Perhaps no piece of Truckee history spans such a wide range of the past as Truckee’s Rocking Stone — a curiously balanced boulder left by a receding glacier that became the centerpiece of the home of one of Truckee’s most notable citizens.
The rocking stone is a 17-ton boulder perched on an enormous flat-topped rock overlooking the Town of Truckee from off of High Street. Today, the Rocking Stone is once more a topic of discussion as the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District, which owns the Veterans Hall property that the stone sits on, investigates selling the land.
Truckee’s Rocking Stone is a rare, glacial erratic that once tipped with the touch of a finger. It was considered a sacred site by the Washoe tribe and was used by Native Americans to keep their fish and dried meat safe from animals and birds. The large base stone was too large for animals to scale, and the vibrations from the rocking stone’s tipping scared off birds, according to the Truckee Donner Historical Society.
“According to the legend of the Washoes, they could thank the wind god for the rocking stone,” wrote M. Nona McGlashan, the granddaughter of C.F. McGlashan and author of “Give Me a Mountain Meadow.” Nona McGlashan grew up at the McGlashan Mansion alongside the Rocking Stone. Her grandfather brought increased attention to the stone when he built a renowned Donner Party and butterfly museum over the rock in 1893.
But according to Nona McGlashan, it was not the smaller boulder that rocked with a nudge that intrigued McGlashan. It was the larger, base boulder that captivated his attention. The seemingly flat boulder shed snow all winter long, owing to an almost imperceptible tilt. And the boulder appeared to be sheered off so exactingly that McGlashan likened it to “an apple with the top cut off.”
Immediately after purchasing the Rocking Stone property in 1891, McGlashan began to worry that the precariously balanced boulder would roll off its perch and injure the children that regularly played at its base.
“My grandfather wondered if he shouldn’t destroy it himself. Meanwhile, he fenced it around with a picket fence. And then he thought of the museum,” wrote Nona McGlashan in her book.
The museum, like the McGlashan mansion that followed it, was unlike anything the area had ever seen before. The two-story structure enclosed the rocking stone.
Nona McGlashan called it “conspicuous as a wedding cake, lyrical, imaginative, large-souled and free. It was an architectural portrait, in short, of the man who built it — Charles Fayette McGlashan, my grandfather.”
Inside the museum, McGlashan displayed his famous butterfly and moth collection, at one time totaling 20,000 of the winged insects. But even more popular with visitors were the Donner Party artifacts collected by McGlashan during his research of the macabre and tragic pioneer story. Nona McGlashan remembered one of the most attention-getting artifacts — a woman’s toe bone that was found on the Donner Party hearth.
The McGlashan mansion, often referred to as the “Crystal Palace,” burned down in 1935. At some point, the Rocking Stone was cemented in place for safety reasons. Today, a gazebo encircles the stone, and a walkway leads to the top of the base boulder.
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