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St. Thomas: Ghost Town And Ghost Lake

Jackson Ellis

Remains of the Fenton Whitney Home, the inspiration for Henry Lord's home.

St. Thomas is perhaps Nevada’s most well-known - and mysterious - ghost town. It’s at the northern end of Lake Mead, east of Valley of Fire and about 90 minutes east-northeast of Las Vegas.

It was settled by Mormons in the late 1800s, and at its peaked was home to about 500 people.

Hoover Dam doomed the town. In the 1930s, the town was gradually overtaken by the rising waters of Lake Mead. The last resident left 80 years ago this June.

But as the drought took hold in Nevada, the ruins of St. Thomas began peeking out from the water in 2002. Today, bits and pieces of the town stand high and dry from the water.

St. Thomas Trailhead/November 2012/Photo by: Jackson Ellis

And there is new life to St. Thomas, in a way, through a new novel, "Lords of St. Thomas," by Jackson Ellis.

Ellis said he was inspired to write the novel after hearing about Hugh Lord, a real resident of the town, who refused to leave his home until the water came into his house, "he sailed away on a rowboat and set fire to his home,” Ellis explained, “When I learned about him, I thought, there’s a great guy to base a character on and build a family around.”

The real Hugh Lord was a bachelor and didn't have a family. In Ellis' book, Henry Lord is the patriarch of a family and his refusal to leave has lasting implications for his family.

“The fact that he just refused to accept the inevitable I find that to be kind of not really an admirable trait but it is inspiring to write about just the same,” Ellis said.

He became fascinated by St. Thomas after reading about it in Desert Companion. He went out there several times to walk about the ruins. Ellis said it is surprising that a town was there at all and now besides the ruins of trees, houses and buildings there are shells and boat anchors littering the ground.

Ruins of St. Thomas/Photo by: Jackson Ellis

“It’s a ghost town in a ghost lake in a valley that is suited for neither,” he said.

Ellis is from New England, but he lived for a time in Las Vegas. He said he had seen ghost towns in New England growing up but they weren't the same as the ones scattered around Nevada.

“When I went to Nevada and I started visiting these ghost towns that are much younger than the ghost towns I was accustom to," he said, "They’re in such a dry area. It really sparks your imagination. You can really see how it once was.”

In the novel, one of the characters returns to Southern Nevada after being away since the water started to rise over St. Thomas. Ellis says that character arc speaks to the problem with reservoirs like Lake Mead.

To the families of the men who lost their lives building Hoover Dam and those who lost their homes to the rising waters of Lake Mead, it seems monstrously unfair but for those who can live in Southern Nevada because of Lake Mead - it may not seem unfair.

"Was it worth it? Probably to the millions of people in Las Vegas today and that have lived there since, yes," he said, "People who lost their lives and their homes, probably not, because it was their lives."

From Desert Companion: Lake Mead: Water World

Jackson Ellis, author,  "Lords of St. Thomas."

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.