November 3, 2005

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

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Nevada History:

CLARK COUNTY     795

CHAPTER XLV.
CLARK COUNTY.

BY C. P. SQUIRES.

[From The History of Nevada, edited by Sam P. Davis, vol. II (1912)]

 

            Las Vegas, which being translated from the Spanish means "The Meadows," gives in its name the secret of its early importance. God decreed that in this valley, in the midst of the desert. a store of living water should be placed, and here a kindly Providence guided the footsteps of the Franciscan Fathers in their explorations more than a century ago, who, in their spirit of thankfulness for the forests of mesquite furnishing a grateful shade, and the broad reaches of green meadow made cool and restful by the moisture from the springs and flowing streams, gave the name "Las Vegas," so descriptive and suggestive to the minds of those who know.

            With the passing of the years, knowledge of this spot, so delightful to the fever-stricken travelers of the desert, spread, and Las Vegas became well established on the maps of the Far West. Fremont, the pathfinder, sent his scouts hither. Searchers after the hidden wealth of the mountains blessed its life-saving waters. Pilgrims from the newly established empire of Utah stopped here to regain their strength and recuperate their animals on their awful journeys to Southern California over the old California trail. Here the Union soldiers stationed at Fort Callville at the Big Bend of the Colorado during the Civil War, came to refresh themselves and their tired mounts. Here, also, came the farmer to supply the needs of the occasional traveler and prospector. Then the water was applied to irrigating the soil, and the remarkable fertility of the country became apparent. Fruits, vegetables, hay and grains repaid the venturesome ones who were willing to try, in rich measure.

            Yet with all its years as a resting place for the desert traveler, Las Vegas would still be unknown to the world had it not been for the decree of man that a railroad should be built through this remote region. Here again came in the feature of never-failing water-supply, since it was

796      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

necessary at some point to establish great shops and other necessities the maintenance and operation of the road. The Vegas springs decided that also, making the newly born city on the Salt Lake Road not a way station merely but a division point and the seat of its shops and store houses. In May, 1905, the railroad, having purchased 1,800 acres of old Stewart ranch with the springs, held an auction sale at which hundreds of eager bidders struggled for choice building and business lots.  By reason of this competition high prices were paid by investors for much of the property in Clark's Las Vegas townsite, yet there is no case so far as we are aware where the property will not bring today a fair return on the investment. The days immediately preceding the auction sale saw hundreds of people arriving, to be present at the birth of the new city. In tents were postoffice, saloons, gambling houses, hotels, large stocks of merchandise and even two banks, a third being opened soon after the sale.

            On May 15th, 1905, Las Vegas was really born. Under a spreading mesquite tree near the present freight depot a platform had been erected, and here congregated the major portion of the three thousand people then on the ground. On the platform C. O. Whittemore, representing the railroad company, explained the methods to be followed in making the sales, and gave to the eager purchasers the promises of the railroad company as to future improvements to be made by the company. These promises included the building of a water-system whereby water would be placed on every lot under pressure; the improvement of all streets; the building of a handsome depot and other railroad buildings; finally, the building of the principal shops of the system, to employ several hundred men. Although for some time before there was some dissatisfaction at the delay in carrying out some of these improvements, it is but fair to say that all the promises of the company have been fairly fulfilled, to the entire satisfaction of the people.          

            The struggle between excited bidders for favorite locations grew tense as the day advanced, and the incidents of the day will long be remembered by those participating. The auction sale was not completed until the afternoon of the 16th. The intense heat of the sun, added to the warmth of the day's activities, those two days being the first hot days of the season, and in striking contrast to the chill which had been in the air prior to that time. The sale of the lots of Clark's Las Vegas townsite

CLARK COUNTY     797

has gone into history as the largest sale of lots at auction at any one time ever known -- 1,200 lots were sold for an aggregate of $265,000. On the morning of the seventeenth tent houses, loads of lumber and every variety of building material were being hurriedly hauled onto the townsite, which up to this time was unencumbered by even the smallest structure. There was a general search among the clumps of brush for the stakes marking the lot corners, the streets even being not yet cleared of brush, and before night buildings of all kinds were standing in various stages of completion, many of them being used before the roofs were on.

