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Las Vegas: City Insider

History

From its earliest beginnings, Las Vegas has catered to the traveler. A nomadic tribe of Indians called the Paiutes settled the area around the turn of the last millennium and occupied most of the area from Mt. Charleston to the Colorado River. Several traders and explorers including Jedediah Smith in 1826 and John C. Fremont in 1844 traveled through the area and made contact with the Paiutes. By 1851, Mormon president, Brigham Young, in his endeavor to create the State of Deseret stretching from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, made Las Vegas one of his important stopovers. To this end, he sent missionaries to colonize the region and convert the Paiute. The location they selected to establish their fort was on a promontory overlooking the Las Vegas Valley, which is now the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington. The Old Mormon Fort still has remnants of its original building. Eventually the settlement disbanded and most of the Mormon settlers returned to Utah.

However, a mining boom at nearby Mt. Potosi fostered a new influx of travelers, mainly miners who used Las Vegas as a center for food and supplies. There was no permanent settlement there until 1865, when a group of prospectors, including Octavius Decatur Gass, acquired the rights to the Old Mormon Fort. For the rest of that decade, Gass ran a prosperous business at the Fort, rebuilding many of the structures and farming the land, offering food and shelter to the travelers on the "Old Mormon Trail" (the Salt Lake-Los Angeles wagon road), as well as offering provisions to the nearby miners. Gass was less of a businessman than a prospector at heart and eventually bad business deals forced him to turn the property over to Archibald Stewart and his wife, Helen, who had only intended to stay there temporarily. However, after a feud at nearby Kiel Ranch, which ended in the murder of Stewart, his widow stayed on to run the ranch and see it prosper. This period was from 1882 to 1902, when she sold the ranch to Montana Senator William Clark. Clark was instrumental in overseeing the establishment of the railroad from Utah to California. Acquiring the rights to the Ranch and its abundant water supply ensured that Las Vegas was to become a major stop for railroad travelers. In 1905 an ad was placed in prominent major newspapers concerning "first class inside lots" going for as little as 200 dollars a piece in Clark's Las Vegas Townsite. This encouraged squatters and investors alike, and the auction on May 15, 1905 produced a flurry of sales. Soon hotels and homes sprouted up all along the main downtown area of Fremont Street, as well as schools, a hospital and other essential businesses such as ice plants.

Las Vegas essentially thrived for the next 20 years because of the railroad; it played host to travelers by providing entertainment and liquor. The liquor was restricted to a certain area, Blocks 16 and 17. This area naturally evolved into a red light district as well. During Prohibition, this section was especially popular. During this period, the city founders realized that as the roads were improved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, this would promote more tourism and they began to build ranches to appeal to the potential visitors. Kiel Ranch became a popular dude ranch and gained notoriety as a place where people came to wait out their quicky Nevada divorces. In 1931, the combined advent of the building of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover), the creation of Boulder City plus the legalization of gambling, ensured a new boom in the prosperity of southern Nevada.

World War II increased the Las Vegas economy even more. In 1940, an air base was established (now known as Nellis Air Force Base) in the northeast part of town. A huge plant, Basic Magnesium, was built for the manufacture of bullets and bomb casings, etc. The plant was instrumental in the establishment of Henderson, just southeast of Las Vegas and now one of the fastest-growing communities in Nevada. In the early 1950s a new kind of entertainment was born: watching the atomic bomb testing, which took place at the nuclear test site, just 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A famous Life Magazine photo captured one of the mushroom clouds rising above the waving cowboy, "Vegas Vic" of Fremont Street. In fact, the opening of the now closed Desert Inn was timed to coincide with one of the blasts.

In recent decades the hotel industry has re-invented itself again and again. Just when everyone was predicting a severe depression, especially when Atlantic City emerged as a gambling destination in the early 80s, Las Vegas managed to come up with a new twist. Even today, with the proliferation of gambling in many of the 50 states, Las Vegas only seems to become more popular. Theme hotels have become abundant, starting with the Mirage in the late 80s, followed by the Excalibur, Treasure Island, Luxor and the MGM Grand. More and more soon popped up including the Stratosphere, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Paris Las Vegas, Venetian, Mandalay Bay and many more. When will the boom end?

Las Vegas

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