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Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is shown here probably around 1935 when construction was almost complete.

Construction of the Hoover Dam took five years — from 1931 to 1936 — to build what was then the largest concrete dam in the world. It was built in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, in northwestern Arizona on the border with Nevada.

The Lumberjack bus in the foreground had brought a group of students from then-Northern Arizona State Teacher’s College in Flagstaff for a view of the huge project before the lake began to fill behind the dam.

The bus is parked on the Arizona side of the river. Nevada is across the gorge.

The building of Hoover Dam was one of the first steps in the U.S.

Bureau of Reclamation’s long-running effort to harness the Colorado River and divide the water among the Western states it traveled through. Originally called Boulder Dam, it was renamed for President Herbert Hoover in 1948.

As soon as construction was completed in 1936, a power plant was added, and electricity was sold to defray the costs of construction.

Even today, much of Las Vegas’ famed neon and southern California’s millions of residents depend on electricity from Hoover Dam.

Hoover is an arch-gravity dam. It rises 726 feet above the Colorado and is 660 feet thick at the base. U.S. Highway 93 used to curve along the top of the dam, which is 45 feet wide. The public areas of the dam have an art-deco style characteristic of the 1930s. Sculptures adorn the elevator towers, and elsewhere there is an emphasis on sleek lines and smooth curves.

Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead, the world’s largest reservoir, which stretches upstream some 110 miles above the dam, all the way to Pierce’s Ferry and the edge of Grand Canyon National Park. The lake was named after Dr. Elwood Mead,who was commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation at the time the dam was built.

As the lake filled behind the dam, it covered the remains of two historic Mormon settlements — Callville and St. Thomas. Callville was the county seat of Pah Ute County, a governmental subdivision that was in existence only from 1865 to 1871, after which it was absorbed into Mohave County.

When the dam was first proposed to President Woodrow Wilson by journalist Anson Smith of the Mohave County Miner, he is said to have told the journalist the idea was 50 years ahead of its time. In fact, within 15 years, the dam was completed, as the U.S. government focused on development of the West.

U.S. Route 93 — a major north-south inter-mountain highway — no longer uses the top of the dam to ferry traffic between Arizona and Nevada.

This stretch of road had been plagued by serious traffic congestion for many years. In late 2005, construction of the bypass bridge over the gorge was begun. The project, completed and opened to the public on Oct. 19, 2010, now whisks drivers between the Silver and Grand Canyon States at 900 feet above the mighty Colorado River.

— Joan Brundige-Baker. Photo courtesy of the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University.

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