Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lake Havasu Museum of History, 10/27/2015

Wherever we travel, we always enjoy visiting local museums. We had passed this one on our way to the Visitor Center and the London Bridge. Knowing that Lake Havasu City was founded in 1964, I couldn't imagine there even was much history to this town!  

An eight-minute video provides an excellent overview of the town. The museum is basically one large room with exhibits arranged in chronological order starting with the Native Americans that lived in the area: the Chemehuevi and the Mojave. Today there is a 35,000-acre Chemehuevi reservation located on the California shore of Lake Havasu across from Lake Havasu City.

A petroglyph exhibit features a rock and photos of ones found in the region. We have seen some of these during our travels. 

Steamboats provided the cheapest and most efficient means of transportation in the West for about 50 years beginning in the mid-1800s. River steamers traversed 600 miles of the Colorado River stopping at Liverpool Landing (now known as Site Six in Lake Havasu City). When the Laguna Dam was completed in 1909, the steamboat era on the Colorado came to an end. 

Mining: Gold was discovered here in 1857 and there many gold mines in the area. While all of them are closed today, some prospectors continue to seek gold using electronic devices to detect it. 

Below is a model of the Parker Dam, a concrete arch-gravity dam built between 1934 and 1938) that crosses the Colorado River 155 miles south of the Hoover Dam. It is reportedly the "deepest dam in the world" at 320' high with 235' below the riverbed). It has two purposes, to create a reservoir (Lake Havasu) and generate hydroelectric power. The Colorado River Basin serves the western states of WY, UT, CO, NV, CA, AZ, and NM. Therefore the use and access to the water resource is highly regulated. 

During World War II, the area called The Island in Lake Havasu City, was one of the sites used by the Army Air Corps to train B-bomber crews. Named Site Six, it also served as a R&R site for the Army. 

Robert McCulloch, an engineer, entrepreneur, successful businessman, and millionaire at age 32, founded Lake Havasu City in 1963. He purchased 26 square miles  of rocky, undeveloped land paying $73/acre. Forty years later, an acre was worth $595,000. Initially he was looking for a place to test his outboard motors and Lake Havasu fit the bill. He hired a friend, C.V. Wood, Jr., the master planner of Disneyland, to design and help build the town. McCulloch (also known for his chainsaw business) moved his entire operation to Lake Havasu City creating jobs for those who relocated to the area.

When Lake Havasu City was not growing rapidly enough from McCullough's perspective, he continued to look for ways to attract residents and visitors. Lo and behold, the City of London but the London Bridge up for sale because the heavy granite bridge was sinking at the rate of 1/8 per year. McCulloch paid $2,460,000 for the bridge. It was disassembled (carefully marking each stone), shipped through the Panama Canal to from the UK to California, and then hauled overland by truck to Lake Havasu City where it was reassembled. 

The interior of the bridge is hollow where reinforced steel and cement were used to fortify the bridge built in 1831. Interior granite stones were sold by McCulloch to buyers who used them as headstones, mementos, etc. The bridge was reconstructed on dry land, and then the area that became to Bridgewater Channel was dredged to create The Island (which was previously a peninsula). The Island is connected to Lake Havasu City by the London Bridge. The final cost for the entire project is estimated at $7M. Today, it is the second most popular attraction in Arizona (the Grand Canyon is #1) and about 4M visit it annually. 

The last three exhibits feature Desert Nature including fossils found in the area, fish found in Lake Havasu, and mammals of the desert. 

There is one more exhibit outside of the jail cages used in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yes, prisoners were kept outside in this jail while awaiting transfer to Kingman, AZ.

Admission to the museum is $5/adult. I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the exhibits we saw here and found it to be very interesting. The folks that manage the museum were friendly and informative. It only takes about an hour or so to visit, so check it out if you are in the area.

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