by Dennis McBride
Boulder City Museum and Historical Association
The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum
The Boulder City Museum & Historical Association we know today isn’t as new as most people think. The Association actually has its roots as far back as 1933 before Hoover Dam was finished. That was when businessman Earl Brothers opened the Boulder Dam Service Bureau in rooms over the Boulder Theatre to sell souvenirs, show dam construction movies, and exhibit artifacts from the project. In 1935, Boulder City school principal Elton Garrett established a small museum in a basement room in the school to display artifacts he’d collected while covering the Boulder Canyon Project as a reporter for the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal. The Chamber of Commerce had great plans to build an “official” Boulder City/Hoover Dam museum on land donated by the Bureau of Reclamationbut when the dam was finished and thousands of people moved away, Boulder City’s ambitious museum plans never materialized.
For awhile the National Park Service operated a small museum in town with flora and fauna from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and artifacts from the Anasazi ruins in the Moapa Valleybut there was nothing to preserve the history of Hoover Dam or Boulder City. In 1956 a group of former dam workers who came to Boulder City in 1931the original “31ers”held their first annual banquet in the Boulder Dam Hotel dining room to keep memories of the dam project alive. Some talked of establishing a historical society and building a museum, but it wasn’t until 1968 that anyone took actual steps to do so. It was in April that year the Boulder City Cultural Center was incorporated as an umbrella organization for the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, the Boulder City Art Guild and an as-yet-to-be-organized museum association.
In 1980, businessman Robert Ackerson and his wife, Carol, established a historical society to mount plaques on some of Boulder City’s historical buildings, and to sponsor celebrations of Boulder City’s 50th founding anniversary  and the 50th anniversary of Hoover Dam’s dedication . This historical society was incorporated on January 26, 1981 as the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association whose board included Bob Ferraro, Teddy Fenton, Bert Hansen, Gene Segerblom, and Theda Cox. Pat Lappin was the Association’s curator and began the long process of building the museum’s collections.
But where to put the museum? Over the next several years the Association considered setting up in the old water filtration plant; in abandoned buildings on the Bureau of Mines property; in the Boulder Dam Hotel; or in a new building proposed for Frank Crowe Park. None of these was within the museum’s reach, but in 1988 Kae and Liz Pohe offered space in their building at 444 Hotel Plaza where the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum opened its first exhibit space on September 30, 1988. Five years later the museum, Art Guild, and Chamber of Commerce pooled their resources to buy the Boulder Dam Hotel and began an ambitious renovation project. When the museum moved into its hotel space in 1998, the Association hired a new curator to establish a library and research facility with materials Pat Lappin had been collecting for nearly 20 years. In 2005 the Association bought the Boulder Dam Hotel.
The museum’s interactive exhibits tell the social, economic, and political history of Hoover Dam and Boulder City construction and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. Temporary exhibits provide a more detailed picture of the project with material from the museum’s collections. Each year the Association sponsors a Chautauqua performance at the Boulder Theatre as well as the 31ers’ annual banquet.
The museum’s archivebuilt largely through the generosity of Boulder City citizenshas grown into the region’s most comprehensive repository of Hoover Dam, Boulder City, and lower Colorado River history and includes every kind of historical record. There are over 7,000 biography files and nearly 2,000 subject files. The museum’s library contains rare books on Colorado River explorationsome dating back to the 1850sas well as documents on Hoover Dam’s planning and construction, Boulder City’s social and political development, and volumes published during the Depression on politics, economics, entertainment, art, crime, architecture, and other subjects. The museum’s photograph collection has more than 25,000 images, including the personal leather-bound albums of Boulder Canyon Project construction superintendent Frank Crowe; candid snapshots of dam workers and their families; Boulder City from its first construction in March 1931 through the present day; and Lake Mead and the Colorado River. Deposited in the archives are telephone books, business directories, organization newsletters, and local commercial publications; maps, plans, plats, posters and artwork; newspapers; and manuscript collections. The museum has preserved the diaries of Hoover Dam medic Doc Jensen and Boulder Canyon Project office engineer John Page. A series of post cards in one collection was written by a woman whose husband was stationed in Boulder City during World War II and describes her life here, while Thomas O’Driscoll’s letters home describe a worker’s life during dam construction.
Researchers from around the world have found their way to the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. Using the museum’s collections, documentaries have been produced for the History Channel, Discovery Channel, PBS, Italian Television, the BBC, the Travel Channel, A&E, and Arizona Highways Television. The museum’s archives have provided information for news stories, journal articles, reports, theses, dissertations, and books.
The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum today is bigger than Earl Brothers ever imagined it would be back in 1933, and it’s an institution Boulder City can be proud of.
For more information about the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, please call (702) 294-1988 or visit www.bcmha.org.