Early gaming pioneers like “Bugsy” Siegel and Moe Dalitz may have driven Las Vegas to become the Gaming Capital of the World, but only because of the groundwork Charles Pember “Pop” Squires set in motion decades earlier. We believe Squires deserves the “Father of Las Vegas” moniker for his foresight and civic dedication.
By the time Siegel and the Mob heard about Las Vegas, Squires had been publishing the Las Vegas Age newspaper for nearly 25-years. His views, advice, and determination made the city what it was for thousands of early residents. Every new settlement needs a hero, and Squires fits the bill.
Born in Waterloo, Wisconsin in 1865, Squires grew up in Austin, Minnesota where he took a job at the Austin Post Office as soon as he was of age. When his family moved to southern California, Squires got a real estate certificate and then a license to sell insurance. He watched the small town of Redlands grow around him and corresponded with a childhood friend, Delphine Anderson. In 1889 they were wed in Seattle where she was teaching school.
The funny thing about Las Vegas is that even more than 100 years ago people heard about the town and wanted to have a look. Of course, in 2016, the town registered more than 48 million visitors. In 1905, the visitors fit into a small train run by the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad.
In the Squires’s case, they arrived by car on a dusty, rutted road from Los Angeles that deposited drivers into a tiny town clustered around Fremont Street. The street, named for John C. Fremont, had traveled along what became known as the “Old Spanish Trail,” and put Las Vegas on a 1845 map of the area that he described on May 3 as “a camping ground called Las Vegas in the midst of another very large basin.”
Apparently, Congress printed 20,000 copies of Fremont’s 1845 report about his trip and his map and gave them away for free. Fremont was remembered, as was Kit Carson who traveled with him. Carson couldn’t read or write but spoke several dialects of Native American language. The capital of Nevada (Carson City) is named for him.
Anyway, we think it’s important to note that when the Squires arrived in Las Vegas, they were interested in being part of a new town, and also in getting rich. They brought along a decade of savings and joined with several business partners to take advantage of the low cost of new lots offered at an auction near the new train station at Fremont Street.
So “Pop” heard about the plans to extend the railroad from Los Angeles all the way to Salt Lake City, with the desert valley of Las Vegas as a water-stop. When they arrived, there was no place to sleep, no hotel, no private homes to share, just a tent owned by a Mr. Ladd.
Still, they stayed, and with partners, Chris N. Brown, J. Ross Clark, and Frank Waters borrowed $25,000 from banker John H. Pirtle and bought a city block, from Fourth Street to Fifth Street along Fremont. Then they used $1,250 to create the town’s first bank, aptly named First State Bank.
In 1906, “Pop” and Delphine moved into their own home at Fourth and Fremont. It had no electricity, but he and his partners had just recently started the Consolidated Power and Telephone Company, and with two 90-horsepower gasoline engines and two 50k Westinghouse generators, the new utility was soon able to produce 110V alternating current. The company also purchased 50 telephones, and everyone in town who could afford one was able to talk across the phone lines.
Las Vegas in the summer is like living on the surface of the sun, but gentlemen in the new town still wore stiff-collared shirts and suited jackets. What a tough go in the 110-degree heat. When the summer ended, the town celebrated with a new hotel, owned by Squires and his partners. It had been built with lumber from their partnership’s lumber yard, and new homes were built and sold in the partner’s real estate offices.
John Fremont and earlier travelers along the route from New Mexico and Arizona through Las Vegas all remarked that there was plenty of water in the valley. The springs were close to 70-degrees during the summer months. Now, with new residents arriving, the town needed a water district. The partners obliged. Then Squires purchased the Las Vegas Age newspaper from C.W. Nicklin for $2,300 and voiced his opinion about what could be done to improve the lives of every citizen in the small town.
The following year, from his newspaper offices at 411 E. Fremont, Squires installed a small weather station and became the official weather observer for Las Vegas. In 1910, along with others, Squires helped draft the Las Vegas City Charter and guided it through the legislature where it was signed by Governor Tasker Oddie on March 17, 1911.
Squires repeatedly promoted the creation of the Colorado River Commission and later championed the construction of Hoover Dam. When articles in the newspaper weren’t enough, he lobbied Congress to obtain funding for the dam’s construction. He did a damn good job on the dam.
Squires and his wife entertained public figures, helped fund local organizations and civic groups and saw their town grow. “Pop” continued publishing the Las Vegas Age until selling to Frank F. Garside, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1943. Squires stayed on as editor until 1947 when the newspaper ceased publication.
C.P. “Pop” Squires lived to the ripe old age of 93, passing away in 1958. He championed the city of Las Vegas to residents and visitors for nearly fifty-years, happy to see the town transform and grow from a whistle-stop along the railroad to a huge commercial success and entertainment capital enjoyed by millions. For that, he is still remembered as “The Father of Las Vegas.”