Fred’s Place.
In 1929, the Forest Service developed a campground on the northwest corner of the lake. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corp laid out campsites and roads, built restrooms and concrete fire pits. The Forest Service later moved the campground to the west side of the lake. Another campground was constructed in 1966. These campgrounds remain popular spots during the summer months and require reservations.
Cabin owners met in 1929 to form the Wrights Lake Summer Home Association. Still active today, the Association works cooperatively with the Forest Service and the State Department of Fish and Game to maintain the lake and its surrounding area.