Thursday, January 7, 2016

When Dreams Are Drowned...Saint Thomas, Nevada!

Vintage Vacation...
Your trip into the past begins at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Las Vegas, Nevada.
The turnoff is a dirt road just to the left after passing through the north entrance station.

St. Thomas, Nevada...
Thanksgiving Day 2015 George and I set out to discover St. Thomas for ourselves.

New Year's Day was the second time I had visited the ruins of old St. Thomas.  What remains of the town lies exposed on the dried up lake bed of Lake Mead.  The ongoing drought has left the town high and dry since about 2002...enough time for the NPS to construct a rude parking lot with a pit toilet and signage.  We knew almost nothing about the town on our first visit,Thanksgiving Day.  I took a lot of pictures, but they didn't have context.  Back at home I decided to research the history of the town.  I found a lot of old photos and a couple of maps with homes and buildings labeled.  George and I wanted to go back, so we invited my sister Patti and her husband Harold to come with us to Vegas for New Year's.  Harold has a bad heart, so Patti and I hiked the 2.5 mile trail, while George waited with Harold.  We were surprised to see so many families out...we had the place to ourselves in November.

A drowned house in Thistle.

I have always loved ghost towns and this one especially appealed to my imagination.  The reason? In April of 1983 there was a landslide in Spanish Fork Canyon about 50 miles south of here.  The slide dammed the Spanish Fork River and created a lake that drowned the small town of Thistle.  I was horrified at the thought of my high school art teacher, Evan Nelson, losing his home to the flood.  Years later, the rooftops of destroyed homes still float in marshes clogged with algae and the broken limbs of trees. I think this will make a good story for another time.

History of St. Thomas
The Construction of Boulder/Hoover Dam.

Thanks to good ol' Wikipedia and a blog called Ken's Photo Gallery  I was able to learn a lot about the history of St. Thomas. The town was founded by Mormon settlers in 1865, lead by Thomas Smith and at it's peak had a population of about 500.  Church records show that by the end of 1866, 45 families were living there growing cotton and other crops.  The town was near the confluence of the Muddy and Virgin rivers.  There was a reliable source of water, which is why the Anasazi and Basketmaker Culture had made their homes in the area for nearly 1000 years.  The Anasazi complex, now known as the Lost City was also flooded. In the 30's, archaeologists and the Civilian Conservation Corps rescued hundreds of artifacts that are now on display in the Lost City Museum in Overton.

Most of the Mormons left in February 1871 over a boundary dispute.  A land survey had shifted the state line of Nevada one degree longitude to the east, placing all the Mormon settlements in Nevada instead of Utah or Arizona. The state of Nevada then proceeded to collect back taxes for previous years payable only in gold.  The settlers chose to leave without paying.  Others moved in and claimed the abandoned properties.  A few Mormons returned in the 1880's.  

Vintage Post Card.

From Ken's Photo Gallery Blog: "The construction of Hoover Dam and the resulting rise in the waters of the Colorado River forced the abandonment of the town in 1938.  Before the water got there, most of the buildings were knocked down, dismantled or moved.  The orchards and many of the large shade trees were cut down so they wouldn't snag boats from the bottom of the lake.  Over the years the town has been under 50-70 feet of water.  Fast-forward 73 years to today, and a 9 [13]year drought has provided an opportunity to explore a ghost town.  Foundations, walls, and grated cisterns dot the site, along with numerous alkali-crusted trails branching in all directions.  The ruins of St. Thomas are protected by the National Park Service as a historic site.  The cemetery was relocated to Overton, Nevada where there is a St. Thomas interpretive center..." This is just a brief synopsis of the town's origins.  Visit Ken's Photo Gallery blog post for more information.

Map created by Ken for his blog.  
Patti and I used this map to locate the different buildings. 
I printed photos of the old buildings on the back of the map page.

Gentry Hotel Area...
The gracious Gentry Hotel.

Ruins of the Gentry Hotel

Ruins of the Gentry family home.
Located across the street from the hotel.

Harry Gentry General Merchandise.
Located just south of Gentry Hotel.

Salvaging at the post office.

Someone ordered a last day post office cover.
Mail was still being cancelled in roofless building.

St. Thomas School...

St. Thomas School before demolition.
The school was also used as a Mormon church and a town meeting hall.
The town had no police, jail, or town government.

Early 1930s School Children.
Note the rounded front steps.
"Recess was the highlight of the day.  We played all of those good games like OmpPomp Pullaway, Steal Sticks, Kick the Can, Run Sheep Run, marbles and baseball." --Euzell Prince Preston

St. Thomas School Bus.
"I remember when Marvae used to make taffy candy and bring it to school...soon as the bus stopped I ran to meet her. That candy was sure good." --Rachel Burgess Robbins.

George standing at the rounded front steps of the school.

Patti holds a photo of the school on the front steps.

Main Street...Highway 91.
The main street of St. Thomas was a continuous loop, not unlike a race track.
Not sure which part of the road this is.

Remains of Hannig Ice Cream Parlor

Ice Cream Parlor before front wall collapsed.
"The boys woke us...with their blasts of dynamite in the surrounding hills...There were parades, races...barrels of lemonade...And because July 4 was a special day, we were given a special treat...5 cents for an ice cream cone." --Inez Gibson Waymire

Lake Mead creeping up on this car.
The last resident, Hugh Lord left the town June 11, 1938.

Arrowhead Store.
St. Thomas became popular as a stopover on the Arrowhead Trail; the first automobile road from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City...later known as Highway 91.

Hand-drawn map available at the Lost City Museum in Overton.
The Lost City was an ancient Anasazi ruin also claimed by Lake Mead.

I am so glad we decided to go back to St. Thomas.  Knowing a little of the history made the town come alive for me and my sister.  George and I are constantly on the look-out for interesting places to visit in the Las Vegas area.  I am so glad I found the Ken's Photo Gallery Blog.  He has blogged about dozens of day trips he and his wife have taken since they retired to Henderson, Nevada.  When George retires, we will spend part of the winter in our Henderson place.  Until then, we will enjoy our long weekend visits...especially since our neighbors have stopped parking in our covered!

I hope you enjoyed this "Vintage Vacation."


vivian said...

looks like you had an interesting and educational trip! great pics! You are always so good about chronicling (spelled) your vacations! I need a vacation! lol!
have a great weekend!!

Dorothy Crutchfield said...

Thanks for sharing your pics with us, that looked like a very fun vacation trip. I have always been fascinated by towns that were covered with water, like a damn built and the lake covering the town. I can just imagine all those houses and streets underwater! Spooky!

Musings from Kim K. said...

You really do a great job of sharing and documenting your trips. Wishing you a very Happy New Year!