In the late nineteenth century, railroads had not yet reached the southeastern corner of Nevada. By the turn of the century, however, the Union Pacific Railroad and the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake line eyed the region, looking for ways to connect Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Virtually the only possible route was through the narrow Meadow Valley Wash to Moapa and then across the Las Vegas Valley toward southern California. The two railroads each acquired title to part of the right-of-way and began laying track. When they met in Clover Valley, 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas and the site of present-day Caliente, fights ensued between workers of the rival companies, but the railroads finally reached a compromise. Caliente, given its name because of its hot springs, became a division point and maintenance center for the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake line. (Union Pacific later acquired the railroad.)
Like other railroad towns, Caliente gained a broad right-of-way, with commercial streets parallel to the track on both sides. The commercial district on Clover Street, located across the tracks from the main part of town, is a classic railroad row. Beginning with the Richard Railroad Hotel (c. 1925) at the east end and extending all the way to the depot, the buildings here reflect the boom of the 1920s, when Caliente flourished as an active division point, helper station, and passenger hub. Although new metal siding covers many of the historic facades, stone-faced concrete-block buildings and even an Art Deco theater are visible. Like other railroad rows, this one housed a diverse collection of services, including hotels, a market, and the local Odd Fellows Hall. Across the tracks, a row of railroad workers' housing lines one side of Spring Street (U.S. 93), the other main road in town.
Following World War II, Caliente declined in importance as a railroad center. The diesel locomotives that replaced steam engines in the late 1940s and early 1950s could run in multiples with one crew, eliminating the need for helpers. Nor did they require fuel, water, and servicing as frequently. As a result, the railroad gradually reduced forces and facilities. Union Pacific moved its shop facilities from Caliente to Las Vegas in 1948. Later the railroad removed the roundhouse, water tank, and excess yard tracks. Caliente has survived thanks to the establishment of three state parks nearby and traffic on U.S. 93.
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