Nevada will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2014, but Clark County wasn’t within the original state boundaries.
“The land that is now Clark County was claimed by several states around the time Nevada achieved statehood,” said Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of Clark County Museums. “St. Thomas was originally in Utah, then Arizona and finally in Nevada before it disappeared under Lake Mead for half a century.”
During the Civil War, the New Mexico Territory was divided in two, creating the Arizona Territory. The Confederacy divided it horizontally, making Arizona the southern part, and the United States divided it vertically, making Arizona the western part.
The United States division included what is now Clark County. The area was called Pah-Ute County and was represented in the Arizona Legislature by Octavius Decatur Gass, who lived in the Old Mormon Fort in Las Vegas.
In 1866, the area was annexed by Lincoln County, Nev., but Gass ignored the change and continued to represent Pah-Ute County in Arizona for another three years.
It wasn’t until 1909, four years after the land auction that created the city of Las Vegas, that Clark County was split off from Lincoln.
Before the construction of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, the majority of the county’s residents were miners and ranchers. Las Vegas became a watering hole, with water drawn from the natural springs to operate the trains and quench the thirst of residents and travelers, and the county developed along the railroad line.
Las Vegas has reinvented itself many times over the years. After a railroad strike in 1922, the railroad repair shop was moved to Caliente, and the railroad ceased to be a major employer.
The city became known as the “Gateway to the Boulder Dam” in the 1930s. During World War II, the county supported the war effort with defense industry activity in what is now Henderson and the Las Vegas Army Air Corps Gunnery School, which later became Nellis Air Force Base.
“The county has been at the center of many military aviation milestones since the Gunnery School was set up here,” Hall-Patton said. “It was a place with the right weather and open land to allow the military to do what it needed to do.”
After the war, a large portion of the county became a testing ground for nuclear devices and U.S. Air Force training. The Las Vegas Valley became the home to the Strip, and the gaming and entertainment destination continues to be a major source of the county’s income today. The rest of the valley filled in with suburban housing and industry.
“The postwar construction boom led to the creation of some of the country’s largest concentrations of midcentury modern houses,” said Jack LeVine, a Las Vegas real estate agent and expert on mid-mod architecture. “In most other places the mid-mod homes were built in a ring around the city. Many of our mid-mod homes are clustered in more central locations. It’s made us a destination for mid-mod enthusiasts.”
Clark County is the most populous in the state, with the majority of the residents living in the Las Vegas Valley. The valley has four entities: the city of Las Vegas, the city of North Las Vegas, the city of Henderson and unincorporated Clark County. Clark is the second-most densely populated county in Nevada, behind Carson City, but it has a much greater population spread over a larger area.
Outside the Las Vegas Valley, the county has been populated more slowly with the expansion of farming communities including Moapa, Mesquite and Logandale. In recent years, those communities have seen rapid growth as they are deemed viable bedroom communities for Las Vegas. Laughlin in the southern end of the county has become its own gaming and entertainment mecca and Boulder City, the town that was built to support the construction of the Hoover Dam, is frequently listed as one of the best places to live in the country.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, on the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley, is a popular destination for hiking, biking and rock climbing. Valley of Fire State Park includes similar geography and includes spectacular petroglyphs and other Native American artifacts. Lake Mead National Recreation Area allows visitors to boat in the middle of the Mojave Desert and Mount Charleston has skiing many months of the year.
The Spring Mountains are home to several endemic species, plants and animals that exist nowhere else in the world.
For many people, Clark County is Nevada.