Shared memories add to city’s heritage

In a town steeped in history, it’s not uncommon to find something or someone with a connection to the city’s beginning.

You might have lunch in a downtown eatery whose building was one of the first constructed in the 1930s as Six Cos. provided a place for those working on the Hoover Dam to settle and raise their families. Or you could bump into one of the 31ers, the families who moved to the desolate desert and worked to create a thriving city.

There are still others, who are relative newcomers to Boulder City, but have such an appreciation for the past that they devote countless hours to preserving and restoring historic properties.

Of course, central to all of this is the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum that is dedicated to sharing the city’s heritage and its connection to an important part of our nation’s past.

Even though we are surrounded by history on a regular basis, it’s not very often that you get to come face-to-face with a museum exhibit — and have the subject of that exhibit answer your questions about what you saw. The smile on her face and twinkle in her eye as she spoke about her experience made my visit with Joy Allen McFate all the more special.

McFate is the daughter of one of the men who followed Frank Crowe to Boulder City to work on the dam. She was only about 5 years old when she arrived and left a few years later when her father went to work on another dam project.

Her stay in Boulder City was short, but she left her mark permanently. McFate was the young girl who fell into a barrel of tar. Her tale is part of the museum’s exhibit about life in the burgeoning city.

She was accompanied by her niece, Reva Allen Richard, who is only eight months younger. Richard’s father, Marion V. Allen, was McFate’s older brother and the author of a book about the construction of the city and dam.

The two women, now nearly 90 years old, were as animated Tuesday as they probably were back in the 1930s when they played in the streets of Boulder City.

Their recollections of the city and people that made Boulder City bubbled forth and flowed as freely as the water in the Colorado River that shaped their early childhoods. Sitting in the museum, they shared tales of going to school, roller skating on the few sidewalks that existed, who lived in what house, and where everyone went when work on Hoover Dam was finished.

They spoke highly of “Uncle Frank” and his concern for the safety of the men who worked on the dam, and they shared about how others who were not affiliated with dam projects treated those who were.

Among the many stories they shared were of McFate’s two older sisters who worked in the company store. She said the store as overrun by mice so they brought in some tomcats to control the rodent population. Unfortunately, neither of her sisters were familiar enough with the cats’ habits and tendency to mark their territory. The lingering smell from their spray made visiting the store unpleasant and some merchandise unfit for sale. The cats also scratched up a bit of the furniture, she said.

For nearly two hours the ladies regaled myself and Shirl Naegle of the museum with stories of their childhoods. It was enough to fill a museum, not just with exhibits, but with laughter, life and a link to our city’s past that will extend far beyond one short visit.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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