Mighty prehistoric creatures, railroads, saloons, the mob and Googie architecture: yep, it’s got to be Vegas history.
The modest-looking Las Vegas branch of the Nevada State Museum covers a tremendous span of local history in its walls, and best of all: you can visit for free.
Quite a bit of this museum is dedicated to the region’s natural history, with an especially large display of a giant Ichthyosaur, which is Nevada’s state fossil, taking center stage. There are interesting audiovisual displays on bats, the wildlife of the Spring Mountains and the classic architecture of Las Vegas.
You can’t visit without learning a thing or two about the settling and growth of Las Vegas. Much of the town’s history has been lost to time – not just to implosions – but this museum does an admirable job at preserving what remains.
There are photos and artifacts dating back to the first American Indian inhabitants of the area, of early Mormon settlers and of the Las Vegas Townsite auction that defined what would become Downtown Las Vegas.
You can get a glimpse at the first saloons, gambling halls and brothels of Block 16 in Downtown, with both photos and gambling equipment that would have been at home in the bordellos and speakeasies of the era. These were the first few hints of what would give this town the nickname of “Sin City.”
Topping it all off are audio re-enactments of the intense backroom deals going on in the mob era, which would eventually lead to the development of The Strip.
The next chapter for the State Museum is its relocation to the Springs Preserve, less than a mile away in a very sleek, modern facility. One tip is that as they move things over to the new location, the museum will not be charging admission at the present location. This is a great opportunity if you’re interested in Vegas history or want a sneak peek before the museum gets a fancy new pad.
The Nevada State Museum is currently located in Lorenzi Park, just across U.S. 95 from the Springs Preserve, and is open Wednesday-Saturday from 9 to 5 p.m. The opening date the Springs Preserve location is still tentative.