History
How it was Built
Conservation
Recreation

History - Before there was a Dam and a Lake

Lake Mohave, and Hoover Dam, the area encompassing the one and half million acres of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was occupied by early desert Indian cultures, adventurous explorers, and ambitious pioneers looking for cheap land and religious freedom, and prospectors seeking riches.

Based on archaeological evidence, several Native American cultures have been identified as having existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in an environment wetter and cooler than it is today where they hunted game, gathered local edible plants, and practiced farming. In a cave near present-day Lake Mead, archaeologist, Mark R. Harrington and paleontologist James Thurston discovered the remains of large mammals including the remains of a ground sloth, horse, camel and mountain sheep. Notches found on the bones of these animals show evidence that they were prepared and eaten by humans.

Steamboats plied the Colorado River from the 1850s until 1904, when construction began on Laguna Dam 14 miles north of Fort Yuma, Ariz. The steamboats ran routes from the Gulf of California to the Grand Canyon.

The town of St. Thomas started as a pioneer settlement in 1865 and grew to be an established town of farms, homes and stores. Life passed slowly until Hoover Dam was built. St. Thomas was doomed as the rising waters of the Colorado River slowly filled canyons and valleys, creating Lake Mead. The residents of St. Thomas sold their land, tore down homes that had been lived in for generations. On June 11, 1938, Hugh Lord rowed away from his house, the last citizen to leave. The community was soon covered by the lake, a victim of a rapidly changing landscape and lifestyle in the desert.

The ruins of St. Thomas are sometimes visible when the water level in Lake Mead drops below normal. The ruins of St. Thomas are preserved and protected by the National Park Service. Visitors to the lake are restricted from disturbing the remaining artifacts of St. Thomas.

Read more and learn about Planning for the Dam and the Agreement to Share the Water.