Primm started as a border town, a desolate desert outpost on the highway with a gas station in the 1920s. The station owner was Pete MacIntyre. As this was the time of prohibition and Primm was a lonely stop, Pete had a hard time making ends meet selling gas.
As underground alcohol sales were profitable, he resorted to bootlegging even going so far as to build caves where he cooked up his moonshine. He became known as "Whiskey Pete".
His name and reputation live on in Primm history. More on that to follow.
There are mountains, rocks, and caves near Primm. While Primm itself was never a mining town, there were areas nearby that had mining success.
There are several deserted ghost towns near Primm including Roach, Calada, and Ivanpah. These towns can trace back over 150 years with mining booms and then subsequent busts.
There is of course still mining activity in nearby Mountain Pass, California.
Let’s take a look back at Primm’s history over the past half-century as it developed from a dusty, desert outpost to a popular destination on the Calfornia-Nevada border.
In 1977 Whiskey Pete's Hotel & Casino opened. It was the the first major hotel/casino in Primm. The property takes its name from early Primm business owner Pete MacIntyre.
When the Buffalo Bill's Resort & Casino was being built in the early 1990s, Whiskey Pete's unmarked grave was accidentally dug up while workers were building the bridge to the other side of I-15 in Primm.
The death car started out at Whiskey Pete's, then was moved over to Primm Valley Resort. It then had a stay at a casino in Verdi, Nevada and then the car and exhibit returned to Whiskey Pete's in 2011.
While the display cases and exhibit artifacts remain, the death car and most of the exhibit artifacts were recently loaned out to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California as part of an FBI exhibit.
The 1990s were a busy boom time in Primm. The Primm Valley Resort, Primm's most modern large hotel & casino property, opened in 1990.
In 1994, Buffalo Bill's Resort & Casino opened with much fanfare. In addition to the large casino/hotel property, it also had the Desperado Roller Coaster, a zone arcade, restaurants, a movie theater, and the Star of the Desert Arena.
In the mid-1990s, Whiskey Pete's was connected to Primm Valley Resort by a tram, billed as a single-car monorail, with an overpass over I-15. The tram ran about every 5 minutes and could transport up to 1,200 people per hour per direction.
As the town known as Stateline grew, it needed a new name. There was also a Stateline in western Nevada on the southern shoreline of Lake Tahoe at the California border. This created confusion.
To avoid confusion, the community was renamed Primm in 1996, after casino owner Ernest Jay Primm.
In 1998, the outlet mall, the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, now known as Prizm Outlets, opened.
The early 2000s were a period of growth for Primm. In 2004, an apartment building called the Desert Oasis was constructed in Primm to serve as housing for employees of the three large casinos in the community.
However, fortunes turned. The period following the Great Recession was difficult for Primm. A number of businesses and services in the community saw setbacks and shutdowns including the monorail, Buffalo Bill's, the roller coasters at Buffalo Bill’s including the Desperado, and the Desert of the Star Arena.
The community was further impacted by health conditions and government restrictions that started in March 2020.
Primm has seen the contraction in the number of stores at the outlet mall. Restaurants and other businesses also closed and hotel capacity has also shrunk way down.
While Primm’s economic activity has shrunk in recent years, there is hope for future growth in the community. It has a dry, warm climate, lots of land to develop nearby, and it’s only forty minutes from fast-growing Las Vegas.
Primm’s long-term prospects should improve as the region grows. It is already a traffic chokepoint with lots of California to Las Vegas travelers and commerce coming through I-15.
Primm also stands to gain considerably if a new Southern Nevada airport is built at the Ivanpah Valley site.