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Las Vegas' past, from a classic chapel to vintage railroad cars, on display at little-known museum

Las Vegas' past, from a classic chapel to vintage railroad cars, on display at little-known museum
The 1930s railroad depot from Boulder City, Nev., and an old caboose are seen on the grounds of the Clark County Museum. The depot handled freight and passengers during the construction of Hoover Dam. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

While many visitors may think of Las Vegas as a place that’s all about what’s new, a local museum is working to change that.

The 50-year-old Clark County Museum, about 20 miles from the Strip along Boulder Highway, upholds the city’s history. And it’s one of the best values around.

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Museum director Mark Hall-Patton (center with red shirt) leads visitors on a tour of the Clark County Museum during its 50th anniversary in April.
Museum director Mark Hall-Patton (center with red shirt) leads visitors on a tour of the Clark County Museum during its 50th anniversary in April. (Glenn Pinkerton / Las Vegas News Bureau)

Las Vegas’ history as a city may date back only 113 years, but those years are well documented on sprawling grounds to which a number of significant buildings have been relocated over the decades. Many of them sit along what’s called Heritage Street.

A 1959 Studebaker Lark is parked in the carport of the Goumond House, a home built for Las Vegas casino owner Prosper Goumond during the Great Depression.
A 1959 Studebaker Lark is parked in the carport of the Goumond House, a home built for Las Vegas casino owner Prosper Goumond during the Great Depression. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

One of the classics is a 1930s home with a mix of architectural styles that defies description. The Goumond House, erected in what was a small town during the Great Depression, spoke to the wealth of Prosper Goumond, the owner of a local casino and a dude ranch.

Visitors can tour the Goumond house, which is furnished to look like a modern home from the 1950s.
Visitors can tour the Goumond house, which is furnished to look like a modern home from the 1950s. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

Visitors find the stylish house furnished with 1950s decor. There’s even a 1959 Studebaker Lark — curiously, the same green color as the exterior trim of the house — parked in the carport.

As automobile travel grew in popularity during the 1930s, small motor courts popped up across America. This cabin was once part of a small motel in Las Vegas.
As automobile travel grew in popularity during the 1930s, small motor courts popped up across America. This cabin was once part of a small motel in Las Vegas. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

A much older car sits outside Cabin 14, from a long-gone Las Vegas motor court. It was built in the 1930s as car travel started to become popular, luring people to the desert gaming mecca.

Plenty of gaming memorabilia can be found in the museum’s main building. After all, the city is best known for its gambling halls. They began in downtown Las Vegas before spreading south along the dusty Los Angeles Highway.

Few people will remember the general store from the Last Frontier Village, an early tourist attraction along what’s now the Las Vegas Strip.
Few people will remember the general store from the Last Frontier Village, an early tourist attraction along what’s now the Las Vegas Strip. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

Now a world-famous tourist attraction called the Strip, the highway — later renamed Las Vegas Boulevard — got its first hotel-casinos in the 1940s and ‘50s. In front of the Last Frontier hotel sat a mock pioneer village, a tourist attraction whose general store has been moved to the museum.

(The early resort was demolished roughly 10 years ago. The land is now a vacant lot across the street from Wynn-Encore casino-resorts, which has plans to develop the property.)

Mannequins are used to create the feel of a marriage ceremony inside the Candlelight Wedding Chapel. One of many such chapels in Las Vegas, the building was moved from its Strip location to the museum on Boulder Highway in 2007.
Mannequins are used to create the feel of a marriage ceremony inside the Candlelight Wedding Chapel. One of many such chapels in Las Vegas, the building was moved from its Strip location to the museum on Boulder Highway in 2007. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

Aside from casinos, Las Vegas Boulevard is also studded with wedding chapels, one of which was moved to the museum 11 years ago to make way for the failed Fontainebleau resort project.

Restored to its original look, the Candlelight Wedding Chapel contains mannequins representing a bride and groom as well as members of their wedding party.

A copy of Bette Midler’s wedding certificate is seen inside the original Candlelight Wedding Chapel. She is one of several celebrities to have gotten married in the building that has since been relocated to the museum.
A copy of Bette Midler’s wedding certificate is seen inside the original Candlelight Wedding Chapel. She is one of several celebrities to have gotten married in the building that has since been relocated to the museum. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

The Candlelight was where a number of celebrities got hitched during the decades when celebrities often used such chapels.

A copy of Bette Midler’s wedding certificate from 1984 is on display. Others who were wed there include actors Michael Caine and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as singer Barry White.

Visitors are welcome to climb aboard a 1940s caboose and other rail cars during a walking tour of the museum’s grounds.
Visitors are welcome to climb aboard a 1940s caboose and other rail cars during a walking tour of the museum’s grounds. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

While passenger trains no longer rumble through Southern Nevada, Las Vegas was once a big railroad town, a watering stop along the tracks between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

Dishes and cutlery from the era when Union Pacific passenger trains rumbled through Southern Nevada are among several displays devoted to the region’s railroad history.
Dishes and cutlery from the era when Union Pacific passenger trains rumbled through Southern Nevada are among several displays devoted to the region’s railroad history. (Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau)

The era of train travel is well-represented at the museum, where several rail cars are open to the public beside the old depot from nearby Boulder City.

Indoors, displays range from a telegrapher’s post to the elegant cutlery and dishes once used in Union Pacific dining cars.

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The museum’s newest exhibit, one exploring the aftermath of the mass shooting Oct. 1 along the Strip, is quickly growing in size.

While a handful of artifacts are on display, thousands more, many of them tributes to the 58 people who died while attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival, are being archived by museum staff.

As they sift through everything from thank you cards sent to police officers to images of the makeshift memorials, the workers document each item and make them available in an online gallery.

The Clark County Museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children and seniors.

Info: Clark County Museum, 1830 S. Boulder Highway, Henderson, Nev.; (702) 455-7955

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