Vikingsholm is located at the head of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, California.
This magnificent "castle" is a unique blend of Nature's spectacular beauty and man's architectural ingenuity.


Emerald Bay provided the setting for one of the first summer homes at Lake Tahoe. In 1863 Ben Holladay, stagecoach magnet and early day transportation king pre-empted land in Emerald Bay and built a summer home. In 1884 a Dr. Kirby bought 500 acres in the Bay and built a resort. A portion of the Kirby land was sold to the William Henry Armstrong family in 1895. Mrs. Knight purchased the land from the Armstrongs in 1928. Mrs. Knight's land included the only island (Fanette Island) in Lake Tahoe and the only water fall (Eagle Falls) flowing directly into the Lake. Magnificent cedars and pines set off by shear granite cliffs make this one of the most scenic areas in the entire United States. Mrs. Knight wanted to build a summer home that would compliment the magnificent natural surroundings. Emerald Bay reminded her of many of the fjords she had seen on numerous travels to Scandinavia. She commissioned her nephew by marriage, Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect, to design the plans.

In the summer of 1928 Mrs. Knight and the Palmes traveled to Scandinavia to gather the ideas they wanted to incorporate in Vikingsholm. Vikingsholm was completed in the fall of 1929 and occupied by Mrs. Knight, her staff of 15 and many guests in June of 1930. Mrs. Knight enjoyed 15 summers at Vikingsholm. She always had a home full of guests to share this magnificent summer home with her. Mrs. Knight passed away at the age of 82 in 1945. After her death, the home was sold to Lawrence Holland, a rancher from Nevada. He subsequently sold it to Harvey West, a lumberman from Placerville, California. In the early 1950s, Mr. West, a noted philanthropist, negotiated with the State of California and said he would donate one-half of the appraised value of the land, as well as the Vikingsholm itself outright, if the State would pay him the other half. This arrangement was agreed upon, and in 1953 the house and property were acquired by the State. Vikingsholm is considered to be one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture existing in the United States. It is now a part of the Harvey West Unit of the Emerald Bay State Park. The house is open for tours in the summer months and the grounds and magnificent scenery may be enjoyed all year around by those wishing to visit this beautiful setting.

Emerald Bay and Fanette Island

Lora Josephine Moore Knight

Although many people assume that Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight was of Scandinavian ancestry because of her decision to build Vikingsholm in the Scandinavian tradition, she was actually of English decent. She was born Lora Josephine Small in Galena, Illinois, in 1864 - one of a family of four daughters and one son. Her father, Edward A. Small, was a corporation lawyer. In the practice of his profession, he accepted two brothers into his law firm - William Herbert and James Hobart Moore. These young men eventually gained controlling interest in a number of large companies, including National Biscuit, Continental Can, Diamond Match, Union Pacific, and Rock Island Railroad. In the 1880s, Lora Josephine married James Moore, and her sister, Ada, married William.

Lora and James Moore had one son, Nathaniel, who married Helen Fargo of the family of Wells Fargo fame in 1910. Nathaniel died at the age of 25. During most of their married life, Lora and James Moore lived in Evanston, Illinois, and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. They also traveled extensively, making many trips to California as well as abroad. In 1916, they purchased a home in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara, but had little time to enjoy it together since Mr. Moore died shortly thereafter.

In the early 1920s, Lora Small Moore married Harry French Knight, a stockbroker from St. Louis. This marriage was not successful, and they were divorced prior to the building of Vikingsholm. Mrs. Knight is probably known best for the building of Vikingsholm. But many still remember her because of her generous contribution to youth groups in California and Nevada, and provision of educational opportunities for innumerable young people who otherwise could not have afforded them. She was a major benefactor to the Christian Science churches in Santa Barbara, Reno, and South Lake Tahoe. She and Mr. Knight were prime financial backers of Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic.

Mrs. Knight

Mrs. Knight and guests at Eagle Waterfalls

Dinner honoring Charles Lindbergh

Planning Vikingsholm

When Mrs. Knight purchased the land at Emerald Bay where Vikingsholm was to be located, she was not a newcomer to the Tahoe Area. For 16 years, she had enjoyed her summer home, Wynchwood, at Observatory Point on the North Shore. This property was later sold to Robert Stanley Dollar, Sr., and is now known as Dollar Point. Through church affiliations, Mrs. Knight became acquainted with the William Henry Armstrong family who owned 239 acres at the head of Emerald Bay. In 1928, she purchased the property from them for $250,000.

Mrs. Knight commissioned Lennart Palme, a Swedish architect and her nephew by marriage, to design Vikingsholm. She had been impressed with the Nordic architecture of the home that Palme had designed for himself in Rye, New York. Because of her admiration of Palme's home and the fjord-like location at Emerald Bay, she decided to have her summer home built in a Scandinavian design. In the summer of 1928, Mrs. Knight, accompanied by the Palmes, traveled to Scandinavia to gather ideas for the construction of the house at Emerald Bay. They visited many buildings dating back to 1000-1500 A.D. in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. They derived ideas from viewing 11th Century wooden churches in Norway and stone castles in southern Sweden. They were particularly impressed with the wooden homes, some eight centuries old, in Lillehammer, Norway. All that they viewed had some effect on the design of Vikingsholm. Photographs taken on that trip show how faithful Mr. Palme reproduced specific features of the ancient Scandinavian buildings in designing Vikingsholm.