            Among those who are still residents of Las Vegas who were present at the sale may be mentioned W. R. Thomas, John S. Park, C. P. Squires, John F. Miller, J. S. Wisner, W. R. Bracken, Henry Squires, W. E. Hawkins, M. C. Thomas, Peter Buol, Edw. and Frank A. Clark, J. T. McWilliams, E. W. Griffith and others.

            Following the sale of town lots the growth of the city was very rapid. Buildings of lumber, brick, concrete and cement blocks were erected in record time and in thirty days the sagebrush of the desert had given way to homes and business blocks and the new city was safely and surely on its way to greatness. During the summer following the sale the Las Vegas Land and Water Company, in making good its promises to the people, graded and oiled ten miles of the city streets, building cement curbs in the business portion and wooden curbs throughout the balance of the townsite. They also completed the water system, piping pure spring water to every lot. These improvements served to remedy much that was disagreeable during the first three months of the life of the new city, and beginning with the fall of 1905 much substantial building was done, concrete blocks being used very largely. The high class of building then begun has exerted a very noticeable influence upon the character of the city, Las Vegas being more substantial and permanent in its appearance than most cities of a similar origin. A brief chronology of some of the principal events in the life and growth of the city would include the following :

            Early in 1905, months before the present townsite was thrown open by the company, "the original townsite of Las Vegas" was subdivided and lots therein sold in considerable numbers by J. T. McWilliams. A thriving town sprung up with a population of perhaps two thousand souls awaiting the opening of the railroad. This townsite is now a residence

798      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

portion of the city and has in it some pleasant homes. The business portion was mostly destroyed by fire soon after the railroad townsite was opened. The building of the ice-plant of the P. F. Ex. Co. was started on land belonging to Mr. McWilliams, but through some disagreement that site was abandoned and the plant erected south of the town, ice being first manufactured in August of 1905. The capacity of the plant was fifty-tons per day. McWilliamstown was busy and prosperous during the spring of this year by reason of the immense freighting business to the newly discovered Bullfrog district. For a time a large business was done, principally by the firm of Crowell & Allot and F. J. Kramer. With the decline of the teaming business soon after the railroad company opened its townsite, both of these firms failed, it being notable that these are the only business houses of Las Vegas of any importance which have failed.

            Among the notable things of the early days of Vegas was "Hotel Las Vegas," a large canvas structure 40 by 140 with large additions for dining-room and kitchen, all furnished and fitted in the style of a first class city hotel, with a force of waitresses and cooks brought from Los Angeles to cater to the public. This was dismantled in the following winter, after entertaining hundreds of guests. It was located on Maine Street, adjoining the townsite on the north, and for months marked the center of activity in the new city.

            A short distance north of the Hotel Las Vegas was built the garage of the automobile line established by Messrs. J. Ross Clark, F. M. Grace, C. O. Whittemore and others for the purpose of furnishing transportation to the Bullfrog district. This enterprise was abandoned after the expenditure of perhaps $25,000 when it was determined that a branch railroad should be built to connect Las Vegas with Gold Center, Beatty, Bullfrog, Rhyolite and Goldfield. This road was projected by "Borax" Smith, who caused surveys to be made, and during the following winter, graded about ten miles of the road. In the early spring of 1906, a disagreement arose between the Smith people and the Salt Lake road as a result of which Senator Wm. A. Clark decided to take over the interests which Smith had acquired and build the road himself as a private enterprise to be a feeder to the main line. Construction was pushed by the Clark people with vigor all during that year and the road completed as far as Rhyolite by November of 1906. The building of this main line was of

CLARK COUNTY     799

great importance to Las Vegas, furnishing its merchants a market for a vast quantity of material of various kinds which otherwise would not have been disposed of. This road was named the Las Vegas and Tonopah and is still an important factor in the business of the city. It was completed through to Goldfield, which is still the terminus of the line. In its early day the L. V. & T. carried an immense traffic to the mining camps, being for several months their only rail communication with the outside world. The Greenwater boom furnished an especially lively business for a few months. "Borax" Smith, not to be thwarted in his railroad ambitions at once upon leaving Vegas, made connections with the Santa Fe Company and built a line from Ludlow to Goldfield which is now the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, thus depriving Las Vegas of much business that would otherwise have come to her doors had she remained the only gateway from the gold camps to the south.

