Deciicated June 4, 2011 (6016)
There are many communities which can be traced back to the vision of a small number of individuals in Nevada. Many of them were mining boom towns, towns where the finds of a few brought thousands of residents into places where few lived before. Most of these communities have long since been relegated to the status of ghost towns, places to be sought out and explored by the adventurous, but no longer active and vital parts of the landscape.
Laughlin, Nevada, is not one of these. In this case, one man found a site previously occupied, and created a new community. Many joined him, and the community of Laughlin Nevada is a thriving one today.
It is true, however, that most of us, when we come to an area, tend to see it as it is as always being so. Don Laughlin's vision built on others who had built communities here in the past. From William Harrison Hardy to the Bureau of Reclamation, many came before, but it was, in the end, Laughlin's vision which created today's Laughlin, Nevada.
Hardyville was the first town laid out in the general vicinity of Laughlin. Founded in 1864 by William Harrison Hardy, the town was intended as a rival to Iretaba City, about nine miles south on the river. It was located across the river from today's Laughlin, where Bullhead City is today.
Hardy laid out his town to serve as a supply center for nearby mining districts. He built a ferry at the site to cross the river. He was backed by George Johnson, who provided $40,000 in shipping credits.
Hardyville was considered the practical head of navigation on the Colorado. It was the farthest north on the river steamboats could regularly reach in low water. Given its location, Hardy was able to corner most of the trade business on the upper Colorado, and became the most successful shipping agent in the area.
Johnson supported Hardy by not taking his steamboats north of Hardyville. Shipments to and from the Eldorado Mining District were trans-shipped at Hardyville, with barges run by Captain L. C. Wilburn carrying most goods and ore from Hardyville to the mouth of the Eldorado Canyon. Even with the founding of Mohave City near Fort Mohave south of Hardyville did not threaten its dominance at first.
The Hardyville Post Office was founded in 1865, and operated until 1883. The town's population was never over a couple of hundred, but it continued to dominate shipping on the Colorado until 1881, when some local merchants established Polhamus Landing about five mile upstream from Hardyville. Hardy, with George Johnson, had dominated shipping before this, but with the new community and landing, they quickly lost dominance. Hardyville was eventually surpassed not just by Polhamus Landing, but by the advent of railroads in the area, which gave local mines and merchants an alternative to shipping on the somewhat fickle Colorado. By the early decades of the twentieth century, Hardyville was a ghost town.
In 1942, construction began on the Davis Dam. The Dam, built by the Department of Reclamation, was named for Arthur Davis, the Director of the Department of Reclamation from 1914 until his death in 1932. Davis, interestingly, was Elwood Mead's successor in the job, and Mead was the namesake of Lake Mead upstream from Davis Dam today.
Construction on the dam was suspended later in 1942 because of World War II, and did not resume until 1946. With construction on the dam, communities for workers were developed in the area. On the Arizona side of the river, Bullhead City was the name given to a six block section of businesses and homes across from today's Laughlin, on the site of the nineteenth century Hardyville. Nearby, small communities named Riviera and Holiday Shores also developed.
By 1946, the Bullhead City post office was open and operating. Neither Riviera nor Holiday Shores ever boasted a post office.
After the Dam was completed, the community continued as a rural area, mainly a base for campers and fishermen. With the growth of Laughlin across the river, however, the area grew quickly. By 1970, 1,000 people called Bullhead City home, with 3,000 in nearby Riviera. By 1984 local residents voted to incorporate, and Bullhead City, Riviera, and Holiday Shores became one community. Bullhead City was chosen for the new incorporated city.
The name Bullhead City, came from the Bull's Head Rock, now nearly underwater in Lake Mohave behind Davis Dam. Bull's Head Rock, during the streamboat era on the Colorado, was a well-known navigational landmark on the river.
Today, Bullhead City boasts over 40,000 inhabitants.
In the early 1920s, the Katherine Mine on the Arizona side of the Colorado was in active operation. A small community known as Tristate was developed on the Nevada side of the river. It boasted it's own school district from 1921 through 1924.
The Katherine, originally known as the Catherine, was found in 1900. The area was originally prospected in the 1860s, and by the turn of the century S. C. Bagg, a local teamster, located an outcrop which looked promising. When panned, it showed good color and Bagg claimed the site. Within the first three years, over 2,000 tons of ore was taken out of the mine.
Between 1904 and 1910, the mine was worked on and off. After the 1915 Oatman mining boom started, new prospecting began in the Katherine area. Many of the new mines used Katherine in their names, to pick up the aura of the Katherine. Two communities, Tristate in Nevada and Katherine in Arizona, were built to accommodate the new miners and their families. Katherine boasted a post office from 1922 until 1929, while Tristate never did.
The Katherine had been reopened in 1919, and operated nearly continuously until 1928. With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, the Katherine Gold Mining Company declared bankruptcy and closed, as did most of the mines in the area. During the early to mid 1930s, the Katherine Mill operated on and off, as did the mine itself.
