There’s more to Wendover than meets the eye. This small oasis boasts a rich history of people who played an important part in creating the American West.
Wendover‘s history began with a railroad station. In the early 1900s, the Western Pacific Railroad searched for a meeting point between east and westbound trains. They needed a place where they could unload helper engines pushing heavy train cars over the Sierra Nevada’s and reattach them to westbound trains making the same trip.
In 1907, they picked a small area on the border of Utah and Nevada for the job. Here, they established a railroad encampment. This led to loading docks, water storage, housing, terminals and permanent yard crews. Gradually, the humble beginnings of Wendover began to materialize.
William F. Smith arrived in Wendover in 1924 with only the clothes on his back. After working and saving for two years, he bought the Cobblestone Service Station for $500 with his business partner, Herman Eckstein. The Cobblestone Service Station, spanned both of the Utah and Nevada Border.
Bill was the first person to receive a Nevada gambling license after the practice was legalized in 1931. The station became the State Line restaurant, hotel and casino. Bill painted a distinct white line down the floor to demonstrate that no gambling took place in Utah.
The Famous Wendover Will Statue
A bright lightpost joined the stark white line. It was located in front of the casino and was never turned off. In 1952, it was replaced by the iconic “Wendover Will” statue named after William himself. Likewise, the State Line became the Wendover Nugget in 2002.
Will’s wife, Anna, joined in his legacy by agreeing to marry him in 1935. She came from snowy Mt. Pleasant Utah to Wendover in 1933 with her family. Anna continued to run the business after Will passed away in his sleep in 1958. She worked tirelessly throughout her life to grow Wendover. For example, she created affordable housing out of the old WWII Air Force Base. She also funded both the San Felipe Catholic Church and a chapel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When Anna left this life to join her husband in 1991, she left behind the W.F. and Anna Smith Scholarship foundation. The scholarship provides local students with opportunities to continue their education. Wendover continues to celebrate this dynamic, pioneering duo by holding Anna Smith Day every August 31.
Wendover is known for the airfield that transformed the town into a bustling city during WWII. 20,000 soldiers, pilots, and other military personnel arrived in Wendover and subsequently changed the city forever. Although their stay wasn’t permanent, they made their mark.
It was the soldiers created Jukebox Cave. Or, rather, gave it its name. The cave was the perfect place for a dance hall–with one or two modifications. They leveled a section toward the back and pouring concrete, then soldiers hauled up music players, generators, and lights. As a result, it became the perfect place to get away and have fun amidst the worries of war and training.
And even though there was dancing, war and training was the reason for their stay. The Wendover Airfield was the training base for B-17 and B-24 bomber crews as well as for the 509th Composite Group who carried out the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Visit the Wendover Airbase site for history.
Many people are familiar with the Golden Spike, but lesser known is Wendover’s claim to the “Golden Splice,” the completion of the transcontinental telephone line in 1914. Out of 130,000 poles and 13 states, the Utah-Nevada border had the privilege of initiating the final connection in the long-anticipated line of direct communication between America’s East and West coasts. The pole that completed the connection is located in front of the casino, Montego Bay. Wendover knew it played a key part in the monumental event when Alexander Graham Bell, in New York City, called his assistant Thomas A. Watson in San Francisco.
To commemorate the Golden Splice, the US Postal Service issued a stamp depicting Ralph Knudsen splicing the line in one hand and raising a US flag in the other.
Whether it’s train cars, states, ideas, or telephones, Wendover’s always had a unique way of joining two different things. Bridge the gap between the past and present making historic Wendover part of your current stay.