Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

It All Began 50 Years Ago

Las Vegas is observing its 50th birthday today.

The transformation from a tent town to a billion dollar mecca is the Las Vegas Story that has been etched during a phenomenal half-century.

It was on May 15, 1905, that some 3000 hearty pioneers gave birth to Las Vegas.

These were people who gathered under a mesquite tree in better than 100 degree heat to bid for the lots that underscored the first sub-devision in southern Nevada and the beginning of what the world of the decision in 1903 by the San Cario of the West.

The birth of Las Vegas grew out the brilliance of the sun as voices Redro, Las Angeles and Salt Lack Railroad to establish this area as a railway center for the booming mining camps that had sprung in the surrounding vicinity.

W.A. Clark, former senator from Montana, acted as an agent for the railroad company and purchased the ranch and water rights that had keynote the post-birth progress of the community under the guiding hand of Archibald Stewart, one of the most prominent settlers to stake his claim in southern Nevada.

The property encompassed the areas bordered by what is now Main street to the west, Fifth street to the east, Stewart street to the north and Bridger street to the south.

The property was purchased by the railroad company to lay the ground-work for a town site and division point. The idea called for the sale of parcels of the property to the highest bidders at a public auction.

So it was 50 years ago today that a platform was erected under an unruly mesquite tree near the present freight depot. Here the auction was to be held under the supervision of C.O. Whittemore, a railroad representative who told the potential buyers of the guarantees of future development contained in the bills of sale for lots.

These included a water system that would place water under pressure on every lot, the improvement of all streets, the building of a handsome depot and other railroad structures and finally the construction of railroad shops to employ several hundred men.

Necks craned and eyes fought off the brilliance of the sun as voices became hoarse after the bidding get underway. The sale of lots lasted two days and during that time 1200 were sold at a total price of $265,000.

Anyone of the hotels that beckon tourist to this city today from all over the world cost better than 20 times that amount.

On the morning of May 17, tents and lumber and other building materials were being enthusiastically hauled to the site, now formally called "Clark's Las Vegas Town site."

Because the streets had not yet been cleared, eager men and women had to search among the greasewood for the stakes marketing their lot corners. Before darkness swept over the valley that night, the townsite jutted up from its desert floor, a grotesque display of buildings in all possible stages of completion.

A veritable tent city slipped from beneath a blanket of sand. In the canvas-covered shacks were a post office, saloons and gambling houses, as well as hotels and a bank.

The main hotel was a huge canvas structure 140 feet long, with large additions for dining room and kitchen. Until the following winter this tent was the center for the town's social activities.

But within 30 days after that momentous auction, Las Vegas was more than a tent dotted community.

Stores and houses were taking shape everywhere. During the summer of that year the Las Vegas Land and Water company, a subsidiary of the railroad company, graded and oiled 10 miles of city streets, built concrete or wooden curbs throughout the town and brought water to every lot.

With the completion of the railroad from Salt Lake City in June 1905, and the construction of the Las Vegas-Tonopah Railroad in 1906, Las Vegas rode into commercial and political importance.

In 1908 more substantial buildings were erected, and to protect them a volunteer fire department was organized. A year later, Las Vegas became the capital of newly organized Clark County.

But every road to a successful marriage must have a stone or two standing in the way.

In January 1910 a violent rainstorm wrecked 110 miles of railroad track in the Muddy Valley Wash south of Caliente. More than five months elapsed before the rail service was resumed.

From here the town revived to go on to new and greater stature. On June 1, 1911, the state legislature passed a bill creating the City of Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1925, after the water from the Las Vegas Springs was found to be inadequate for city needs, an artesian well was sunk that brought up three and a half million gallons every 24 hours.

On September, 1930, Boulder Dam officially went under construction with a ceremony that saw Dr. Ray L. Wilbur drive a silver spike in the ties of a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad line lining Black Canyon.

Five years and thirteen days later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Boulder Dam ad inaugurated one of the vital blocks in the shaping foundation of the area's economic structure.

The year 1941 saw a major step being taken toward economic greatness for both the city and the state Tommy Hull opened Hotel El Rancho Vegas to launch the epoch that has rounded Las Vegas into the paradise garden of the world.

The same year saw another industry enter the area when the construction began on the Basic Magnesium plant.

And so it has been for Las Vegas ... a steady procession of events from the scraping of prospectors' shovels to the explosions of atomic bombs, all aiming the city in the direction for which it was meant when a rugged bunch individuals decided 50 years ago to name a few acres of slumbering desert:

"Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A."

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