On April 20, 1968, at 1 p.m. the very first public museum in the Vegas Valley opened in a condemned gymnasium in downtown Henderson. Fifty years later, the Clark County Museum has moved, changed names and become a pre-eminent location for learning the history of Southern Nevada.
To celebrate the anniversary, the museum will be presenting a new exhibit, "50 Years of Preserving History: Celebrating the Golden Anniversary of the Clark County Museum," a look back at the history and growth of the oldest and largest museum in the Las Vegas Valley, whose collection numbers about 1 million artifacts.
On Friday, March 9, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the Clark County Museum will be hosting a free exhibit opening. Light refreshments will be provided by the Clark County Museum Guild. Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson, who represents the area, will provide brief remarks, and exhibit tours will be conducted by Exhibit Curator Malcolm Vuksich. The exhibit, open through August 26, presents the museum's history through a collection of photographs and objects. Artifacts from the very first item accessioned into the museum collection to examples from yesterday will show the breadth of the museum's collections.
"The Clark County Museum is a historical gem that is largely undiscovered in this valley, but it is one that people fall in love with once they visit, particularly Heritage Street," said Commissioner Jim Gibson, who grew up in Henderson. "I encourage the community to get out to the museum to learn about our area's past, particularly now during this anniversary. It's especially attractive given the low price of admission, which keeps it accessible. I think people are surprised when they learn that the museum has a collection of more than 1 million artifacts and that it's been around as long as it has. The museum and its collection are a wonderful reflection of who we are and helps tell our story as Southern Nevadans."
In addition to the exhibit and its opening event, Clark County will be celebrating the museum milestone through the end of April with events and activities, including:
- Museums Administrator Mark Hall-Patton will lead a free, one-hour tour of the museum grounds on the April 20 anniversary date at 11 a.m. Cake, coffee and drinks will be served to celebrate the occasion.
- Clark County will share an "artifact a day" for 50 days from the museum's collection on social media starting March 9. Look for them on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter & Pinterest (@ClarkCountyNV). Look for similar occasional posts on the County's Instagram feed. The Clark County Museum will also be active with similar posts during this time on its own Facebook page. The community is encouraged to use the hashtag #ClarkMuseum50.
- Patton, using the Clark County Museum's Facebook page, will take questions live on Wednesday, April 11, 10 a.m. to noon, about the museum and local history from the community.
- Patton, using Clark County's Twitter site (@ClarkCountyNV), will host a Twitter town hall about the museum and local history, taking questions live on Wednesday, April 18, 11 a.m. to noon. The community is encouraged to use the hashtag #ClarkMuseum50.
- Commissioner Gibson and his colleagues on the board will declare April "Clark County Museum Month" and present a proclamation at their April 3 meeting at 9 a.m.
- The Henderson Chamber of Commerce, a subcommittee of which started the museum, will host a chamber mixer at the museum on April 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. Some background: In the mid-'60s, Dick Pryor was president of the Chamber and he had been contacted by Maryellen Sadovich, a local historian concerned about the Anna Roberts Parks collection of artifacts. Parks, the first female mortician in Southern Nevada, had been an avid collector of both local history materials and other curiosities. When she died in 1962, her daughter, Edith Jennings, was left the collection and was anxious to find a repository in Southern Nevada for the artifacts. There were no museums in the Las Vegas Valley, and eventually Sadovich and Jennings were able to interest the Henderson Chamber of Commerce in the idea of creating a museum. The idea was first floated in 1966, and by 1968 a museum was opened in the old gymnasium building at what had been Townsite Grammar School. While not planned as a final location, the museum was open to the public, and Jennings loaned the Parks collection to the new museum. The museum, opened as the Southern Nevada Museum, was incorporated as a separate non-profit corporation from the Chamber. Knowing the museum would eventually need to move, museum Director Roy Purcell was active in trying to raise money and interest in a new museum site which had been granted by the city of Henderson to the museum on Boulder Highway.
Additional highlights from the museum's history:
1974 -- The Boulder City Depot is the first historic structure to be moved to the current museum site. It was opened to the public in 1979. It was built in 1931 to handle passengers and freight bound for Boulder City and the construction site for Hoover Dam. West of the depot are a 1920s box car, a 1940s caboose, a speeder and a crossing signal.
