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“SHE IS . . . The center of millions of acres of undeveloped lands and the Hub of a mineral territory as rich as lies out of doors ... She is the Gateway of the Great Boulder Dam Project ... and is destined to be the future home of teeming thousands.” - Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, 1924

Featured Online Holdings

photo: Walter and Anna Bracken.
Browse guides to manuscript and photograph collections about Las Vegas pioneers such as Walter and Anna Bracken.
scan: map of Clark's Las Vegas Townsite
Browse maps of early Las Vegas in our digital collection Southern Nevada and Las Vegas History in Maps.
photo: Arizona Club, early Las Vegas
Browse images of early Las Vegas in our Southern Nevada: The Boomtown Years digital collection.

The earliest history of Las Vegas as a town, which dates from the turn of the twentieth century, was well recorded and documented by the people who settled there, whether they were ranchers, railroad men, or were small businessmen and women. Their letters and papers, and more compellingly, their photographs, have left a rich historical record. Special Collections over the years has successfully collected the histories of those individuals, families, and businesses.

Selected Books on Early Las Vegas History

Special Collections has a number of published works on the early history of Las Vegas including Stanley Paher's classic Las Vegas: As It Began, As It Grew and Ralph Roske's Las Vegas: A Desert Paradise, which provide a useful overview. Eugene Moehring and Michael Green's Las Vegas: A Centennial History provides a large section on early Las Vegas, and Joan Whitely's Young Las Vegas: 1905-1931: Before the Future Found Us is a recent look at this early period. Memoirs and oral histories of pioneer residents such as C.P. Squires, Florence Boyer Squires, and Leon Rockwell also provide insight into these early years. All books are cataloged and can be searched in the library catalog.

photo: Florence Squires Boyer and family

Read about everyday life in early Las Vegas in the memoirs of Florence Squires Boyer (top)

Manuscript and Photograph Collections

The most comprehensive historical records of the earliest days of the town of Las Vegas are those of the Union Pacific Railroad, whose precursor, the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad, built the line on which it laid out a small town to service its trains. It is impossible to separate the town from the railroad in these early years and the extensive documentation created by this most bureaucratized of corporations assured a detailed record of all the details of building a town, from renting lots, building houses, and railroad buildings, to providing and distributing water through its subsidiary Las Vegas Land and Water Co.

Family papers and photograph collections provide a more personal perspective on this early history. They include the Las Vegas “pioneers” families who in some instances were its first settlers, established its first businesses and over the generations provided its leaders. Besides being active participants in this history several were avid local history buffs, very aware of their own history and the adventure of settling a new frontier, and consequently amateur historical collectors. The most notable of these collections are from the Rockwell, Stewart, Squires, Bracken, Ferron, Wilson, Von Tobel, Lake, Eglington, and George families. 

Oral Histories

Oral histories of early Las Vegas residents, some of which are transcribed and others that are in audio cassette form, also provide insight into life in the desert town.

Newspapers

For first hand accounts of life in early Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Age, is an outstanding source. Published between 1905 and 1947, the Las Vegas Age was one of the town's earliest newspapers and survived longer than many others before it was sold to the Las Vegas Evening Review Journal. Early advertisements and articles in the newspaper provide contemporary insight into the young community like no other source can.

Select issues are held in Special Collections but due to their fragility are restricted from general use. Patrons may use the microfilm on the 1st floor of Lied Library or consult the digitized version of the Las Vegas Age, which contains only the following time span of issues: April 7, 1905-1915, 1917-1922, 1924.