Henderson Historical Society Stories


Water in the Mojave

Henderson, Nevada - Then and Now

Water and Pipelines

BMIWaterPipeline-treeSome of the below photos show the water pipeline from Lake Mead to the BMI Project. The pipeline was completed in 1943. Prior to that all water in the Las Vegas valley came from artesian springs and wells. During construction of the BMI Plant and housing, water was hauled from wells by train to the site and stored in wooden tanks.

The first two photos below show the location of the pipeline at BMI picture near the present day gate to Lake Mead on Lake Mead Drive. The color photo taken in 2012, is near the same place as the original photo site. Notice the dirt service road is probably the original and in the color version the new, paved River Mts. Bike trail.

The old pipeline of 1943 is still in operation working alongside a number of new pipelines that supply not only Henderson but also Las Vegas. Over the years the pipeline has sprung a few leaks and supported some nice volunteers (see attached) like the cottonwood tree shown at right in a photo from 2004.


Magnesium Maggie

The original Bombshell. A Magnesium Maggie hard at work at the BMI plant, circa 1940.

Most people have heard of Rosie the Riveter, but on a local level, Southern Nevada had its own version of hard-working, wartime women known as “Magnesium Maggies.” The term was coined by researcher and former war worker herself, Irene Rostine. Ms. Rostine’s work is focused on the role of women in Southern Nevada’s magnesium war industry. With the largest group working at the Basic Magnesium Plant in Henderson, women drove forklifts, handled ingots, were full-fledged machinists, and worked over molten metal. Find more about Magnesium Maggie here:

Magnesium Maggie: Ready to do the Job

Were you or someone in your family a Magnesium Maggie at the BMI plant? If so, we want to know. Tell us your story! It’s worth it’s weight in gold…or magnesium.


Architect Paul Revere Williams

Paul R. Williams and the Design of the Basic Townsite

Image: HERALD EXAMINER COLLECTION/Los Angeles Public Library

At the peak of its production, BMI had 13,618 workers on-site, dwarfing the 5,250 employed on the Boulder Dam project. At one time, it is estimated that nearly 10% of the total population of Nevada worked at BMI during the plant’s construction and use. At its peak, BMI’s weekly payroll was greater than the monthly payroll at the nearby Hoover Dam.

In 1941, world-renowned architect, Paul R. Williams was commissioned to design a housing development of 1,000 homes for the growing BMI work force, most of whom were living in canvas tents.  Famous for his work with wealthy clients, Williams was known as the “Architect to the Hollywood stars.” Yet Williams had a practical side and he brought his vision to the design of what was known as the Basic Townsite.  Envisioning homes that were comfortable, functional and defined by his love of California flavor, the Basic Townsite was conceived as a company town.

While Williams himself was African-American, the Basic Townsite he designed was closed to the thousands of African Americans who worked at the plant or in local support industries. It is not known whether the issue of segregation was ever brought up in the design phase.  High labor turnover, substandard working conditions at the plant, chlorine gas in the air, and an atmosphere that was not conducive to family life resulted in workers looking for alternative housing and ultimately, the project was never fully occupied.

Williams continued to have a thriving career as an architect and designed over 3,000 buildings, served on many municipal, state and federal commissions, was active in political and social organizations and earned the admiration and respect of his peers.  He was the first African American elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

If you would like to learn more about visit the Paul Revere Williams website.