            During the fall of 1905, a company was organized to furnish electric lights to the young city. Pole lines were built and a contract made with the Pacific Fruit Express Co., to supply current. This service, while far from perfect, proved a great convenience, and finally developed into the Consolidated Power & Telephone Co., which is now supplying the city with electricity, gas and telephone service. In November of this year the Home Building and Loan Association was organized and was the means through which many of the earlier homes of the city were constructed. This company, owing to lack of investing stockholders, was finally wound up, its loan being taken over by the bank.

            Among the buildings which were under construction at this time were the Thomas Block, the First State Bank Building, and many frame structures of considerable pretense. The homes of John S. Park, C. P. Squires, C. N. Brown, (now owned by T. J. Osborne) Dan V. Noland, (now owned by W. R. Bracken) and A. L. Murphy on Freemont street, were completed in the winter and spring of 1906.

            The summer of 1906 was made active by the building of the Las Vegas and Tonopah railroad mentioned above; and by the tremendous boom which the newly discovered "Greenwater" copper camp experienced. Much travel to the new camps was by way of the Las Vegas, and a large trade was enjoyed by her business men. Following this boom and the completion of the Tonopah & Tidewater road into Greenwater and Rhyolite by "Borax" Smith, times were very quiet and the town went through

800      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

one of her most discouraging periods. This was heightened during the following winter by heavy rains which caused serious washouts in Meadow Valley Wash and a suspension of through traffic for about six weeks early in 1907. The Opera House block was built during the summer of 1907 on the corner of First and Fremont streets. Many remember that the freshly laid walls of this building, being unsupported by sufficient bracing, were partly thrown down by a severe windstorm which came up unexpectedly one night. However the damage was repaired and the building was long the principal structure of the town, the large hall being used for all public meetings and entertainments as well as by various lodges and for a time by the Majestic moving picture theatre. The building was finally purchased by M. C. Thomas and used exclusively by the Thomas Department store until it was destroyed by fire in May, 1912.

            During the summer of 1907 the ice-factory of the Pacific Fruit Express Co., was destroyed by fire. This was a severe blow to the city, but the loss was repaired by rebuilding the plant much better than before and with a capacity of 100 tons of ice per day. Las Vegas has been very fortunate since its beginning in having ice during the heated term delivered at residences at a price within the reach of all. This feature has done much to make the summer heat more easily endured, adding much to the health and comfort of the people.

            In common with all other portions of the country Las Vegas was aware of the financial panic which swept over the nation in October 1907, yet she experienced none of the business hardships which were common to practically the whole country. The chief reason for this was undoubtedly the stability of the First State Bank and the confidence in which it was held by the people. There was no run on this institution at any time, and its doors were not closed at all during the panic when all other banks of the State were taking advantage of the legal holidays declared.   One of the most interesting events of 1907 was the completion by the Vegas Artesian Water Syndicate of the first test-well sunk to determine whether or not there was artesian water to be had in the Vegas Valley. Through the efforts of the late Judge Beal, and with the assistance of practically every business man in the town, several hundred acres of land were subscribed to the enterprise and enough money secured to buy a drilling-rig and sink a well. The first effort was made at a point about three miles north of Vegas and a small flow of water was secured. This. however, demonstrated

CLARK COUNTY     801

what all had hoped—that the pressure of the underground waters is sufficient to bring the water above the surface without the necessity of using pumps, forming what is probably the very cheapest method of securing water for irrigation. From this small beginning the work of developing artesian water has reached considerable proportions, there being at this date (the summer of 1912) approximately 100 successful flowing wells, serving to irrigate many small ranches which have a combined area of several thousand acres.

