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Salt Lake & Alta Railroad (1913-1917)

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Overview

Salt Lake & Alta Railroad (1913 to 1917)

The Salt Lake & Alta railroad was a standard gauge railroad operating between Midvale, on the Denver & Rio Grande, eastward to Wasatch, at the mouth of Little Cottonwood canyon, and the site of granite quarries used to build the Utah state capital and other large buildings in Salt Lake City and other cities.

Originally built as the narrow gauge Wasatch & Jordan Valley in 1873, the line was used to haul ores from the Little Cottonwood mines, and granite blocks for the Salt Lake City LDS temple. The line from Midvale to Wasatch was converted to standard gauge in June 1891, as part of Rio Grande Western's general conversion of a majority of its lines in Utah.

The Salt Lake & Alta was another of J. G. Jacobs’ projects, having built the Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad, and the Copper Belt Railroad in Bingham Canyon. The SL&A was incorporated in August of 1913, to purchase from Jacobs the lease of the Alta Branch of the D&RG. According to the Deseret News of Tuesday, November 25, 1913, the line was finished to Wasatch on the Friday before.

(Read more about J. G. Jacobs and his railroads)

After the last granite was moved in 1916, the small amount of business coming from the mines in Little Cottonwood canyon was not enough to keep the railroad in operation, and in 1917, D&RG terminated the lease for lack of payments.

Timeline

1908
D&RGW leased the "Alta Branch" between Sandy and Wasatch to J. G. Jacobs in 1908. By May 1911, the rails were still in place to Wasatch, and the portion between Midvale and "Sand Pit" (four miles) was in service. The distance from Sand Pit to Wasatch was six miles, making the lease for a total of ten miles. The original lease was not to be executed until traffic was sufficient to justify rehabilitation and operation of the line. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 5, 1911)

May 1911
"Wasatch Railroad - Under this name a company will ask for incorporation in Utah to build about six miles of line from San Pitt, Utah, to Wasatch. J. G. Jacobs is said to be back of the project." (Evening Dispatch [Provo], May 29, 1911)

New ore bins were to be built at Wasatch, near the resort there, to load ore from the mines at Alta, making the wagon-haul much shorter. Several mines at Alta were in the hands of Eastern investors after a recent "gigantic merger." There was 200 to 300 tons of sand being shipped from Sand Pit every day. At Sandy, the new railroad would connect with D&RG, with Oregon Short Line, and with the suburban cars of Utah Light & Railway. These connections will allow increased passenger business to the resort at Wasatch, which planned on adding new cottages to accommodate the increased business. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 5, 1911)

Plans were put in place for the construction of a depot and a roundhouse, at a cost of $4,000. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 13, 1911)

July 1912
It was reported that D&RG would build a branch up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Alta mining camp. The reason given was to transport ore from the Alta mines, and transport granite for the new building at the University of Utah, and for the new state capitol building. There was at present a spur between Midvale and the gravel pits, about 1-1/2 miles, and the new line would require the construction of another 6-1/2 miles to Wasatch, and another two miles beyond that point. The terminus of the new road would be at the lower terminal of the aerial tramway between Alta and Tanner's Flat. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 24, 1912)

1913
D&RG leased its Wasatch Branch between Sandy and Wasatch to Salt Lake & Alta Railroad, which agreed to reconstruct and operate the branch. (LeMassena, p. 125)

1913
The Utah State Board of Equalizations showed three separate parts of the Little Cottonwood Branch: 4.00 miles assessed at $1,000 per mile (Midvale to Sand Pit, used regularly); 6.16 miles assessed at $500 per mile (Sand Pit to Wasatch, used irregularly); and 7.76 miles assessed at $300 per mile (identified as the Alta tramway, out of service).

January 15, 1913
News item about D&RG planning to rebuild the Alta Branch. (Salt Lake Mining Review, January 15, 1913, "Construction Notes")

March 14, 1913
J. G. Jacobs was reported as saying that the work on the railroad between Sand Pit and Wasatch was to start "today," but that the unexpected snow storm "yesterday" would likely delay the start of construction for a few days. Construction was to take no more than sixty days, with the terminal being at Wasatch, about three miles below Tanner's Flats and the lower end of the tramway of the Michigan-Utah company. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 14, 1913)

March 30, 1913
News item about J. G. Jacobs planning to build a railroad up Little Cottonwood Canyon, from Sand Pit to Wasatch. (Salt Lake Mining Review, March 30, 1913)

May 6, 1913
"It is expected that actual construction work will be started on the railroad to Wasatch the last of this week. A small Shay engine will be used at first." (Salt Lake Herald Republican, May 6, 1913)

June 12, 1913
"Work Starts on Road Which will Haul Rock..." "J. G. Jacobs, lessee of the old right-of-way up Little Cottonwood Canyon, began active construction work yesterday in building the line... The terminal with the Rio Grande is at Midvale and the road now extends to a point 1-1/2 miles east of Sandy. From that point on, the road must be practically rebuilt, though the major portions of the grade for the old ore tramway up the canyon still remain, making the grading work easier than would otherwise be the fact." The distance between Sandy and Wasatch is stated to be eight miles; the road will go 1-1/2 miles beyond Wasatch in order to reach the upper quarries. Jacobs thinks that his road will be there by the first of August. He will have his own locomotives and passenger cars, but will use D. & R. G. flat cars for the hauling of the stone. (Salt Lake Daily Herald, June 13, 1913, "yesterday"; Salt Lake Tribune, June 13, 1913 "yesterday")

The rails and ties for the new railroad were already in place as far as Wasatch. The line was to be extended 1-1/2 miles to the upper quarry. From there, a spur was to be built to the lower quarry. (Salt Lake Tribune, June 13, 1913)

