What You Didn’t Know About St. Thomas Ghost Town
St. Thomas is one of the few ghost towns that were once underwater. This town, with a rich history, is a major attraction for history buffs and those interested in exploring the site’s ruins that got exposed after being submerged at about 60 feet beneath Lake Mead for several years.
From the old building formations to a few fence lines and other elements of the ghost town, you can find the hike to the site enlightening. A visit to St. Thomas can help you understand the town’s history and better understand the amount of water that has subsided from Lake Mead, which has lost much of its water due to drought.
The History of St. Thomas Ghost Town
Located in the northern part of the park near the Overton Arm along the Muddy River, which feeds into Lake Mead, St. Thomas experienced several settlements before becoming a ghost town in the late 1930s.
The history of the settlement started in about 300 A.D. as the Ancestral Puebloan and Basket-Makers settled in the area. Across the river from St. Thomas, there was also an Ancestral Puebloan settlement that became known as the Lost City.
These ancient cultures occupied the region for over a thousand years. They cultivated crops like beans and maize, residing in adobe constructions and pit houses.
The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), also known as Mormons, founded St. Thomas in 1865. Thomas Smith led the group, hence the town’s name. The location was a prime farming area, and travelers could stop at the town because it was located along the Arrowhead Trail between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Initially, the settlers thought they found the town in the Utah/Arizona territories. However, during the realignment of the states, a state boundary survey placed the town in Nevada in 1871, and the Nevada government demanded that the settlers pay taxes for inhabiting the land for the previous five years. In response, the settlers refused.
With the disagreement, the Mormons left the town, except for one family, the Bonelli’s. The ones who decided to go burned their homes and crops before moving to Salt Lake City. The Mormons that left moved to Utah and founded new towns in Long Valley, including current-day Glendale and Mount Carmel. In the 1880s, other Mormon settlers came to the town and rebuilt it.
As the town regrew, the St. Thomas population was around 500 people. While the town lacked indoor plumbing and electricity, it had facilities like a post office, school, church, soda fountain, grocery stores and garages.
What Happened to St. Thomas?
In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill authorizing the building of a Boulder Dam, now known as the Hoover Dam. Around that time, southern Nevada and California communities were growing rapidly. This population increase posed an issue because some of these communities were primarily farming, facing challenges in getting to their crops.
They decided to divert the Colorado River through a series of canals, but this attempt failed because the river broke its banks and created the current Inland Salton Sea in 1905. As the issue of irrigation persisted, there were legal battles until 1922, when the Secretary of Commerce at the time, Herbert Hoover, brokered a deal that resulted in the dam’s construction.
The dam distributed irrigation and hydroelectric power to the surrounding communities. Before the dam’s construction, the government told the residents of St. Thomas that they would have to relocate and that the government would reimburse them for their property. The water started rising in 1935, filling the surrounding areas, including St. Thomas and forcing the settlers to leave.
The town’s last resident, Hugh Lord, left in 1938, paddling away after water started entering his house.
The water covering St. Thomas has risen and subsided nine times. In 2002, a drought caused the waters to retreat a tenth time, exposing the ghost town to date. Family members and former residents have held reunions over the years, including in 1945, 1963 and 2012.
How Is St. Thomas a Ghost Town Now?
The National Park Service has set guideposts and signs that visitors can use to experience what the town was like before. You can visit the town within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
You can trek along the roads and trails and see the significant remains of the ghost town’s facilities, including Hannig Ice Cream Parlor and St. Thomas School. Historical artifacts are also available for viewing.
During your visit, you can notice that most homes had a cement hole in the ground or a cistern where residents stored water.
At Lake Mead Mohave Adventures, we recommend checking the surrounding tourist and camping areas while you plan a visit to set your itinerary right and enjoy your experience.
How To Get to St. Thomas Ghost Town
If you are coming from Las Vegas, the closest major city, you can get to St. Thomas about 65 miles northeast via Interstate 15 towards Salt Lake City, then take exit 75 towards the Valley of Fire Highway. The ghost town is located at the edge of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
St. Thomas is about 7 miles from Overton, so you can visit the town’s Lost City Museum to see the artifacts from the Ancestral Puebloan settlement.
While visiting the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, we recommend visiting nearby locations where you can do fun outdoor activities like boating, kayaking and biking.
Plan Your Trip to St. Thomas Ghost Town
St. Thomas ghost town is a thrilling site to visit and see previous settlements’ remnants that are still evident after being underwater over the years. The town’s old foundations, trail and history make it an exciting destination for nature explorers.
While you visit St. Thomas ghost town, you can camp at Lake Mead RV Village, rent a houseboat at Callville Bay Resort & Marina and add more fun to your tour with Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures. Lake Mead Mohave Adventures provides several campsites and marinas near Lake Mead and Lake Mohave for easy access.