            In 1908 the real growth and prosperity of the little city began. In June of that year the Las Vegas Age, the newspaper which was established by T. G. Nicklin before the opening of the townsite, and which was the only one of three newspapers to survive the ups and downs of the formative period of the town, was purchased by C. P. Squires, who immediately inaugurated a campaign of optimism with regard to the advantages which Las Vegas and its valley possess.  Following this a publicity organization called the "Las Vegas Promotion Society" was organized to assist in the work of publicity, and under the management of the late Judge M. S. Beal, did much good work. In August of this year the campaign in favor of creating the new county of Clark out of the southern half of what was then Lincoln County was taken up in earnest. A county division club was formed, committees appointed, money subscribed, and a united people won the fight after a vigorous campaign. The Legislature in February 1909, passed the county division act, creating Clark county, with Las Vegas as the county seat, the bill taking effect July first, 1909. Governor Dickerson appointed W. E. Hawkins, of Las Vegas, W. H. Bradley, of Searchlight and S. H. Wells, of Logan county commissioners of the new county and they in turn appointed county officers to serve until after the election of the following year. The county officials were inaugurated with a very enthusiastic Fourth of July celebration.  A feature of this affair was the turning over by the people of Las Vegas of a neat little temporary Court House (which is still in use) in fulfillment of their promise to furnish office quarters for the county officials for the period of three years free of charge. The first set of officers of Clark County were Ed. W. Clark, treasurer, Harley A. Harmon, clerk, W. J. McBurney, assessor, C. C. Corkhill, sheriff, and Frank Clayton, receiver and auditor.

            The beginning of the new county government seemed to give a new

802      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

hope and a new impetus to things in general. Business experienced a very marked revival.

            Early in this year (1909) the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railway Company announced that it would immediately build large machine shops in this city. Work on the shop-building was begun in March, and by mid-summer was well under way. In July the railroad company announced the beginning of construction of forty handsome concrete cottages of four and five rooms for rent to their employees. This number was found inadequate and the number was increased to sixty-five.  Some building was also undertaken by private individuals, making the year a fairly busy one. In the latter portion of this year the matter of selling bonds of the unincorporated town of Las Vegas to the amount of $30,000 was agitated for the purpose of building a sewer system which had by this time become very necessary. This bond issue was voted almost unanimously at a special election held in January 1910, but owing to certain legal defects the bonds were not salable.

            The year 1910 was one of trouble for the new city. On New Year's Day a warm rain, following a protracted cold spell, melted the mountain snows and brought into the Meadow Valley Wash in Lincoln county the flood waters from a vast area of country. For a distance of about 110 miles, from a point a short distance north of Moapa to a point about 31 miles north of Caliente, the track of the S. P. L. A. & S. L. R. R. Co. was reduced to a mass of wreckage. The Los Angeles limited train which left Las Vegas north-bound about 9:30 on the evening of December 31st, with all its splendid equipment, was over five-and-a-half months it reaching Salt Lake City, reposing all that time in the sands of the wash.  Without the operation of any through trains Las Vegas was nearly deserted by the railroad men and her payroll reduced to a minimum, bringing to her business men hard times and discouragement. However, on June 12, 1910, the first through train was run over the road, temporary repairs having been made to permit of the resumption of traffic.

            In the meantime, the people of Las Vegas school district voted to issue $30,000 in bonds to build a new school building, and on July 4th, the celebration included the laying of the corner stone of this handsome structure. Owing to an unfortunate series of controversies which arose between the contractor and the school trustees, the new building was not occupied until the fall of 1911.

CLARK COUNTY     803

            An unfortunate occurrence in connection with the school house troubles was the complete destruction by fire in October 1910, of the old school building which had been sold by the board to E. W. Griffith, but was still occupied by the schools. The fire occurred late at night and was undoubtedly of incendiary origin. All the books of the children were destroyed. Temporary quarters were secured in the Methodist church and in a building belonging to Capt. Ladd near the church. Here, without adequate heating, and with few conveniences for work, teachers and pupils were obliged to spend the balance of the school year, yet all worked together in making the best of things under discouraging circumstances.

            In August, 1910, Senator Wm. A. Clark announced the intention of the railroad to spend about $6,000,000 in rebuilding the line through the Meadow Valley Wash on a higher level, safely above the high-water line, and the presence of hundreds of workmen for many months engaged in this work served to stimulate business. On August 27th the work of tearing away the old frame structures on the southeast corner of First and Fremont streets was begun and the Mesquite block was built on the site by Judge W. R. Thomas.

