Nevada is full of Wild West ghost towns - most of these boom-bust ghost towns were from the days of the mining booms and gold rushes. But St. Thomas in Nevada is a very different sort of ghost town - a town that was abandoned twice and keeps on reemerging from the lake. St. Thomas is in Clark County in Nevada and is situated where the descriptively named Muddy River flows into the Colorado River.
It was founded by Mormons but was bought out by the US Federal Government after the construction of the Hoover Dam and the rising levels of Lake Mead. Another Wild West boomtown that managed to transition into a living Wild West town is Virginia City just out of Reno - and it's worth a visit.
St. Thomas The Town Twice Abandoned
The history of the town began in 1865 with the arrival of the Mormons (aka The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). The population peaked at around 500 and was an established town with farms and businesses.
- Founded: In 1865 by Mormon Pioneers
- Peak Population: Around 500
- Tax Dispute: Nevada Demanded 5 Years Of Back Taxes
But a land survey in 1871 shifted Nevada's state line one degree longitude to the east - this meant the town was in Nevada instead of Arizona or Utah which then gave rise to a tax dispute. Before that, the Mormons were not aware they were in Nevada. Instead of paying the taxes, the Mormons abandoned the town and moved to Utah.
- First Abandonment: In 1871 Over A Tax Dispute
- Second Abandonment: In 1938 Because Of Rising Water Levels Of Lake Mead
New settlers soon moved in but the construction of the Hoover Dam would force its second abandonment. As the rising levels of Lake Mead flooded and submerged the town in the 1930s, the residents abandoned it.
In its day, St. Thomas was a thriving stopping point between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City along the Arrowhead Trail.
The Flooding Of St. Thomas By Lake Mead
With the construction of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead started filling in 1935 and by 1938 the town was submerged (the Federal government reimbursed the people for their loss). The last resident to leave was Hugh Lord who paddled away from his home only when the waters were lapping at his front door in 1938.
- High Water Mark: St. Thomas Was 60 Feet Below The Surface
.At the peak of Lake Mead, the tallest structures of the town were more than 60 feet below the surface. Over the years the water level has fluctuated with the ghost town reemerging in 1945, 1963, and 2012. Since then severe drought has meant that the water level of Lake Mead has dropped significantly and the ghost town has remained out of the watery depths.
- Location: Clark County in The Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Visiting St. Thomas Today
Today one can visit the remnants of the town and see a one-of-a-kind ghost town in the United States. Visitors are now able to wander and roam amongst the remains of a true western town. To get to the site, follow a three-mile-long dirt access road to the parking lot and there is a trailhead to the town site from there.
- Part Of: Lake Mead Recreation Site
- Access: Via A Three Mile Long Access Dirt Road That Is A Little Bumpy
- Admission Fee: $25 Per Vehicle (7 Days)
The ghost town and the wilder Lake Mead Recreational Area is managed by the National Park Service. Check their website for updates and programs.
Visiting St. Thomas is a fun part of getting the most out of visiting Lake Mead - it can even be done on a day excursion from Las Vegas.
Visit The Lost City of The Ancestral Pueblos
St. Thomas is not the only lost city here. Long before the Mormons arrived, the region was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan and the Basket-Makers. Just across from St. Thomas was an Ancestral Puebloan settlement now known as the "Lost City."
Today one can visit a recreation of the ancient settlement in the town of Overton at the Lost City Museum.
- Lost City Museum Opening Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Admission Fee: $3 per Adult