|Boulder City History
by Dennis McBride
Naming public projects and public places can often cause a lot of trouble. When Interior Secretary Ray Lyman Wilbur came to Las Vegas on September 17, 1930 and announced the dam would be called Hoover, after Herbert Hoover, he caused confusion that exists to this day between “Hoover Dam” and “Boulder Dam.”
At the same time everyone was arguing about the dam’s name, there was another argument going on over what to name the town where the workers would live. As it was being planned in early 1930 the town had been referred to as the “construction camp,“ but also as Boulder Dam City and, at least twice, as Boulder City. On the same day Wilbur named the dam, he was also supposed to name the town. The Las Vegas Review-Journal suggested the town be named for Secretary Wilbur. As the paper put it, “Wilbur, Nevadasounds good, looks good, is good!” But after the trouble he got into naming the dam, Wilbur was loathe to approve naming the town after himself. He had a closed conference with construction engineer Walker Young and chief engineer Raymond Walter: their decision was to name the worker’s town Boulder City. The Review-Journal was not happy and pointed out that because Las Vegas, Nevada was so often confused with Las Vegas, New Mexico, why create the same problem between Boulder City, Nevada and Boulder, Colorado? Secretary Wilbur had to be satisfied with having the broad park in the middle of Boulder City named for him: Wilbur Square. So, for about two years, there was the Boulder Canyon Project, but Hoover Dam; Boulder City, but Wilbur Square. The road between Las Vegas and Boulder City was the Boulder Highwayuntil it got to Boulder City, when it became Nevada Way.
But in 1933, a new Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, restored the dam’s popular name, Boulder Dam. Then we had the Boulder Canyon Project, Boulder City, Boulder Dam, and the Boulder Highway. We also had the Boulder Dam Credit Union and the Boulder Dam Area Council of Boy Scouts. Wilbur Square, however, became Government Park, and Nevada Way morphed into the Nevada Highway. In 1947, Congress changed the dam’s name back to Hoover and the chaos started all over again. In 1985, in honor of Hoover Dam’s golden anniversary, Boulder City restored Wilbur’s name to Government Park, and, some years later, Nevada Highway’s route through Old Town became Nevada Way once again, although it is still Nevada Highway in the city’s approaches.
While some of these changes over the last 75 years have been political, personal, or merely forgetful, there’s only one thing that’s clear: anyone who thinks “a rose is a rose is a rose” is obviously not from Boulder City.
Sponsored by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.