If you have ever driven to Utah from Las Vegas, your route probably was by way of Mesquite. Most of us just bypass the town, little realizing there are good reasons to stop for at least a few hours. Aside from the newer resorts you might have seen advertised on television, Mesquite has preserved many of its historic buildings and much of its small-town charm, making it a good place to spend an October morning in a self-guided walking tour.
Although the town wasn't incorporated until 1984, Mormon settlers established it in the early 1880s. Flooding from the nearby Virgin River and general hardship forced its abandonment twice before the settlers won a permanent foothold in 1894. Some of Southern Nevada's prominent families have roots there. The main street through town was laid out along the route long known as the Old Spanish Trail and later the Mormon Road. Before Interstate 15 bypassed the town in the 1970s, Mesquite was the proverbial "wide spot in the road," a sleepy and picturesque village devoted to farm, dairy and roadside garages. Since then, the town boomed, and approximately 15,000 residents were counted in the 2010 census.
A good place to start your visit is at the Nevada Welcome Center directly off Mesquite's second exit. There you can get information on the area and pick up the Historical Walking Tour pamphlet. Drive south on Sandhill Boulevard for less than a mile and you will find plenty of places to park along the street. Then you can set out on foot.
There are more than 20 stops on the tour, but all are within a three-block area, so you can see quite a lot in a short time. Most of the designated points of interest still have homes or other buildings standing, and most of the buildings have been lovingly maintained. A plaque in front of each tells the history of the site.
Marker No. 1, and a good place to begin your tour, is the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum at 35 W. Mesquite Blvd. This rock building was built in the early 1940s under the National Youth Administration Program, a New Deal program that provided work opportunities for teenage boys and girls in their home communities. One of the first things the town did after it was incorporated in 1984 was convert the old rock hospital into a museum. It contains a vast display of donated antique items from the immediate area, such as photographs evoking the past, quilts, wedding dresses and even a whiskey still. There is also a library of books on local family histories and early memoirs.
Some of the more interesting buildings include the Rock House (marker 11 on the walking tour), which is the oldest standing house in Mesquite and was occupied as a residence continually from 1894 to 2003. The original portion of the structure dates to 1880. The large native rocks made the walls 18-20 inches thick.
Another that shouldn't be missed is the Dairy Barn (marker 23 on the walking tour). This was the first commercial dairy in town and began operations in 1941. The dairy farmers would walk their cows to the barn a couple of times a day for milking. The milk was kept cool in water tanks and then sold in Las Vegas. The building is now used as a residence.
The William Abbott Home/Abbott Hotel (marker 19 on the walking tour) is a two-story adobe building with a rock foundation and thick adobe walls, built about 1901. There are six rooms on each floor. The building served simultaneously as a hotel for travelers and as the Abbott family home. William Abbott was a bishop in the Mormon Church for 27 years. It now serves as a business.
The Virgin Valley Heritage Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Nevada Welcome Center, 460 N. Sandhill Blvd., is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 346-2702. For further information on Mesquite, visit visitmesquite.com.
Deborah Wall is the author of "Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide" and "Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States," published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.