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Handwritten speech by Roosevelt Fitzgerald about a brief history of Las Vegas, Nevada




1970 (year approximate) to 1996 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Unpublished manuscripts file. For an unknown event.

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man000955. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Good evening ladies. Let me begin by expressing to you how happy I am that you, through your program chairman, invited me to share some of the results of my research and observation of my favorite city in the world -- Las Vegas.

I am certain that most of you, like me, came here from somewhere else. Chances are you were as startled and amazed as I upon arriving here. 

You must know that even though Las Vegas has a relatively short history -- 125 years on the outside and, its more recent and continued history, 77 years on the short side since 1905, it is yet an abundant, exciting, glamorous, cosmopolitan and yet very normal history.

It is logistically impossible to give you a play by play, chronological & rendering of Las Vegas in such an abbreviated amount of time. What I will attempt to do is envelop, within a limited chronological schematic a kind of survey of some of the main events and personalities which conceived, nourished and sustained this community over the years.

Of course we cannot talk just about Las Vegas because so much of what Las Vegas is all about has been influenced by its neighbors -- Boulder City, North Las Vegas nd Henderson -- of course.

The approach that I am going to take is -- well-- I'm going to tell you a little story. It is a story which I have visualized a hundred times or more. Maybe its even two stories. I don't know but sometimes, probably because of the research, I feel as though I've been right here from the very start.

Where to begin.

I drove here, thirteen years ago, from Las Vegas, New Mexico. Yes, There is such a place. Matter of fact it was founded by Spanish [not legible] back in the late sixteenth century. I recall stopping in Seligman, Arizona for gasoline. The attendant, an elderly gentleman, while cleaning the windshield asked, "Where you coming from stranger?" I replied, "Las Vegas". He then asked after a few moments: "Where you headed stranger?" I replied: "Las Vegas", As he walked to the rear of the vehicle I overheard him mumbling under his breath "some people don't know whether they're coming or going. I laughed. It was 8:15 pm.

The next 165 miles were interrupted only by Kingman, Chloride and Santa Claus. It was dark land there was little traffic. The windows were down and the warm desert wind both roared by the window and ventilated the car. My stereo played, over and over again, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.


Then there was the dam. It was eerie. As I had claimed the grade leading into Black Canon on the Colorado, the force of the wind had ceased. Actually, it was almost still. My ears plugged and that only added to the feeling of serenity which permeated the place. Being a historian, a lover of adventure stories, a reader of spy thrillers and the possessor of a vivid imagination, you would not believe the images which I vegan to [not legible] in my mind. As far as I knew, I was the only person left in the world. 

All of certain, there it was -- The Boulder Dam. 11:43 pm. Seeing it, for the first time, at night with the flood lights a glow is really magnificent. I pulled to the shoulder of the road, parked, exited my car, stood there and gazed upon that great wonder of the world. I was filled with awe.

After what seemed like an eternity, I resumed my trip to Las Vegas. 12:17. Pearls scattered on a sheet of black velvet. It was then and there that I fell in love with Las Vegas. I wanted to explore and discover all of its secrets. That was thirteen years ago. There has hardly been a day since then that I have not pursued that interest.

It was the railroad which created Las Vegas -- the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. It was to connect Salt Lake


City with Southern California. At the turn of the century, the routes of railroads were, to a large extent, determined by the availability of water. The old steam trains could travel a couple hundred miles before needing to take on water. On that route between Salt Lake and southern California a place called the Meadows was ideally situated to be a maintenance station.

There were few property owners in southern Nevada, with the exception of Paiutes whose rights few respected. Perhaps the most notable was that of the Stewart Ranch mid which had been in existence since the 1860s under different ownership. Octavius Decatur Gass had acquired ownership of most of the Las Vegas Valley by the late 1870s. The main ranch buildings were located where the old Mormon Fort had been erected in 1855. The Stewart family gained possession in 1881.

For the next quarter-century theirs would be the major presence in southern Nevada.

With the coming of the railroad it became necessary to firm up the boundary lines of the property.  Prior to selling a portion of that property to the railroad. J.T. McWilliam, an engineer /surveyor, who


had lived in Goodsprings since 1894 was lived by Mrs. Helen J. Stewart to determine those boundaries.

Upon discovering that some adjoining property was government owned, he filed on the land & surveyed what he hoped would be the Las Vegas Townsite.

It did not work. Once the railroad arrived, it constructed its town on the east side of the railroad tracks and McWilliams' Townsite became merely a shanty town.

