Mission Statement

The Pioneer Trail is a Journey through early Las Vegas, celebrating the lives of many people who helped build this unique city. Each forged a valuable link in the chain of history that binds this community together and connects it to others. Sharing this knowledge encourages us to reflect on how the events of the past have shaped the present, and what legacy we, as members of our own communities, would like to leave for future generations.

History of the Trail

The Pioneer Trail is the vision of the West Las Vegas community that wanted to celebrate the history of West Las Vegas and the early pioneers that settled the area and contributed to its culture and heritage. A community group was formed to interview long time residents and research the history of the area. The result was an extensive oral history collection and access to photographic archives that wove a tale of dreams realized and lost, civil rights victories, speakeasies and the development of a strong community ethnically diverse and culturally rich. 

The Pioneer Trail leads visitors through the area where the development of early Las Vegas truly began. As you travel from site to site, you will gain a sense of the adventurous spirit of those men and women who contributed to the growth and cultural heritage of the valley. And you will leave with an understanding of the extreme difficulties of making a life in this once-barren desert.


Early Las Vegas History

The history of the area surrounding the Pioneer Trail is intimately intertwined with the beginning of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Springs Preserve 1 is the site of pre-historic artesian wells that sprang from the earth and supplied the Paiutes and Anasazi Indians with water to irrigate gardens. During the mid-1800s Anglo explores used the area for a much-needed rest stop along the Spanish Trail, and the Mormons established a fort to the northeast of the Springs as a rest stop for missionaries as they traveled south 15. Only a few small ranches existed in the area until the early 1900s when a surveyor named J.T. McWilliams developed his dream of a boisterous mining town.

In 1904, Las Vegas was little more than a campsite for miners and ranchers until the railroad was completed along the old wagon route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. In 1905 McWilliams purchased 80 acres on the west side of the proposed rail line, and began selling lots in the "McWilliams' Townsite," 6, Later known as the "Westside." The first business district in the Las Vegas Valley was established here, including banks, blacksmiths, wholesale houses, restaurants, and a drug and general store. Ironically, the railroad proved to be the kiss of death for McWilliams' Townsite. The railroad company owned most of the land east of the completed tracks, as well as all of the water rights. The company platted its own townsite, "Clark's Las Vegas Townsite," in 1905 and effectively controlled development for decades.

The area was populated with mostly white and hispanic families until the early 1930s when hundreds of families were moving to Las Vegas hoping to find work building the Hoover Dam, including large numbers of black families arriving from the South. Korean immigrant Frank Kim opened a successful produce farm on Bonanza to help the growing community by growing melons, tomatoes and onions 4

Although blacks were free to live and own businesses on the east side of town, subsequent segregation practices forced most of the minority population to relocate to the Westside. The area quickly became overcrowded, continuing to lack basic amenities such as sewer and paved streets until well into the 1940s. Low-income minorities and whites found refuge here, with the black population having the strongest cultural presence.

The population of Las Vegas increased significantly again during WWII as people came to find work at the military bases and industrial plants in the area. Housing construction could not keep up, especially after WWII when residents returned home or lost their jobs at the local Air Force base or military industrial plants. In response, the federal government stepped in to help provide housing for veterans and their families. The Biltmore Village is one result of this program 16.

A community of churches 7, businesses, and nightclubs was formed using the residents' own resources and ingenuity, and black-owned businesses began to flourish in the Westside. Hotels and casinos were built, including the former Carver House and Moulin Rouge 5, and the still standing Town Tavern, located on Jackson Avenue 9, the historic commercial strip. As black entertainers performing on theStrip were not allowed to stay there, boarding houses such as the Harrison Boarding House 8, prospered.

When integration became an established policy during the 1960s, blacks began patronizing businesses outside the Westside, with little of the white population reciprocating. Discouraged financial institutions and social organizations could not adequately address the economic barriers confronting this neighborhood, resulting in a slow decline.  West Las Vegas has remained virtually unchanged since the 1970s. It is hoped that future development will bring about a positive change. 

Another great Las Vegas Review Journal Article about the Trail.