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Water to the New Subdivisions

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Artifacts in this kit focus on technical, political, and financial issues related to expanding the scope of the Las Vegas Land & Water Company's responsibilities to align with the city's growth. With population expansion came construction of new subdivisions. These subdivisions required water access that would stress the water company's infrastructure. In response, the Las Vegas Land & Water Company established policies for fiscal responsibility of developing that new infrastructure. Juggling water availability, access points, existing mains, pumps, and extensions, and technical requirements ensuring adequate future pressure flows became the topic of numerous letters, reports, and maps. This kit follows the complicated balance between the locations of existing and needed resources within the Las Vegas Valley and if the water was put to beneficial use.

Educator Resources

Activity Suggestions

Discussion Questions

  • Review the 1948 letter from the mayor of Las Vegas, E.W. Cragin. He expressed concern about the need for fire protection in the subdivisions. What other municipal water needs were not addressed in his letter? Differentiate between which of these needs may have been of greater importance in the 1950s and which would be of greater importance today.
  • When should a community advocate to slow or reverse population growth and, if deciding to make a change, how should they go about doing it? Be sure to place this in both historical and contemporary contexts and discuss factors that contribute to population decreases. Integrate Malthusian theory into the discussion.
  • Review artifacts within this kit that address the economics of extending water mains and services to new subdivisions within the Las Vegas community. Prepare a flow chart showing the route of expenditures and income streams the water company would experience from development to operationalization of the mains and extensions. Using actual figures included in the letters, determine how many homes and how long the water company would need to serve those homes before it would begin to profit from the venture.
  • Using only the artifacts available in this kit, reverse-engineer the infrastructure of Las Vegas' water distribution system. Review all artifacts in this kit. With that knowledge, create a Wordle listing words important to the railroad in terms of water. Use the advanced feature of Wordle to weight the words.
  • Review the maps from before and after the population boom (i.e., 1918, 1931, and 1952). [Supply links to these maps.] On the 1952 map, use a black marker to highlight water mains and pipelines existing in 1918, a green marker to highlight those existing in 1931, and a red marker to show the mains and pipelines in 1952. Using this data, have students postulate the amount of population growth between each of these years. Compare their answers to actual population data [link to population data]. Also, have them project future city growth based on the marked 1952 map. After making their projections, have them compare their answers with a 1980s map [link to a 1980s map].

Research Topics


Vocabulary Words

residential, industrial, distribution system, proliferation, subdivisions, curtail, envisioned, municipal, projection, installation

  • After reviewing the resources in this kit, identify another location on Earth where population or environmental change affected private vs. public water needs. Create a primary source kit for that location. Include an introduction to the topic, a set of 5-15 annotated primary sources, and an explanation of the similarities and differences between that location's method for addressing the issues and the methods used in Southern Nevada.
  • Review the 1931 and 1948 artifacts in this kit. Next, procure data for a planned community currently existing in the Las Vegas Valley (e.g., Summerlin, Aliante, Anthem). Assume your selected community (instead of the subdivisions of the 1930s) directly abutted the 1918 Las Vegas township. What costs and infrastructural differences would need to occur for those subdivisions to provide adequate water resources to the new residents?
Political Science/Public Administration
  • Read Reinhardt's 1948 letter to Ashby in which he expresses concern over extending water lines to outside city limits for the purpose of fire protection. Are his concerns warranted? How might his position be criticized? What might be the best action for the water company to take to ensure meeting civic needs, establishing policies about extensions outside of the city, and dealing with public relations? Prepare a press release for distribution to the local newspaper describing your recommended actions including the economic and technical data needed to support your plan.

Introduction to Topic

Initially, the railroad and its water company envisioned supplying water only to its original townsite. Those residential and industrial developments outside the townsite, including McWilliams townsite on the west side of the tracks, had to find their own sources of water, build their own distribution system, and lay their own water pipes. As the town grew and new subdivisions opened, a proliferation of small private water companies appeared to service their respective subdivisions. These companies, however, did not have the financial or water resources needed to maintain adequate service to their clients. To remedy their shortcomings, the companies appealed to the railroad’s Las Vegas Land & Water Company to replace their services. The Water Company was willing to service the clients so they established specific terms and costs for transferring private company's clients to the railroad's company. But, as new subdivisions were added, especially during the World War II building boom, the strain on the company and its water supply made it difficult to sustain. City officials were concerned that the company’s inability to provide sufficient water would curtail the city's growth and they pressed the railroad to find solutions to the ever frequent water shortages. It was this demand to provide water for what looked like unlimited growth—a growth never envisioned in 1905—that eventually led the railroad to seriously consider turning over its water facilities to a public municipal water district.

1916 This Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company map shows springs in the Las Vegas Valley and proposed improvements for the municipal water system.
1923 Mayor Dentner prepared this letter to Walter Bracken expressing concern over the lack of water extending to subdivisions within the Las Vegas Valley. He noted the importance of this extension as some families lacked water resources necessary for normal living conditions. The mayor noted that the city board would like to hear from the Las Vegas Land & Water Company regarding what steps it plans to take regarding the matter.
1931 This plat map shows subdivisions and pipelines near downtown Las Vegas. It includes deed numbers and dates of deed for some public properties and the locations and composition of water pipelines.
1948 In response to Clem Malone's request that a water main and water service be extended to a new subdivision, A.M. Folger, the general manager of the Las Vegas Land & Water Company, agreed to undertake the proposition. The Water Company’s terms for the extension appear in this correspondence.
  This collection of three letters discusses the costs for and technical specifications of extending and using pumps for a new subdivision. In the first letter, A.M. Folger communicates with Frank Strong stating his interest in testing transmission lines in the Bonanza Village Tract before installing special pumping equipment. He outlines technical requirements for the extension, including the elevation between the pump and tract and other topics such as static, friction loss, and pump pressure. In the second letter from Folger to Strong, Folger reports on a new application for a water main extension offered by another subdivision developer, S.M. Pahor, for the Westwood Park Tract. The third letter further addresses the Westwood Park Tract. The final letter in this series was written by Folger to acknowledge receipt of an executive agreement to build transmission lines to Block 5 of the Noblitt Addition. The letter's recipient, Estella Beam, agreed with Folger that a larger feeder line would eventually be necessary, but use of the smaller main would suffice until the area experienced more growth.
  Letters discussing contracts, costs for connecting to new subdivisions, request by mayor to extend beyond city limits to Strip for fire protection.
  William Reinhardt prepared this letter to G.F. Ashby in hopes that the Las Vegas Land & Water Company would seriously consider the legal ramifications of extending water mains for the purpose of fire protection outside the city limits. The letter explains that while the need for fire protection is valid, the extension outside the city may set an unwanted precedent for offering other extensions out of the city.
1950 Folger provided this letter to railroad official Reinhardt as a projection of future water needs as new subdivisions are completed. He provides a list of tracts under development and predicts the water required to meet the needs of those living in the proposed new homes.
1952 This letter from the Las Vegas Land & Water Company informs Mr. Moss of the financial logistics relating to installation of a water main for his new subdivision, Moss Tract #3.


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