Lake Tahoe’s most spectacular natural feature—Emerald Bay State Park is home to both Fannette Island and the historic architectural wonder called Vikingsholm mansion (known affectionately as Vikingsholm Castle). Built in 1929 by a woman named Lora J. Knight, it’s no wonder the 38-room, granite-built vacation home is referred to as a castle.

Here at Camp Rich, we do twice-daily cruise tours to Vikingsholm throughout the summer, so we like to think we know a thing or two about the place. That being the case, we collected some of our favorite facts about Emerald Bay and its magnificent castle and put them here. So sit back, relax, grab your horn o’ mead, and get to know Vikingsholm.

vikingsholm caste

Spectacular Vikingsholm Mansion, built in 1929 of granite harvested from Fannette Island. (Photo courtesy of Sierra State Parks Foundation)

Interesting Emerald Bay, Fannette Island & Vikingsholm Facts

  • Geologically speaking, Fannette Island is an upthrust rib of granite rising 150 feet above the surface of Lake Tahoe.
  • Emerald Bay, where the island is located, was dug out by glaciers many thousands of years ago. It’s still a mystery why Fannette Island remains, but geologists think the rib of granite was so tough it resisted the smashing power of the glacial ice as it moved across the land.
  • Over the last 100 years, Fannette Island has had five other names: Coquette, Baranoff, Dead Man’s, Hermit’s, and Emerald Isle.
  • Mrs. Knight and her then-husband, St. Louis stockbroker Harry French Knight, purchased the Island in 1928 from the William Henry Armstrong family for $250,000.
  • The state of California acquired the property in 1953 and, today, it is considered a National Natural Landmark.
  • The massive Vikingsholm mansion was completed in about nine months, between 1928 and 1929, by 200 workers living in temporary barracks on the island.
vikingsholm castle tahoe

This image shows Vikingsholm’s granite wall construction. (Photo courtesy of Sierra State Parks Foundation)

  • Vikingsholm is widely considered “one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.”
  • Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect and Mrs. Knight’s nephew by marriage, was hired to design the mansion.
  • In 1928, Mrs. Knight, Palme and his wife traveled to Scandinavia to track down design ideas for the construction of Vikingsholm. The group visited Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, collecting the references used to create the impeccable Norse motifs found throughout the mansion.
  • All timbers used for construction were hand-hewn, and the mansion’s intricate wood carvings were all carved by hand.
dragonbeams at vikingsholm

All of Vikingsholm’s wood carvings, like this dragon beam roof detail, were crafted by hand. (Photo courtesy of Sierra State Parks Foundation)

  • All of Vikingsholm’s metal fixtures were hand forged, including all the fireplace screens, hinges and latches throughout the mansion.
  • Vikingsholm’s rock foundation and walls are made of granite which was quarried from the island.
  • Two wings of the courtyard are covered by real Scandinavian-style sod roofs.
  • In its glory days, Vikingsholm mansion was staffed to the max with a team that included a caretaker, his family, and about five yardmen, plus a private secretary, personal maid, cook, assistant cook, upstairs and downstairs maids, chauffeur, assistant chauffeur and laundry women to serve Mrs. Knight and her guests.
  • Mrs. and Mr. Knight were the primary financial backers for Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. (A somewhat random but very cool factoid we couldn’t help but include.)
picture of fannette island

The still waters of Lake Tahoe surrounding Fannette Island. (Photo courtesy of Sierra State Parks Foundation)

The Takeaway

Intrigued? Why not take a tour this summer? At Camp Rich, our three-hour excursions include a boat ride and tour of Vikingsholm you’ll never forget. Click here for more info!