            In January 1911 the railroad shops, which had been long approaching completion, were put in operation and soon were employing several hundred men. Work on the construction of the big reinforced concrete store-house was also begun and carried to completion during the summer. Later in the season a handsome apartment house of 50 rooms was begun by the Railroad company and completed early in 1912. The most serious fire for several years occurred the night of May 24, 1911 when the Overland Hotel was totally destroyed. In this fire one life was lost and many narrow escapes from death and injury occurred. Although the results of seven years life in Las Vegas were wiped out, the owner, J. S. Wisner resolutely set about rebuilding with the result that within the year the old structure was replaced by a better and more substantial one of reinforced concrete, well furnished and equipped. After a vigorous campaign of education and much work by the committees appointed for the purpose, it was decided to incorporate the city, and a charter was adopted by the citizens which was presented to the legislature and passed in March, 1911. The election of city officers was held in June and the City of Las Vegas became a reality with Peter Buol as the first Mayor. In the fall following, a special election was called and sewer bonds to the amount

804      THE HISTORY OF NEVADA

of $40,000 voted. Although some difficulty was experienced in selling these bonds this was finally accomplished and the work of building the sewer is now, (in the summer of 1912) under way.

            The most notable feature of the year 1911, was the strike on September 3oth of all the shopmen employed. Following this, the railroad company closed their enclosure about the railroad property and for some months furnished their employees with all the necessities of life within the walls. This was a severe blow to the business of the city, but since then the company has done away with its commissary department and allows its employees to come and go as they see fit and conditions are gradually approaching normal. In the early months of 1912, hard times again became the plaint. Nevertheless considerable work was under way the most notable being the new Griffith block, the largest in the city. This now houses the postoffice, a drug store, the Majestic Theatre and various apartments and offices. The postoffice moved to its present quarters in March and the Majestic Theatre gave its opening performance April 16, 1912. An important event in the life of the city this year was the moving of the Consolidated Power & Telephone Company's plant to its present location, doubling its electrical power by the installation of a new engine and an additional generator and building an up-to-date gas-plant and piping the gas to all parts of the city.

            This chapter being devoted almost entirely to the city proper, but slight mention has been made of the astonishing development of artesian water in the surrounding valley. At this date there are about 100 flowing wells and many small producing ranches. Several farming enterprises of considerable size are also under way, all of which are adding materially to the growth of the city.   The development is naturally slow, since it requires approximately one year to sink a well, prepare the ground for irrigation, cultivate the soil, and inoculate it with the nitrogenous elements in which it is lacking. Beginning with the second season excellent results are almost invariably secured. Owing to the almost semi-tropical climate, all fruits, except the citrus, may be grown in abundance and of splendid quality. Contrary to the general idea, apples of excellent quality are produced here. Vegetables of all kinds are produced abundantly. One of the staple crops of this section wherever sufficient water is available, will always be alfalfa. Owing to the great

CLARK COUNTY     805

length of the growing season, six cuttings of alfalfa are secured every year, the season's production being from eight to ten tons per acre.

            Mineral wealth also adds considerably to the business of the city. The Potosi mine, with its stores of lead and zinc, the Arden Plaster Company, with its large mill at Arden (almost totally destroyed by fire in the spring of 1912 and now rebuilt), the South Nevada Gold Mining Company's mine eight miles east of Vegas, as well as the Goodsprings or Yellow Pine mining district, the Eldorado Canyon district and other promising mining sections all add to the business importance of Las Vegas. These, in conjunction with her steady agricultural development and her railroad payroll of approximately $60,000 per month, will doubtless soon fulfill the destiny of Las Vegas as a center of wealth and industry. Looking backward the seven short years to her birth amidst the sage brush of the desert and observing her present array of handsome homes, substantial business blocks, her numerous municipal improvements, her thriving business enterprises, and above all, the cheerful courage with which her people stand together in the hours of adversity, making of every disappointment a victory and of every disaster a step forward, we can say in good faith, "Las Vegas," "The City of Destiny."