Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Pleasure of Local History

In Florida, I learned about Ponce de Leon, and the Fountain of Youth, and St. Augustine in my history classes. But there I was in South Florida, and there was St. Augustine in Northeast Florida. I could read about it, but I couldn't readily see it. We went there sometimes during my childhood, but the last time I could remember going was when I was reaching my late teens, when my paternal grandparents were with us on that trip, and even then it was relatively brief, although I do remember seeing the fort. But if I wanted to know more about it beyond those visits, there were the books. We didn't always have reason to go back and if it was a choice between that or Walt Disney World today, I would choose Walt Disney World first and then see if there was time later to travel on up to St. Augustine.

The biggest disappointment of moving from South Florida to Southern California, before nine years' existence in Southern California became the biggest disappointment, was that I only got to see Tallahassee, my state capital, once, and that was when we were driving out of Florida. That's where the legislature meets and that's where the governor's mansion is. I don't think I saw the governor's mansion on the way out, but I saw the Capitol. And that's all I saw of my seat of state government. In years to come, I want to go back to visit, to see how my old haunts have changed, and I'd like to see Tallahassee again, to spend more time, to have a closer look at what remained far away as we drove by.

It's because of that missed opportunity that I hold more dearly to me the pleasure of having history nearby in Las Vegas, some in Henderson, and in Boulder City. Mostly Boulder City, since it's my favorite place in Southern Nevada. I have here a book called Hoover Dam & Boulder City by Marion V. Allen, whose family lived in Boulder City, and who also worked on the construction of Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam back then). I always love receiving books from the Boulder City library because it's my favorite in the entire Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, although it operates differently in many ways from the rest of the libraries in that cluster, with a separate website for one, and you're given two extra days with any books you receive from that branch because of the distance. Boulder City is close enough to Las Vegas, closer to Henderson, but when you drive there, it feels like a different world, higher up in the mountains. Unlike the trapped feeling I always got in Santa Clarita, there's so much more to see here, so much more to wonder about.

Besides reading Hoover Dam & Boulder City out of my fervent desire to know more about the history of all that's around me, I'm looking for more information about Boulder City manager Sims Ely, who ran the town single-handedly during the construction of Hoover Dam. He was hired by the government to do so, to be sure that their investment did not go to waste, and I think there's more history of him to be found, more stories that should be told. To some, he was a despot, but that may be only because he didn't allow gambling or alcohol inside Boulder City. He strikes me as having been fair-minded, but there's not as much to be found about him as there should be. I hope to rectify that in time.

But more than any of that, I love reading about living conditions in Boulder City and Hoover Dam construction and know that I have been to both. I read these details and I know exactly what's being referenced, where it is, and what it looks like today. I'm not good yet with directions in Boulder City, which streets intersect and the easiest way to get to the Boulder City library, but I'll get there. I have lots of time for that. To be able to go to those scenes of history, to be there and remember what I have read and picture it right there is new to me. As mentioned, I didn't have the chance all that often in Florida, and there was very little history of Southern California that I cared to know, outside of Buena Park and Anaheim, and even then, I didn't get as deep into Buena Park, where other history might have been. So this is pretty much all new to me, always fascinating, and I don't think it will ever waver. Nor will the sheer novelty of the California-Nevada border being merely 35 minutes away, albeit with long stretches of road empty on both sides. Both my parents came from New York and therefore it was nothing to them to go into New Jersey or Connecticut and back again. The biggest thing for me in Florida in terms of travel like that was that it took only an hour to get from the east side of the state to the west side, from Pembroke Pines, where we lived many years before we moved, to Naples. Only an hour! And yet, there were no states to cross until you get to Northern Florida, and then out. The only time I had ever crossed borders was from the air, when we flew on Delta from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark in 1994, and all I noticed were mountains we flew over. I didn't even think of borders.

Now, when we're in Primm, especially at the lotto store to the left of the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I can look right out at the roads and see the border and the signs right there, one welcoming drivers to California on the right, and the other welcoming drivers to Nevada on the left. That I can see that, and I can see where history happened wherever I want, and see what it is today and if aspects of that history have been preserved (beyond Hoover Dam, of course, and the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum all the way in the back on the second floor of the Boulder Dam Hotel), at times means more to me than seeing the Strip just as often. I love knowing that others have been here before me and I always want to know what brought them there and how they reacted when they first saw it, and what they wanted to do when they got here, what they were looking for. Just another way of knowing that I really am home.

1 comment:

  1. We went to St. Augustine a couple of years ago. The main part is a tourist trap. I'd like to go there with someone who really knows the city.