School children and their teacher in Las Vegas at the first school in Las Vegas near 2nd and Lewis streets, circa 1908. (Helen Stewart Photograph Collection. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives.)

Back to School in the Early 1900s

According to its website, the Clark County School District currently has more than 320,000 students enrolled in grades K-12 and is the fifth largest school district in the nation. Such numbers would have been unbelievable to the small group of pioneers who settled in Southern Nevada back in the early 20th century and sent their children to the first schools in Las Vegas. A look at historical photographs of these early buildings highlights the sparseness of the desert landscape, as well as the hope and optimism of students who attended school in these dusty and somewhat primitive surroundings.

A close-up view of students and teachers surrounding the one-room schoolhouse on 2nd and Lewis. (Jacob E. Von Tobel Photo Collection.UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives.)

Most of us have only seen a one-room schoolhouse on television in shows like Little House on the Prairie, but here’s proof that one existed in Las Vegas in the first decade of the 20th century. This wooden building was located at 2nd and Lewis streets, and it’s impressive how clean and tidy the children look in their starched dresses and suits, especially when you consider the unpaved roads that ran through Las Vegas in these early years.

Las Vegas Grammar School Complex, circa 1920s. (Ferron-Bracken Photo Collection. UNLV Libraries
Special Collections & Archives.)

As the city grew, it was clear that a larger school was needed, and, by 1910, a new building was constructed on Fifth Street that would house both the grammar and high school grades. Like many buildings in early Las Vegas, it was designed in the Mission Revival style. With so few trees surrounding the school, the months of May and September must have been pretty uncomfortable in the days before air conditioning.

​Las Vegas High School, circa 1930-31. (Jacob E. Von Tobel Photo Collection. UNLV Libraries
Special Collections & Archives.)

In 1930, a separate new high school was constructed on Seventh Street and Bridger Avenue in a style known as “Aztec Moderne.” It aroused some controversy initially because the location was considered so far from the center of town that there was a fear it might not attract enough students to be viable. Just two years after its opening, however, Las Vegas High School was filled to capacity. As most longtime residents know, the campus moved in 1993, and the original buildings now serve as the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Su Kim Chung, Ph.D., has been immersed in the history of Las Vegas since she began work in the UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives Division in 1999. She is the author of multiple editions of the book Las Vegas Then and Now.

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