Every city has a story to tell, and Henderson’s no different

Lynn Starr still lives in the townsite home she grew up in after having been born in Henderson in 1944.

It’s one vestige of the past that proves Henderson has a history, and an important one at that.

“They were supposed to be temporary, and yet they were built out of redwood,” the 72-year-old Henderson woman said. “They’re still standing today.”

The homes were built by the federal government and given to workers at the Basic Magnesium Plant, which supplied the U.S. War Department with magnesium for munitions and airplane parts.

“It was a small community, with a rather dramatic beginning,” said Denell Hahn, Henderson Historical Society director.

Every city has a story to tell, even those, like Henderson, that were built within the last century.

That’s where Starr, Hahn, and other members of the Henderson Historical Society come in.

“When you look at any area, it doesn’t really matter how old the area is. It has a history and has a need for people to understand the history,” said Mark Hall-Patton, Clark County Museum administrator, who serves as an adviser to the Henderson Historical Society. “In a community like Henderson, it’s almost a greater need because so much of the community is from somewhere else.”

Community insiders

Hahn, Starr, director Rick Watson and board secretary Valerie La Porta-Haynes, however, are not from somewhere else.

They all grew up in Henderson and lived in the community even before it was incorporated on April 16, 1953. They now sit on the board of the society, which has been in existence for five years.

“We started with a really cool experience growing up, but then we added Green Valley, and then we added all these other neighborhoods — Anthem, Seven Hills, Lake Las Vegas, Inspirada,” Hahn said. “All of these things just goes to show how Henderson has grown, and those people who’d been important to the growth of Henderson, and we don’t want to lose that.”

The society has gathered more than 70 oral histories from early Henderson residents, hosts the occasional lecture for its “Henderson Speaks” series and has held photo identification sessions, where people are asked to come out and help identify people and events in old photographs. Also, the society recently hired an executive director, and it has ideas in the pipeline for projects geared toward elementary school students.

“You always have to have a critical mass of people who are willing to be involved, and willing to keep working and willing to keep doing the projects,” Hall-Patton said.

But they aren’t the first people of Henderson who were interested in preserving its history.

According to Hall-Patton, the Clark County Museum came out of a subcommittee of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce in 1967.

“There wouldn’t be a museum here if they hadn’t seen a need for a recognition of the history of Southern Nevada,” Hall-Patton said.

Starting now

Hall-Patton, who has been running museums for 38 years all over the country, said there are unique opportunities for a newer community such as Henderson to begin collecting the area’s history now, rather than later.

“The opportunities are interesting, because at this point, you can have one of the people who helped incorporate the city — one of the first city council people, on the (historical society) board,” Hall-Patton said. “You are not going to be sitting there looking at each other, saying, ‘I wish we had talked to X,’ because he’s sitting next to you.”

Hall-Patton is referring to 92-year-old Lou La Porta, who serves as the historical society’s president.

La Porta has lived in Henderson since his honorable discharge in 1945 from the armed forces after serving as a bombardier during World War II. He was part of the original team that steered the town into cityhood, served as a Henderson councilman from 1953 to 1959, and is now leading the historical society in its efforts.

“If you live in an area and don’t know what it’s all about, then you’re lost,” La Porta said.

It’s also much easier, Hall-Patton said, for an accurate photo history to be collected from a newer community like Henderson compared with one that was founded 300 years ago.

“Try finding those early photographs, even ones from 100 years ago,” he said. “Unless you’re lucky and somebody donated them, it’s very hard to find. Here, they’re out there and in private hands many times. So that, 50 years, or 100 years from now, it’s not going to be, ‘I wish we had done this.’ It will be, ‘Thank you for doing it.’”

Hahn agreed.

“That’s why the historical society is important now, instead of trying to develop something 100 years from now, and go back, and think about, ‘what was it?’” she said.

Rich history

While Hahn, Starr, Watson and La Porta-Haynes have a personal interest in telling the city’s story seeing as they grew up here, people who are new to the community, whose population now stands at 285,667, should, too.

Hall-Patton said Henderson’s history is wrapped up strongly with that of the United States.

“The impact of World War II, the impact on the West, the impact of water, the impact of gaming, the impact of war industries,” he said. “Even the growth of bedroom communities and suburbia. All of that is part of the story of Henderson.”

Because many of the people who live in Henderson are from somewhere else, it can be challenging to tell that story.

“Wherever you move to, it’s always the way you find it whenever you get there,” he said. “You do have to work a little bit because you’re starting from zero, or maybe below zero, to get to where people have a sense of the history. It’s very hard for people to understand, how did it get to that point. That’s the story that the historical society, as I see it, is trying to tell, and help people understand that there’s a really rich history here.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Find @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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