Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey
By Joe Weber
Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2022, 2022
Softcover, 344 pages, $36

Reviewed by Ralph S. Wilcox

In March 2021, I took my first trip to Las Vegas to complete my goal of visiting all 50 states before I turned 50. Las Vegas was an easy way to visit Nevada, along with the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. I lodged on the Strip and focused on the Neon Museum and the iconic Las Vegas sign. However, my stay would have been more interesting had I, before my trip, read Joe Weber’s new book, Mapping Historical Las Vegas: A Cartographic Journey.

The book is liberally illustrated with more than 135 maps and photographs. I was pleasantly surprised that a book illustrated with so many maps wasn’t overly technical. Although Weber is currently a professor of geography at the University of Alabama, he grew up near Las Vegas. As a result, his intimate knowledge of Las Vegas and its surrounding area, including Boulder City, Hoover Dam, and Henderson, is apparent. Weber’s book begins with the natural setting in which Las Vegas developed, including the area’s allimportant water resources, which were vital in the initial settling of the region by the area’s indigenous groups and later by Mexicans and Mormons and the routing of the Old Spanish Trail. Initially, Las Vegas was a Mormon fort and rancho, but that changed in the early 20th century when surveyors for the railroad arrived.

World War II and the Atomic Age figure prominently in Las Vegas’s history, with establishing a local military training facility and several army airfields and refining magnesium for industrial applications in Henderson. Later, the military created the Nevada Test Site, where many atomic bombs were detonated, starting in 1951.

The history of Las Vegas incorporates Boulder City and the Hoover Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border. Weber explores the history of the Lake Mead area before the dam’s construction and the lake’s creation. Maps show locations of towns, mines, roads, and railroads that disappeared underwater—and are, in some cases, now reappearing. Weber includes a 2014 photograph of a building ruin from the former town of St. Thomas that became visible with the shrinking of the lake.

The transportation chapter covers the area’s railroads, airports, and highways. Of particular interest to SCA members, Weber includes maps for The Arrowhead Trail, the Boulder Highway, and U.S. Highways 93 and 95.

In the book’s introduction, Weber notes, “The book does not need to be read sequentially, and readers can skip around to maps that interest them. Cross references within the text to other maps and chapters aid those interested in specific subjects. The chapters are, however, arranged in a general chronological order. Those reading it this way will encounter a certain unavoidable amount of repetition when the same topics are introduced in several different maps.” I read the book from cover to cover and didn’t notice much repetition.

Even though Weber’s book may not have been designed as a Las Vegas guidebook for the city, it works as one. The book gives an excellent history of the development of “Sin City” through the decades, and maps supplement the text well. Furthermore, the book’s last chapter, “Remembering Las Vegas,” gives ideas of things visitors would be interested in seeing, organized by theme, on maps. Interested in the Rat Pack? There’s a map for that. Interested in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever? There’s a map for that as well. Love Liberace? Weber’s got you covered.

For anyone interested in anything related to Las Vegas or planning a trip to Sin City, this book should be on your short list of must-reads.

Ralph S. Wilcox is the National Register and Survey Coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and was previously a member of the SCA’s Board of Directors.

This book review originally appeared in the SCA Journal, Spring 2023, Vol. 41, No. 1. The SCA Journal is a semi-annual publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology.

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