Growing up: How Lake Havasu Became The Town It Is Today

Growing up: How Lake Havasu Became The Town It Is Today
Grace Usher / 01 Jan 2018 / 3 Comments » Comments


Lake Havasu City is a thriving community with economic and cultural expansion that has continued since its beginning. 

Lake Havasu City wasn’t even a thought when the U.S. Army Air Corps developed a small fishing camp and a place for GIs to enjoy some rest and recreation during World War II.

A view of Rotary Beach shoreline from the sky in its early years. photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

In 1958, Robert P. McCulloch, a successful businessman, saw the potential of the lake for testing his high-performance outboard motors. 

He purchased the 3,000-acre fishing camp and developed the motor test sight. And soon after, McCulloch Properties purchased another 13,000 acres of the surrounding area. On Sept. 30, 1963, Lake Havasu was unofficially born.

The initial land purchased by McCulloch was located on what is now “The Island.”

McCulloch then relocated his chain saw manufacturing operation to Lake Havasu City and began a “fly-in” program through McCulloch Airlines. Fly-ins were brought to Lake Havasu City to consider relocating to the sunny desert town from northern, cold and snowy climbs.

When the visionary learned the City of London was selling its famed London Bridge, it was just the icon he was looking for to highlight the new dessert community. McCulloch bought the bridge in 1968. It was officially dedicated in 1971 and drastically changed the layout of Lake Havasu.

A photo of Lake Havasu in the early years. Photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

In addition to its physical attributes, a town is reflected by its residents. In 1970, the population was a mere 4,000 people. By 1980, the town has expanded exponentially to a population of 15,000. In 1990, the U.S. Census accounted that the population had doubled to nearly 25,000 people. By 2000, the population was more than 40,000 people. Today, the population is recorded at more than 50,000 residents.

A view of Lake Havasu on December 31, 2017 from a hot air balloon. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Today, Lake Havasu City extends over 40 square miles of land. There are approximately 17,000 homes in Lake Havasu and new construction is constant. The most recent expansion was the Foothills living area that expanded the town more east toward the eastern mountains. Currently, on the south side of town, the city has plans to add 300 more homes as well as a second marina.

From a small start by one man who saw the potential of a desert landscape in the 1960s to a booming attraction for residents and visitors Lake Havasu City is a young, fresh town with a lot of growth potential in 2018.

A very special thank you to balloon pilot Morgan Braden for taking RiverScene team members in his hot air balloon for this story.

A view of the London Bridge from Lake Havasu’s early years. photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History


A view of the London Bridge in 2015. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


A view of the north end of Lake Havasu from a hot air balloon on December 31, 2018. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


A view looking towards the south end of Lake Havasu from a hot air balloon on December 31, 2017. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


Balloon pilot Gary Moore flies over Lake Havasu with Cupcake Mountain in the background on December 31, 2017. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


A couple waves at the RiverScene team as they fly near their home in a hot air balloon Sunday morning. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


A view of Havasupai Elementary from a hot air balloon on December 31, 2017. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene


A view looking towards the east of Lake Havasu Sunday morning during a hot air balloon flight. Jillian Danielson

RiverScene found a youtube video of old home movies filmed by a Havasu family in 1941-1966. To view this video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nvwSiwBUQY

3 Comments » Comments:

3 Responses to “Growing up: How Lake Havasu Became The Town It Is Today”

  1. Richard vermeulen says:

    I remember we moved to Lake Havasu in 1972 there was 1 grocery store ( Claypools) there was a movie made there I’d love to find that movie

    • Troy Jensen says:

      “Day of the Wolves” was the name of the movie you’re thinking of, filmed in 1971.

      Here’s a link to a definitely non-HD recording of the entire film on YouTube:


      Some classic early Lake Havasu City sites seen throughout and indeed Claypool’s is robbed! Its actually not the worst film in the world, it’s a low-budget independent mastermind crime caper film.

      The first major production in Lake Havasu City was actually an episode of the television show “Route 66” (My mother said it was a favorite of hers – I was born in 1975 so both these productions pre-date me!). I actually have the full episode digitally remastered but it’s not setup for streaming (copyright laws). However, there’s an abrieviated versiion again on YouTube. The episode was called “Go Read The River” and technically when itt was filmed in 1963, it was still simply called Site Six. Some crazy cool EARLY Havasu scenes.

      First scene is filmed at McCulloch’s headquarters and Los Angeles manufacturing facility. From there the two stars head to Site Six to test boat engines. Both links again a partial:



      Hope you enjoy!!

  2. Troy Jensen says:

    The movie you are referring to Richard is “Day of the Wolves” – I’ve tried to post you links to that and an even earlier very cool television episode filmed in 1962 at Site Six bit this site is not having it tonight.

    One last try here.


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