With the advent of World War II, most of the gold mines in America were closed. In the Katherine's case, this occurred in 1943. The closers came about because gold was not a needed war metal. Rationing boards did not provide access to needed supplies, and miners were subject to being drafted. The Katherine, producer of nearly $2,000,000 in ore, was closed forever.
The site of the 1920s Tristate, Nevada is now under Lake Mohave, and Katherine, Arizona's site is nearly gone as well. They live on only in the historical record.
In the early 1950s, Don Laughlin moved to Las Vegas from Minnesota. He had been a successful slot machine owner there, buying them through mail order catalogues. He installed them in a network of pubs, where he shared the profits with the pub owners. In high school, Laughlin was netting about $500 per week, so when he was given an ultimatum by the school principal to give up the slot machines or leave school, he left school.
By 1954, Laughlin had purchased a bar in North Las Vegas at 412 W. Bonanza Road in North Las Vegas. Laughlin added slot machines, and by 1964, was able to sell the business, now known as the 101 Club, for $165,000. Laughlin was not done with the gaming business, and began looking for another opportunity.
While flying over southern Nevada, he spotted a small bar and nearby eight-room motel. They were both closed, and Laughlin decided to buy them, and the six acres of riverfront they sat on. Paying $235,000 for the property, he opened the Riverside Resort two years later.
Part of the reason for the move from North Las Vegas to what became Laughlin was Don Laughlin's understanding of gamblers. In an interview published in The First 100, he noted,
"I wanted a place on a state line because I have always known that a place on a state line gets much higher play than anywhere else … On a state line in 10 people come in, you get nine players and maybe all 10, because being able to gamble is the reason they come here …"
The Riverside at first boasted 98-cent chicken dinners, twelve slot machines and two table games. Four of the motel rooms were available to rent (the other four were occupied by Laughlin and his family). Business came from fishermen and other travelers, and the small business began to grow.
By 1972, Laughlin expanded the Riverside with a 48-room west wing. By 1975, the 52-room east wing was added. In 1983, the first tower was built, adding 253 rooms on 14 floors, and three years later a second 14-story tower added 307 rooms to the Riverside. In 1994, the Riverside's largest expansion added 800 more rooms. The bowling center was added in 1999.
With the success of the Riverside, a post office was needed for the area. Though Laughlin originally suggested Riverside or Riverside Casino as the name for the rural station, the Postal Inspector decided that Laughlin was a better name, so the founder of the community became it's namesake.
Other gaming companies noticed Laughlin's success, and built properties in Laughlin. In 1967, the Bobcat Club was built. It later became Odie Lopp's Nevada Club, and was located where the Golden Nugget Laughlin is today. It was the first non-Laughlin owned property in today's town of Laughlin. In 1968, another casino, the Monte Carlo opened. The Monte Carlo later became the Crystal Palace. It would be over a decade before other properties opened in the community.
Starting in 1979, a building boom started in Laughlin. Over the next eleven years, a number of new properties opened in Laughlin. These included the Colorado Hotel, now known as the Pioneer, the Edgewater, and the Regency Sam's Town Gold River (today's River Palms), the Colorado belle, Harrah's Del Rio, the Ramada Express (opened by XSNGH Dan Stark, and now known as the Tropicana Express), and in 1990, the Flamingo Hilton, today known as the Aquarius.
With the growth of the gaming properties, Laughlin developed the reputation of a less expensive alternative to Las Vegas. It has continued to grow, though the recent economic downturn has led to problems, as it has in so many locations.
In 1987, Don Laughlin financed and had built the Laughlin Bridge over the Colorado River. Costing $3,500,000, this was a needed addition to the community, and is well used today. Before the bridge, drivers either took ferries or drove across the Davis Dam between Nevada and Arizona.
Near Laughlin, the Ft. Mohave Tribe operates the Avi Casino on its reservation land. The land, the original site of Ft. Mohave during the late nineteenth century, is south of the town.
While there was a small airport in Laughlin, it was closed by the late 1960s. It was Bullhead City where the commercial airport would be located. By 1993, the Bullhead City airport boasted its first jet landing.
As of the 2000 census, Laughlin boasts over 7,000 residents. It is still a magnet for gaming enthusiasts from California and other nearby states. Don Laughlin's closed saloon and motel has certainly grown up.
Reference Tomes utilized in the preparation of this extraordinarily interesting keepsake
Dondero, Harvey, History of Clark County Schools, nd, Clark County School District
Gamett, James, and Paher, Stanley W., Nevada Post Offices; An Illustrated History, nd, Nevada Publications
Helbock, Richard W., Western Post Offices, 1993, La Posta
Hopkins, A. D., and Evans, K. J., The First 100; Portraits of the men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas, 1999, Huntington Press
Lingenfelter, Richard E., Steamboats on the Colorado River, 1852-1916, 1978, University of Arizona Press
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