What do Las Vegas and Oscar Wilde have in common? They’re all connected to copper baron and former Montana Senator William Andrews Clark.
The Senator was born in 1839 in a log cabin in Pennsylvania, but moved with his family to Iowa where he taught school and studied law. Jumping on the opportunities afforded by the gold rush, Clark moved to Colorado in 1862, where he took up quartz mining. While there, he learned about various mining opportunities in Montana where he relocated and prospected for gold, eventually earning enough money to buy up claims for copper mines, continue prospecting and begin to build his fortune. By 1901 he became a bank president in Deer Lodge, Montana. He was elected to U.S. Senate in 1901.(1)
His activities weren’t limited to Montana. He purchased a number of acres in Arizona and took control of the town of Jerome, founded Clarkdale as a smelting operation and then turned his eye on Southern Nevada. At the time, there was no railroad connecting Salt Lake City directly with Los Angeles, requiring a trip through San Francisco. In order to shave hundreds of miles from this journey, take advantage of the shipping trades in in San Pedro, California, and to build a railroad to add to his now considerable fortune, Clark purchased nearly 2000 acres from Helen Stewart, the owner of a profitable ranch on the site of a former Mormon mission . The rest is history. As James Hulse writes:
The railroad laid out a town, Clark’s Las Vegas Townsite, and held a land auction on May 15, 1905. In two days, the 110-acres bounded by Stewart Avenue and Garces Avenue and Main Street and 5th Street (now Las Vegas Boulevard) were sold. The auction [on May 15 & 16, 1905] founded the modern Las Vegas Valley. … Clark’s Las Vegas Townsite became an incorporated city on March 16, 1911 when it adopted its first charter. Today the Las Vegas Valley is comprised of five jurisdictions: the city of Las Vegas; unincorporated Clark County; the city of North Las Vegas; the city of Henderson; and the city of Boulder City.(2)
Because liberal divorce laws were already in place and it was to be only two more decades before gambling was legalized and the Hoover Dam constructed, the city of Las Vegas thrived. Although his continued mining interests in Nevada weren’t as prosperous as those in Montana and Arizona, Clark was worth about $50 million in 1900. By the time he died, it was estimated at $200 million. His son, William Andrews Clark, Jr. was a beneficiary of this fortune and in turn, bequeathed his outstanding collection of 17th– & 18th-Century English literature and history, Oscar Wilde and fin-de-siècle materials, California private presses, printers’ archives, and early Montana imprints to the University of California. Because the Senator died at the time Clark Jr.’s library was being constructed in Los Angeles, we know it today as UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.
Nina Schneider, Head Cataloger, Clark Library
For more information:
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library: http://www.clarklibrary.ucla.edu/
Background information: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt2m3nf2td/
Biographical sketch from Library of Congress: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000454
History of Las Vegas: http://www.lasvegas2005.org/historical/stories.html
(1) Mangam, William Daniel. The Clarks of Montana. [New York: The Silver Bow Press], 1939
(2)Hulse, James W. “W.A. Clark and the Las Vegas Connection,” Montana: the magazine of Western History, (Winter 1987):48-55