Interest in the new town was unusually high. Initially, plans had been made to sell the available 750 lots on a first come first serve basis. The prices would have been $150 to $750.00 for corner lots and would range from $100.00 - $500.00 for inside lots. Those plans were scrapped once it was discovered by the Las Vegas Land + Water Co., the company handling land bales, that there appeared to be more buyers interested than the number of lots available for sale. Plans for an auction were initiated...

Almost 4:1

May 15, 1905 is the official date for the beginning of Las Vegas. It was on that date that the auction was held. Prospective buyers were brought here by train at a of $16.00 round trip from Los Angeles and $20.00 from Salt Lake. 

There was not much here in the way of accomodations awaiting the


purchases. Tents, tents everywhere. The Hotel Las Vegas was a tent with thirty sections partitional by canvas.

You should see the photographs of the occasion. The men were in wool dark suits, tight collars & ties and the women were in long frocks, buttoned up to the neck, long sleeves, boynets & . The only reason I mention this is that for that time of year the temperature was extremely high - 112. Whew. 

This auction lasted for several days and finally, after all the had settled, property owners began to erect their tents on the back side of their lots for immediate living and they began to slow process of erecting permanent structures to the front. 

Las Vegas as was the case with most new boom towns of the southwest of era was nothing more than a tent city. There was no running water, only a makeshift police and fire department, dusty roads, no sidewalks and it had its share of gamblery thieves, con artists, murderers, racists, etc, etc, etc.

During its first decade, the Las Vegas Valley experienced numerous cosmetic changes. We have to recognize that because of the of the 


train and the state of the art of the chronological revolution, Las Vegans found themselves between the proverbal rock and hard place. The more wealthy residents built solid stone home and even had horseless carriages. However, whenever it would rain the would require the services of a strong horse or mule to extract them from the super adhering caliche mud. 

The town was neatly surveyed and the streets were well laid out. A section was set aside for education and there were provisions for municipal buildings. Initially, the most important building in town was the "Ice House". It seems that the value of the lots had quite a bet to do with their proximity to that structure.


Additionally, one black was set aside for the "red light" district. -- Block 16.


The population did not grow quite as rapidly as some had hoped. After [not legible] 5000 as so by 1910, things slacked off and the town began to take shaped. During the same period, McWIlliams Townsite -- Shantytown


experienced a major disaster. A fire of unknown & suspicious origin swept through the district on a warm night and literally destroyed everything in sight.

Those residents and businesses located there lost everything. The of improvements made by the Railroad at their town site had not . Because the McWilliams Townsite was in effect, an un-incorporated area there was no city government or city services. The latter included fire department. The few located in that area, was not sufficient and the attempt at organizing a bucket brigade to combat the   flame 

The people of Clark Townsite (Las Vegas) were not by the destruction of the other townsite. It did, however, point out to them the precariousness of their own predicament. Pipes, made of redwood, were laid beginning with the more expensive of the area -- downtown, municipal area, wealthy residence area. Most people, yet.. lived in tents and the construction of permanent dwellings was determined


by the availability of building materials and the financial capacity of purchasing those materials as they became available.

Between the years 1905-1929 the town of Las Vegas took shape. During the entire quarter-century there could be found home tent dwellings. For the most part permanent resident erected permanent dwellings. The houses reflected, to some extent, the origins of the people who built them.-- tudor, victorian and spanish motif prevailed. Most were constructed of wood. Wealthier people used finished stone. Those who could afford neither used the natural resources of the area -- desert rock, lava and even fasimules of the old Spanish adobe . 

Local newspaper reflected the concerns of the day. There were international, national, state, mining and local news. Like most small town newspapers of the day, the comings and goings of the "swells" were highlighted. The activities of the minority communities were only reported when criminal activity was involved. That tendency has not changed much in 25 years. 

The first church was of the Methodist denomination but it took an ecumenical posture even though it did not practice one of the major tenets of the Christian faith -- the universal brotherhood of man and other words, not everyone was 


welcomed within its walls.

As far as the business community was concerned there was not much variety. Forwarding companies such as on tobels did business with the mining districts to the north in rhyolite & Beatty/and tot the south with El Dorado Canyon. Equipment was brought here by rail and it could not always be counted on arriving on schedule due to the numerous railway washout which occurred as frequently as the might be rain. Most shipments were not insured and the buyer more often than not had to eat those losses. 

Upon arrival, forwarding companies would collect the shipments, load on heavy duty wagons drawn by mules and set off for their destinations. In and of itself that scenarios would not appear important. Once consideration is given to the health hazards such conventional means of than sporting generated, we are forced to look at it differently. Daily, hundreds of mules have used the streets of Las Vegas. Understandably, once they would have "left", they left their behind.