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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The New Town Rises as the Old Fort Declines

Today, the remaining portions of the Las Vegas Mormon Fort stand as the oldest structures in Nevada. Its historical importance was recognized at the turn of the 20th century, but little was done to preserve it. The fort property belonged to the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad and served as a home for Walter Bracken, the railroad's local representative and an official of Las Vegas Land and Water Company. Bracken was also a postmaster for the area in 1904. The post office continued at the ranch until the town opened and then it was moved to the new commercial center. Bracken lived and worked at the ranch prior to the sale of township sites in May 1905. He also farmed at the ranch producing both meat and produce. Unfortunately, the railroad dumped waste and oil into the Las Vegas creek, damaging the crops and detracting from the recreational area before the railroad finally halted the procedure. Until 1929, the ranch continued as a resort, dairy, and picnic spot for the town as a precursor of the resort town it would become in later years.

In 1929, the Bureau of Reclamation leased the old adobe building closest to the creek within the original fort, and rebuilt most of the east wall and other portions of the structure for a laboratory to test concrete for use in constructing Hoover Dam from 1929-31. The changes included a plank ceiling, electrical wiring and plumbing, and dividing the building into three rooms. An adobe curing room was also added to the north end of the old fort.

It was not until 1937 that the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers began a campaign to save what remained of the old fort. In 1944 they obtained a lease from the railroad on the adobe fort building to preserve it as a museum. The Union Pacific divided the property selling the portions of the old ranch to the Mormon Church, the city of Las Vegas, and the Elks Club in 1955. The land sold to the Elks actually contained the ranch house and old fort. The Stewart House was moved in the 1960s to a site in North Las Vegas and used as a restaurant, but was later demolished. The city of Las Vegas purchased the property that contained what remained of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort and the historic Stewart Ranch in 1971.

The site of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort and ranch played a significant role in the development of southern Nevada and the city of Las Vegas. The pioneer agricultural and ranching activities also contributed to the economic development of the region. While the Mormon missionaries' agricultural efforts were limited and less successful, the later ranch occupants expanded the irrigated area which led to a successful ranching operation. This helped lead the way toward the development of desert agriculture in the Southern Nevada.

Today there are remnants of the many different uses of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort--as a Mormon settlement, ranch, and cement testing facility. Of the original structure there is a section of the fort wall, and part of the bastion. The walls of the fort, the bastion, a corral, and garden were reconstructed and opened to the public in 2000. The foundation of the Stewart house is underground and there are future plans to unearth the foundation. There are also remnants of the testing facility which house museum exhibits with contributions by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. A historical marker shows the site of the first post office. On June 11, 2005 Nevada State Parks opened an education facility that reflects the story of the fort and its many uses as a ranch, testing site, and resort. The interpretation also covers all aspects of the American Indian history of the area until 1905. There is also a library for research and a visitor's center.

The Mormon Mission although only lasting two years was successful in placing Las Vegas on the map, establishing new crops planted in the Southwest, serving as a way station for travelers, promoting the legacy of a faithful people, and paving the way for the birth of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Questions for Reading 3

1. How would you describe the changes made to the fort after the railroad purchased the land?

2. What preservation efforts took place to salvage the remains of the fort?

3. Why do you think the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort is credited with giving birth to the city of Las Vegas?

4. What remains of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort? How is the fort being used today? Is this the best way to preserve the story of the fort? Why or why not?

Reading 3 was compiled from Robert Elson and Alvin McLane, Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort: Historical and Archeological Perspectives (Silver City, Nevada: Intermountain Research, 1993) and site visits of exhibits.

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