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St. Thomas: the former former Mormon settlement that is reemerging from the receding waters of Lake Mead.

3 min read

This is the story of St. Thomas, a ghost town in Clark County, Nevada, near where the Muddy River flows into the Colorado River.
Originally founded in 1865 by Mormon settlers, the tiny town was eventually drowned after the building of the Hoover Dam.
But now the dramatically disappearing waters of the lake have lowered, the ruins have reappeared and the ghost town is now located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

St. Thomas was founded by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), led by Thomas Smith in 1865.
Consisting of farms and businesses put in place by pioneers looking to tame the West, the town reached a population of 500 souls at its peak, and was at one point the county seat of Pahute County.
The frontier settlement is also noted as the endpoint of explorer John Wesley Powell’s first Colorado River expedition, the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, the first thorough cartographic and scientific investigation of long segments of the Green and Colorado rivers in the southwestern United States, including the first recorded passage of white men through the entirety of the Grand Canyon.

In any case, when the Mormon settlers established the settlement, they thought that they were building their town in Utah, but within a few years, a survey placed their town in Nevada. When a new town had appeared in its borders, the state of Nevada decided to levy taxes against the residents, including owed taxes from previous years, payable only in gold.
Thus, unable to fork over the gold the state was demanding, they chose to leave without paying in 1871 and the city was abandoned.
Thus the Mormon settlers moved to Utah, where many of them founded new towns in Long Valley (present day Glendale, Orderville, and Mount Carmel).

When the LDS Church members left in 1871, others claimed their abandoned properties.
One of the few to remain was Daniel Bonelli of St. Thomas, who farmed, mined and owned Bonelli’s Ferry on the Colorado River at Junction City, later Rioville. After being abandoned by most of its first settlers, new settlers came to the St. Thomas and other places in the area in the 1880s.
However once the Hoover Dam was built, the nearby Colorado River began to swell and soon the town had to be abandoned once again as the waters overtook it. By 1938, the town was no longer habitable and soon, it was completely submerged beneath the newborn Lake Mead. The final remaining resident of St. Thomas, Hugh Lord, leaving June 11, 1938, set fire to his home before getting into his boat and rowing away.

After rampant water consumption has drastically lowered the level of the lake, the remains of St. Thomas started to surface.
Building foundations and chimneys are beginning to rise above the water, reminding visitors of the town that once was. Should the drought in the area ever abate the town may once again disappear, but for now the old settlement is a puzzle of concrete foundations….

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