1975 – The Museum Guild was formed to run the museum and attempt to raise money for its eventual move from downtown Henderson to its current site on Boulder Highway. The museum would not open on the Boulder Highway site until 1979.
March 1, 1979 - Southern Nevada Museum becomes Clark County Southern Nevada Museum. That same year, The Will and Leva Beckley House, built in 1912 at a cost of $2,500, was moved to the museum. The home, a California bungalow, was popular because it was the last pioneer home in downtown Las Vegas before being moved to Heritage Street.
1982 – The Townsite House was moved from Henderson to the museum, though restoration was not finished until 1985, when it was opened to the public. In 1941-42, a magnesium processing plant was built on vacant land between Las Vegas and Boulder City. In 1942, to house the workers of the BMI plant, a townsite was built that included 297 three-bedroom homes and 702 two-bedroom homes. This house is one of the three-bedroom homes. The houses were considered temporary when built. Besides housing, the townsite also had stores, schools, two churches, a library, theater, hospital and bowling alley. On Jan. 1, 1944, a Post Office was completed and the townsite officially became Henderson, named in honor of Charles B. Henderson, a Nevada attorney and U.S. Senator.
1984 – Longtime Las Vegans will remember playing as children on a railroad [switcher engine] at what was then called Fantasy Park, located on Washington Avenue east of Las Vegas Boulevard. When the park was razed to make way for the Grant Sawyer state building, the 162,000-pound locomotive, Engine 4442, was turned over to the Clark County Museum, where it is one of the first things one sees when visiting. This particular switcher was built in 1918 by the U.S. Railroad Administration and was used to move railroad cars in a railroad switching yard until 1958, when it was turned over to the City of Las Vegas.
1984 – The Prosper J. Goumond House moved to Clark County Museum in 1984 but did not open to the public until 1999. Prosper Goumond was a partner in the Boulder Club on Fremont Street and owned the Tule Springs Ranch.
1984 – The Donald Reynolds Print Shop was opened. Newspapers in many ways were the center of social life as new towns sprung up across Nevada. The papers reporting local news were the only source of community information for most residents. A newspaper's telegraph link was the new town's sole connection to the outside world. This replica print shop on Heritage Street at the Clark County Museum is built in a style that was popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Towns like Searchlight and even early Las Vegas had buildings of this False Front style. Our print shop contains an 1890 Babcock Printing Press, Mentges folding machine and National paper cutter used by the Henderson Home News in the 1950s. Other equipment used by print shops and newspapers date from the 1890s to the 1940s. Funding was provided by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Donald W. Reynolds was the founder, president and chief executive officer of the Donrey Media Group, which owned and operated the Las Vegas Review-Journal before the newspaper was sold to another company.
1988 – Babcock and Wilcox House opens on Heritage Street. To house workers during the construction of Hoover Dam, the federal government set aside $2 million for the construction of Boulder City. Various kinds of houses and service buildings were constructed. Twelve houses were constructed in April 1933 by contractor Paul S. Webb for Babcock and Wilcox Company employees. This house is one of those. This two-bedroom house had a half-basement accessible from the laundry porch. The screened porch often served as a sleeping porch during the hot nights of summer. The original residents of this house were Carl and Bessie Butin and their daughter, Mary Ellen. The Butins were from Ohio and moved to Boulder City when Carl, a mechanical engineer, was hired by the Babcock and Wilcox Company. After the completion of Hoover Dam, the houses were acquired by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which used them to house employees living in Boulder City. In 1987, the houses were auctioned off. This house was donated to the Clark County Museum, where it was moved in 1987 and opened the following year on Heritage Street.
Feb. 14, 1989 – The Candlelight Wedding Chapel sets a record for the number of weddings in a single day at 425. The building was moved to the museum grounds in 2007 and reopened as an exhibit in 2009.
Feb. 17, 1990 – Clark County Museum exhibit building dedicated.
1989 -- The Giles/Barcus House was acquired by the Clark County Museum in 1985 and was opened to the public in 1989. Built in 1924 in Goldfield, located about 180 miles north of Las Vegas, by Edwin Schofield Giles and his wife Edith Corliss. The Giles and their daughter, Edith, had moved there from Colorado to Goldfield in 1907. The town was booming from mining from 1903 until the early 1920s. At its peak in 1910, it had a population of 20,000. Many homes in Goldfield only had outhouses for toilet facilities. When this house was built, it had a bathroom with an indoor toilet, pedestal sink and a shower, which made it quite modern. When daughter Edith Giles Barcus moved to Las Vegas in 1955, she couldn't leave her home behind. So she had moved to the corner of Hacienda and Giles streets, where it served as the Odd Shop, an antique store. She made provisions for this house to be donated upon her death to the museum.
