The history of Donner Summit is unique. It may be the single most historically important square mile in California. Native Americans traversed the Summit for thousands of years leaving behind petroglyphs and grinding rocks. The first wagon trains to California came over Donner Pass (including the ill-fated Donner Party). The old Emigrant Trail is a destination. The first transcontinental railroad crossed the Summit in 1867. The 1867 tunnel is a great attraction as are the China Wall, built by Chinese workers, the snowsheds and the railroad bed. The first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, crossed in 1913. Rainbow Bridge, which came a decade later, is an amazing piece of engineering for the time and the sightseers parking lot has marvelous views of Donner Lake. The Interstate arrived in 1960.
Donner Pass was and is an important gateway to California and to the fulfilling of many people's dreams.
Donner Summit is also important to America's ski industry. Many of the pioneers of modern skiing lived on Donner Summit. The first chairlift in California was built on Donner Summit at Sugar Bowl, for example.
The Donner Summit Historical Society is committed to preserving the history of the Donner Summit area and sharing the recreational possibilities with others. To do that we maintain a small museum, engage in educational activities and seminars, preserve artifacts, hold events, disseminate a free newsletter (just send us your email address), and lead field trips.
We have two major goals. One is to construct a new larger museum and community center as a center point for the Donner Summit community. Our second goal is our 20 Mile Museum which consists of interpretive signs along Old Highway 40 explaining history, telling stories, and listing activities to do in those spots. A free brochure is available at our museum in "downtown" Soda Springs, at the blinking light.
Our annual Summit Pioneer Awards event, held in Mid August, recognizes people and groups who have helped build the modern Donner Summit.