Photo by Cierra Pedro

The Clark County Museum Looks Back at Its own Past

"50 Years of Preserving History: Celebrating the Golden Anniversary of the Clark County Museum" pays homage to the last five decades.

Whether it’s displaying the history of the Nellis Air Force Base or talking about Clark County’s role in World Wars I and II, the Clark County Museum has always dedicated space to chronicling life in Southern Nevada.

“We hear [about world events] on a macro scale, but we often miss the fact that it affected us too,” says Mark Hall-Patton, the museum’s administrator. While it’s important to preserve the history of the area, Hall-Patton says there is another legacy worth looking at.

Mark Hall-Patton | Photo by Cierra Pedro

Clark County Museum’s latest exhibit, 50 Years of Preserving History: Celebrating the Golden Anniversary of the Clark County Museum, pays homage to the last five decades. “We are the oldest and largest museum in the Valley, and we’re kind of proud of ourselves,” Hall-Patton says. “This is a look back on our history.”

On April 20, 1968—at exactly 1 p.m.—the Southern Nevada Museum opened inside a condemned gymnasium in downtown Henderson.

The first collection came from items acquired by Anna Roberts Parks, a local mortician who enjoyed gathering various historic objects, from Native American artifacts and taxidermy specimens to rocks. When she died in 1962, her assortment of objects was bequeathed to her family, who then worked with the Henderson Chamber of Commerce to open the museum.

Photos by Cierra Pedro

“It was much different back then,” Hall-Patton says. “It was hands-on and you could touch everything. You can’t preserve things that way. It wasn’t a professionally run museum at the beginning, but at least it was open.”

There were many changes and challenges in the first several years, including nearly getting shut down.

“People think the hardest thing for a museum is getting a collection,” Hall-Patton adds. “It’s not. The hardest thing is keeping the lights on.”

Clark County saved it by bringing it under its wing in 1979.

Today, the museum is located on 30 acres of land on Boulder Highway near Wagonwheel Drive. Beyond the main building, which hosts both permanent and rotating displays, is Heritage Street, which features restored historic buildings.

Every few months, the changing exhibit picks a new topic to highlight, such as Las Vegas’ memorabilia and souvenirs or casinos and hotels that have been bulldozed or imploded.

Photo by Cierra Pedro

For the past few months, Malcolm Vuksich, the curator for 50 Years of Preserving History, worked to find documents and photographs about the museum, including handwritten notes from its first director and concept designs for proposed buildings.

The exhibit also pays tribute to the museum’s five directors of the last 50 years: Roy Purcell, Marjorie Ivary, Bernard Nolan, Mark Ryzdynski and Hall-Patton.

Along with the story of what it took to keep it all open are miscellaneous items from the larger collection.

“The exhibit is partially chronological and partially collections-based,” Hall-Patton says. “Part of what we wanted to show is some of the things we haven’t featured over the years.”

Throughout the next two months, Clark County is planning to host a variety of events honoring the anniversary, such as a guided tour with Hall-Patton on April 20.

The collection runs until August 26.