Las Vegas has a short but colorful history. The city’s museums tell that history with collections that could happen only in Vegas. Atomic testing, mobsters, and neon get their due, but that’s not all you’ll find.
Las Vegas has grown to be synonymous with Southern Nevada, although the actual city itself makes up only a small part of the region. The Las Vegas Strip, for instance, is actually in Clark County. Those geographical technicalities matter little to most visitors, who usually refer to the entire Southern Nevada region as Las Vegas.
Here are five uniquely Las Vegas museums about the area’s history:
1. The Mob Museum:The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Set to open on February 14, 2012, on the 83rd anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, The Mob Museum wants to show an inclusive history. The Mob Museum’s displays go beyond the Mob’s presence in Las Vegas, although that part of the city’s history is undeniable and unavoidable.
The museum’s subtitle also reveals an intention to include the stories of undercover cops like Joe Pistone (better known as Donnie Brasco), and Jack Garcia, who both infiltrated the ranks of organized crime. The building in which the museum is housed is almost an exhibit itself. It was one of 14 courthouses selected in America to house the Kefauver Committee hearings on organized crime in the 1950s.
2. The Atomic Testing Museum. Before anyone understood the risks of radiation, the mushroom clouds from the above-ground atomic tests at the Nevada Test Site were a tourist attraction. For decades, the nearby Test Site lent an air of mystery to the desert just outside Las Vegas. Today, the Atomic Testing Museum gives visitors a look into the test site and the world-changing atomic weaponry it helped develop.
3. Neon Boneyard and Museum. Few things say “Las Vegas” more than neon, and since 1996 the Neon Museum has been collecting these remnants of Vegas history. Currently visits to the Boneyard are by appointment only, but the gallery of signs on Fremont Street is always on display. At the Boneyard, a new visitor center is set to open in mid-2012, built within the rescued La Concha Motel Lobbydesigned by architect Paul Revere Williams.
4. Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. In the depths of the Great Depression, the construction of Hoover Dam provided much needed jobs and drew people to Southern Nevada. The working conditions at the dam were harsh. Triple-digit temperatures and steep, rocky cliffs were only part of the challenges encountered during the construction of Hoover Dam, a monumental engineering feat. The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, located in the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, gives visitors a look into the dam’s construction and the history of the workers.
5. Clark County Museum. A collection of preserved homes along Heritage Street showcases historic Southern Nevada homes. Nearby, a train depot and train pay homage to the railroad that helped put Southern Nevada on the map. You’ll find artifacts throughout the ghost town and mining trail, as well as a re-created wickiup, a shelter the Native American Paiutes used.