|Boulder City History
by Dennis McBride, Boulder City Museum & Historical Assn.
During Boulder City’s earliest years disease was a constant threat. Before there was penicillin, tetracycline, or any of the pharmacopeias we take for granted today, citizens were often taken by common illness. Boulder’s population was in constant flux as workers and their families moved in and out, and one child’s cough could quickly turn into an epidemic.
As early as 1931 there were meningitis outbreaks among dam workers that spread through town. One worker died of the disease in October 1931, after which the epidemic swept Boulder City and brought many children down. To prevent a panic when he developed meningitis Marbus Browder, son of prominent Boulder City businesswoman Ida Browder, was taken out of Boulder City secretly by train. He died in June in Salt Lake City where he’d gone for treatment. Schools in Boulder City and Las Vegas were closed for several days.
Schools in Boulder City were closed again in November 1933 when a flu epidemic sickened over a thousand citizensnearly 20% of the city’s population. Scarlet fever, measles, mumps, chicken pox, small pox, diphtheria, whooping cough, even typhoid outbreaks occurred.
In response to infectious disease, the Six Companies established an isolation hospitalknown among the townspeople as the pest houseon the southern edge of town. The building had originally been one of the contractor’s temporary dormitories. It had eight beds and was surrounded by a wire fence. Nurses from the Six Companies hospital brought meals to the infectious patients, and as each patient recovered, he was expected to help care for the others.
Ordinary townsfolk, however, were subject to strict quarantine in their homes. One dam worker came home to find his wife and two children had come down with measles while he was at work; government rangers had put a quarantine sign on the front door and the worker had to live somewhere else until his family recovered. Neighbors cooked meals and left them on the front porch for the wife and children.
Eventually, once Hoover Dam was finished and Boulder City’s population stabilized, disease outbreaks were rare. In the 1940s and ‘50s there were polio scares when Boulder City schools and the Boulder Theatre were closed, and when young people were forbidden to gather.
In later years, many diseases which plagued Boulder City’s early residents were eradicated or made easily treatable. But even today, from time to time, nature reminds us we aren’t medically invincible; as late as 1998, viral meningitis brought down a number of Boulder City schoolchildren.
Sponsored by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.