The Las Vegas Gold Rush, the First Town is Built

The lead miners and prospectors picked up where the Mormons left off.

Silver was discovered and the small mining town that had developed soon mushroomed into the dessert surrounding the spring’s area. Miners who arrived too late to take advantage of the silver and lead spread down the Colorado River and discovered gold deposits, as soon as word got out about the gold, the population of the Las Vegas mushroomed again.

Octavius Dectaur, one of the gold miners decided to set up homestead in the valley. He took over the old Mormon fort in 1865, using the wood from the fort to build a homestead and shop. He built up a large farm that came to be known as Las Vegas Ranch. Over the next years, the ranch grew and grew in size. In the mid 1870’s the ranch passed onto a wealthy Scottish rancher called Archibald Stewart, he was shot dead in 1884 during an argument. For the next 20 years his wife, Helen Stewart ran the ranch buying up even more land and running a camping ground for travellers on the Mormon trail.

The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad arrived on Las Vegas’ doorstep in 1903, its planned route running straight through the Las Vegas Ranch. Due to its strategic position and water supply, Las Vegas was designated as the main base for the railroad crew and the main service stop thereafter for passengers. Mrs Stewart sold the farm, now 2,000 square acres to the Railroad Company for $55,000. The 2,000-acre plot would go on to become the initial footprint for the Las Vegas strip.

The railroad company founded a subsidiary company, Las Vegas Land and Water to build Las Vegas town. Officials laid out the town plan, cleared scrub from 40 square blocks and staked out a total of 1,200 lots. The proposed new town received loads of publicity and people came from far and wide to bid in the auction for plots held on 15th May 1905 – their own slice of the brand new Las Vegas.

Settlers were bidding against Los Angeles real estate agents, all gambling on the initial prosperity of yet another railroad boomtown. Plots sold for almost twice their guide price and very soon, people were staking their claim and building shelters on their new plots. The first of many Las Vegas building booms had begun, building from the sand up.

True to the wild west. Saloons, honky-tonks and cribs were the first public buildings. There was a designated nightlife and red light district on block 16 (now the car park of Binion’s casino). Restaurants, hotels and shops were erected along the designated main road, Fremont Street. The railroad built the entire infrastructure of gravel roads and wood plank pavements, water services were put in place and even sporadic electricity was provided for. In a building frenzy, town administrative offices, a school, post office and two churches were built along with over 1,200 houses in a residential district. By New Years Day on 1906, 1,500 pioneers and their families were calling Las Vegas home.

The initial boom however was short lived. Fires and conflicts, the usual growing pains of a new founded town in the West kept new settlers away. To give the town a boost the railroad company built a locomotive building shop to maintain the steam trains and passenger coaches on the train lines. When the shop opened in 1911, hundreds of jobs were created.

However it was all downhill for the next 15 years or so as water supplies begun to dwindle due to ever growing demand and the railroad and building shop found itself loosing business to car and truck traffic. There were simply not enough resources or work to support the town. Las Vegas would have dried up both financially and literally had it not been for an incredible engineering feat…The Hoover Dam.