2002 – The Esslinger barn was moved to Clark County Museum from the western part of the Las Vegas Valley. Allen and Helene Esslinger homesteaded five acres of land in the western part of the Las Vegas Valley in the 1950s. They paid a $10 application fee to the U.S. Department of the Interior and then a $375 filing fee for the five-acre site. The Esslingers moved an old house from downtown Las Vegas and with the help of a friend from Montana built this barn by hand. It became the landmark for that area of town at the corner of Charleston Boulevard and Lindell Road. The barn was used for many purposes, including antique auto restoration, parties and storage. The Esslingers' daughter used the loft as a playhouse. The barn was donated to the Clark County Museum and today houses personal items from the Esslinger family and artifacts that depict the many uses of barns.
Early 2007 – The Candlelight Wedding Chapel, shuttered on the Las Vegas Strip, is trucked down Boulder Highway to the Museum, where it remains until opened to the public on Nov. 14, 2009.
July 19, 2009 – The Pawn Stars television series debuts on the History Channel. Museums Administrator Mark Hall-Patton makes regular appearances on the internationally appearing show, which boosts museum attendance 70 percent and provides Las Vegas and the Clark County Museum hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of free advertising. Mark doesn't get paid personally when he appears on the show and the producers pay the County $300 every time he appears.
Nov. 14, 2009 -- The Candlelight Wedding Chapel opens at the Clark County Museum in the County's centennial year. It originally opened on the Las Vegas Strip in 1966 as the Chapel of the West Algiers. The owner, Jack Walsh, also owned the Algiers Hotel. Later it became the All Religions Chapel, and finally the Candlelight Wedding Chapel. In the 1970s Gordon Gust came to work there and ended up buying the business, although not the property or building. During his more than 30 years there Gust saw many celebrity weddings, and claims the record for most weddings performed in a single day at any wedding chapel (425.) Some of the celebrities married at the Chapel include Sir Michael Caine, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, singer Barry White, and Gust's personal favorite, Clayton Moore (the Lone Ranger.) In 2003 the Candlelight closed and sat for a time vacant and vandalized. Gordon Gust generously purchased the building from its owner and donated to the County. The County found money to move the building in early 2007, when it made its way down the Strip and out Boulder Highway.
Nov. 16, 2013 – The County dedicates a restored 1910 railroad cottage from downtown Las Vegas (owned by the Cram family) & a root cellar that was originally part of the Bishop Ranch, a horse and cattle ranch that operated from 1905 until about 1917 in an area that is now part of Clark County Wetlands Park. The cellar was relocated to the museum stone by stone after it was discovered in 2008 during an archaeological work to build a weir. The Railroad Cottage was moved to the museum in 2002 and is the most original example left in the Vegas valley.
Nov. 12, 2017 -- Carpenter Greg Zanis was honored by Clark Commissioners for his creation of 58 crosses, one for each of the people killed in the 1 October shooting. The crosses were a centerpiece of a memorial at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign visited by thousands. Following the ceremony honoring Greg, the crosses and thousands of memorial keepsakes were moved to the Clark County Museum for cataloging and preservation.
2018 – Restoration begins on the final historic building at the Clark County Museum, the Grand Canyon Airways Ticketing Office, Bradley House. This restoration is planned to be completed in late 2018, and will be the next structure opened to the public.
Today, the Clark County Museum has more than 1 million artifacts and occupies a 30-acre site, featuring a modern exhibit hall with a timeline exhibit about Southern Nevada from pre-historic to modern times and a collection of restored historic buildings on popular Heritage Street and the surrounding grounds, depicting daily life from different decades in Las Vegas, Boulder City, Henderson and Goldfield, Nevada.
The Clark County Museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entry is just $2 per person, except seniors (55 and older) and children (younger than 18), who are $1 each. For more information, please visit ClarkCountyNV.gov/museum or call (702) 455-7955.Clark County Parks and Recreation also can be found on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook by visiting http://tinyurl.com/4dfw8ea.