Mrs. Knight (right) with Lennart Palme and family

Wooden church

Roof detail on Vikingsholm

Construction of Vikingsholm

The foundation was laid in the late summer of 1928. In the spring of 1929, more than 200 highly skilled workmen were bought to Emerald Bay and housed in temporary barracks on the property. They worked diligently throughout the summer and by the end of the season the house was completed. During those months of 1929, the timbers were hand hewn, the interior wall boards were hand planed, intricate wood carvings were executed, and metal fixtures (such as fireplace screens, hinges, and latches) were hand forged - all at the site.

Outstanding features of the exterior of Vikingsholm include round granite boulders embedded in mortar typical of stone churches and castles built in the 11th century in Southern Sweden; massive hand hewn timbers characteristics of those used by the early Norsemen; carvings around the doors adapted from carvings that bordered old church entrances; carvings extending along roof ridges with dragon heads crossing at the roof peaks and a sod roof seeded with wildflowers. The interior of the house also carries out the Scandinavian motif, such as: delicate paintings on ceilings and walls, Nordic fireplaces located throughout the home, and two intricately carved "dragon" beams, modeled on beams that hung originally in very old Viking castles, hanging from the ceiling in the living room.

Furnishings were carefully chosen by Mrs. Knight to enhance and carry out the Scandinavian theme. "Selma" the clock, one of the most striking pieces stands in the entry hall. Many antiques were purchased for the home in the Scandinavian countries. Some pieces which Mrs. Knight greatly admired were in museums in Norway and Sweden and not available for purchase. When she encountered such problems, she hired craftsmen to copy the museum pieces. The pieces were reproduced to exact detail, even to the aging of the wood and duplicating of scratches on the originals. The brightly painted bridal table, which stands in the living room, is representative of the quality of these outstanding reproductions.

Vikingsholm in 1932, soon after construction

Window detail

The Round Room wing

Life at Vikingsholm

Vikingsholm is noted for its outstanding architectural and scenic location. It also represents an era from the past of lavish but gracious living. Days at Vikingsholm were not filled with the excitement of one thrilling event following another. Each day seemed to blend into the next. A relaxed, unhurried atmosphere typified the style of life. Mrs. Knight would arrive for the summer in mid June and stay until the middle of September. She usually had a staff at Vikingsholm of approximately 15. A caretaker and his family lived on the property all year around. Four or five yardmen were hired locally each season to care for the grounds. The rest of the staff was brought from Mrs. Knight's winter home in Santa Barbara and consisted of her private secretary, personal maid, cook, assistant cook, pantry maid, serving maid, upstairs maid, chauffeur, assistant chauffeur, and laundry women. Mrs. Knight enjoyed entertaining and had a number of guests visiting during the summer months. At times, ten to twelve guests would be staying at Vikingsholm. A variety of ages was represented among the visitors, from the very elderly to some young children.

Most guests were not celebrities or well known figures, but on occasion some notables, such as Will Rogers, visited. The length of the guests' visits ranged from one night to the entire summer. Meals were sumptuous and occupied a good part of each day. Everyone gathered in the dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tea was served every afternoon on the terrace or in the library, and occasionally in the tea house on the island. During the day guests enjoyed swimming, hiking, horseback riding, or trips around the lake by car or by boat planned by Mrs. Knight. Gracious hospitality was continuously extended to guests. An example of such hospitality was the care of guests' automobiles. They were washed, serviced, and filled with gas shortly after arrival. If a guest drove his car on a trip around the lake anytime during his visit, even if it was only for a distance of 10 to 15 miles - the car was immediately washed and filled with gas upon its return.

Vikingsholm provided a calm, quiet, subdued way of life combined with an elegance that is rarely found today. This way of life seemed to complement the serenity and exquisite beauty of the Emerald Bay setting. One former guest of Mrs. Knight's still resides at Vikingsholm during the summer months. Helen Henry Smith was fortunate to have spent the first 14 summers of her life at Vikingsholm, with her Father and Mother, as a guest. Forty years ago, Mrs. Smith returned to Vikingsholm as a tour guide and Vikingsholm historian. She has written a booklet about the home, Tahoe's Hidden Castle. Entire proceeds from the sale of the booklet go to the restoration and preservation of Vikingsholm.

Mrs. Knight with guests, including a young Helen Smith, at Vikingsholm

Living Room

Dining Room


Your Visit

Tours of Vikingsholm Castle are available seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend until the end of September. The first tour of the day starts at 10:30 A.M. and the last tour at 4:00 P.M. All tours are guided tours and take approximately one-half hour. The tour fee is $10.00 for adults and $8.00 for children (7-17). Children under 7 are free. The maximum number of people on a tour is 30.

Limited parking is available in the Vikingsholm parking lot off of Highway 89. The parking fee is $10.00. (It is advisable to come for morning tours as there are more parking opportunities at that time.) A one-mile steep, but well defined, trail leads from the parking lot to Vikingsholm. Many scenic views can be enjoyed during this walk. There are various resting places along the trail. It is to be stressed, though, this is a steep trail at an elevation of over 6,300 feet.

Bus service to the parking lot is available from both North Shore and South Shore. There is no public boat service to Vikingsholm, but Vikingsholm can be reached by private boat. A dock is provided for loading and unloading only. Beaching a boat is allowed in the bay from dawn to dusk. Tour boats are available from South Shore and North Shore. These boats allow passengers to view Vikingsholm from the water, but they do not dock in Emerald Bay. Limited handicapped access is available. Please call 530-583-9911 to make access arrangements.

Vikingsholm courtyard

Fannette Island