Las Vegas’s origin story is often told from the 1940s and ’50s as this was the time it rose to prominence as the world’s entertainment capital with the introduction of its grand casinos and glamorous entertainment options. However, the desert city’s history is rarely explored past the glitz, glamor, and excitement it is now synonymous with. The Springs Preserve https://www.springspreserve.org/is a historical oasis located in Las Vegas that examines the true history of Southern Nevada, dating back to 9000 BC.
Many anthropological findings dating back to Las Vegas’s earliest days have been uncovered in this now metropolitan location. First made available to the public in 2007, the Springs Preserve is a 180-acre historical site located in the Northwestern area of Las Vegas. The site’s collection of botanical gardens, natural trails, museums and exhibits have helped it earn its nickname as the “birthplace of Las Vegas”. The Springs Preserve also hosts many seasonal exhibits and events like their annual Dia de Muertos Festival, Butterfly Habitat, Guided Garden Tours, and many other activites geared towards learners of all ages.
Through its various features, The Spring Preserve tells the history of Southern Nevada, from its start as the glacial age ends in 9000 BC to its Urban Renaissance into the 1950’s. The Spring Preserve uniquely focuses more so on geological and environmental evolution of the region, making it a standout in its recounting of the history of Southern Nevada.
Dating from 500 to 1100 A.D., these stone tools and pottery shards were discovered between 2001 and 2015 at the Springs Preserve.
Early history (9000 BC to 1776 AD)
Through fossilized remains and prehistoric tools, visitors are exposed to the earliest remnants of human life in the region. Due to its desert climate, the land went widely unexplored by Western settlers but was home to Native tribal people like Pueblo Peoples, Patayan, and Nuwuvi. These groups were sustained by the springs of water in the area, a feature that would inspire its name.
European American settlement (1847 to 1858)
Morman missionaries took advantage of the Las Vegas Springs as they established religious and mining sites. Remnants of their lead smelting operation are on display at the Preserve. During this time they also established friendly relationships with the Paiute Indians. Prior to the arrival of the Mormans, sheep and horses were introduced to the area as caravans of wagons made their way through the American Southwest. A man and woman sit under the cottonwood trees along the Las Vegas Creek, a popular camp site, circa 1904-1905. Photo courtesy of UNLV University Libraries Special Collection
Early ranching (1867 to 1905)
The water feature of the area once again plays a role during this notable period of development. Los Vegas Rancho, Spring Rancho, and the Stewart Ranch were all developed during this time. The industrious businessmen and farmers who established these ranches became some of Southern Nevada’s earliest notable citizens. Octavious Decatur Gass and William A. Clark, men involved in the establishment of these ranches, have a major street and a state county named after them. Spring Preserve visitors learn how these ranches contributed to the state’s early identity.
Las Vegas town site (1905 to 1928)
This era is marked by the establishment of the Las Vegas Land and Water Company. The establishment of the water company played an important role in the city of Las Vegas being officially incorporated in 1911. The water company allowed the city to thrive by providing a safe and effective source of water for citizens and livestock. As the years progressed and Vegas's population grew, city leaders were faced with the issue of water conservation. The first well is drilled at the end of this period to meet growing demands.
Mid Century boom (1929 to 1952)
The Great Depression did little to halt Las Vegas’s growth in population. In fact, there were so many residents, that this time is marked by water shortages and official’s attempts to curb water waste. A second well is drilled during these years to help alleviate issues with water.
Urban pressure (1952 to present)
By the early 1950’s, it became clear that groundwater was not a practical method of providing for the now over 40,000 Las Vegas citizens. It took a few decades, but by 1971, through the creation of the Southern Nevada Water System, Vegas residents were able to enjoy water treated and delivered from the Colorado River. Due to water being provided from a different source, the Springs Preserve began to be looked at as an important historical resource. Measures were made to protect its natural form and in 2007 it was made available to the public as an educational site. The opening of the Alfred Merritt Smith Water Treatment Facility, 1971.
The Springs Preserve is committed to providing visitors with an education of Las Vegas’s history while inspiring locals to protect it’s natural beauty and heritage. The Springs Preserve offers memberships https://www.springspreserve.org/support/membership.html in conjunction with the Nevada State Musuem, and works to continue to add fun and informative activities for visitors. Donations can be made here https://www.springspreserve.org/support/donation.html