June 24, 1913
"The work on the new Jacobs railroad, over which all the granite for the state capitol building will be hauled, will be started today. Six miles of ties and rail have to be laid and it is expected that the road will be completed in a month or two." (Salt Lake Tribune, June 24, 1913)

August 26, 1913
Salt Lake & Alta Railroad was incorporated:

November 6, 1913
D&RG and Salt Lake & Alta together sued the Alta & Jordan Valley Railroad, seeking a restraining order to prevent the latter company from interfering with the construction then taking place between Sandy and Wasatch. The former companies claimed that D&RG and its predecessor companies owned the "ancient" branch up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and leased the property to J. G. Jacobs, who then leased it to the Salt Lake & Alta company. The Alta & Jordan Valley company claimed that it owned rights to the property, and the court was asked to settle the disputed title. (Salt Lake Tribune, November 6, 1913)

(Read more about Alta & Jordan Valley Railroad, incorporated in October 1910)

"Salt Lake & Alta Railroad", article. (Salt Lake Mining Review, March 15, 1915, page 26)

Salt Lake & Alta Railroad -- One of the most important factors connected with the future prosperity of Alta and Little Cottonwood was the building, last year, of the Salt Lake & Alta railroad, which connects with the Denver & Rio Grande at Midvale, and terminates at Wasatch, a famed summer resort a short distance up from the mouth of Little Cottonwood canyon. The need of such a road has long been felt, and already, since its completion last summer, the shipping mining companies of the district have been materially and financially, benefited, and the tonnage handled, this year, will doubtless be much larger than it was last season, with a steady increase being noted in time to come. This road saves the wagon haul from Wasatch to Midvale, and this is quite an item when small profits are considered, and enables the mine-owner to ship who, hitherto, could not market his product because of the costly wagon haul. The road is ten miles in length, from Midvale to Wasatch, with an extension of a mile further from Wasatch to the granite quarries. The building of the road was hastened in order that it might be utilized in the haulage of the granite to be used in the construction of the capitol building in Salt Lake City. Its carrying capacity was taxed to the limit, last year, to care for both granite and ore shipments. The line was constructed by J. G. Jacobs, of Salt Lake, the veteran railroad builder who constructed the wonderful Mercur road a number of years ago, and who has unbounded confidence in the ultimate outcome of Little and Big Cottonwood districts. The company is capitalized at 4,000 shares of a par value of $25. J. G. Jacobs is president and manager, with office at Room 2, McIntosh Building, Salt Lake City.

November 15, 1913
The first shipment of granite for the state capitol building, about 600 cubic feet of dressed granite loaded on three cars, was delivered to the capitol grounds. On the previous day, the stone was loaded on cars of Oregon Short Line, then transferred by derrick to cars of Utah Light & Railway Company to be moved to the building site. (Salt Lake Tribune, November 15, 1913, "the first shipment of dressed stone will be made today")

The granite quarries at Little Cottonwood Canyon were the source of granite stone for the new Utah state capitol building, all shipped via the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad. The contract for the construction of the new state capital building was held by Stewart Construction Company. The granite stone work was being done by Utah Consolidated Stone Company. The completion of the capitol building had been delayed from July 1, 1915 to January 1, 1916. (Eastern Utah Advocate, July 24, 1913, page 8, "Capital Completion Delayed")

November 19, 1913
"The last spike in the railroad from Sandy, Utah, to Wasatch, in Little Cottonwood canyon, was driven November 19. It is a standard gauge line and will reduce by nine miles the wagon haul from the western end of the Michigan-Utah tramway to the valley smelteries. At least $1.50 a ton of transportation cost will be shaved from the expense of marketing Alta ore by this improvement." "Connection with the tramway was made by the Alta Consolidated last spring. The South Hecla will have a similar connection in a short time. " (Salt Lake Mining Review, January 15, 1914)

November 30, 1913
News item about the completion of the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad, completed "to the doors of the Wasatch Hotel, up the canyon." (Salt Lake Mining Review, November 30, 1913)

January 30, 1914
The Utah Consolidated Stone Company was shipping two cars (60 tons) per day from its quarry at Little Cottonwood, to the finishing plant at Midvale. (Salt Lake Mining Review,January 30, 1914, page 27, "Around The State")

February 12, 1914
A timetable printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, dated February 12, 1914, showed passenger service on the Salt Lake & Alta between Midvale, Sandy, and Wasatch, with Davenport shown as an intermediate station between Sandy and Wasatch. Times were given as departing Midvale at 8:20 a.m., arriving at Sandy at 8:40 a.m., and arriving at Wasatch at 10:10 a.m. Trains were shown as leaving Wasatch at 4:00 p.m., arriving at Sandy at 5:30 p.m., and arriving at Midvale at 5:50 p.m. Fare was 50 cents each way, and no service was offered on Sundays. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 16, 1914)

March 1915
Salt Lake & Alta had been completed to a point 1-1/2 miles above Wasatch, "leaving a gap of only a few miles between this terminus and the lower terminal of the aerial tramway." (Salt Lake Mining Review, March 15, 1915, page 16)

During September 1915, Utah Consolidated Stone Company also furnished the granite for the exterior of the new LDS church's administration building on East South Temple Street. The west side had just been completed, with the other three sides already having been completed. (Salt Lake Herald, September 26, 1915)

October 1915
News item about the Salt Lake & Alta hauling 2,014 tons in August 1915 from the Wasatch terminal, and 2,987 tons in September 1915, compared to less than 200 tons a year before. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 17, number 13, October 30, 1915, page 18)

March 1916
According to the March 1916 issue of Stone magazine, Utah Consolidated Stone Company had closed down its large stone plant at Midvale, and its stone yards in Salt Lake City, on account of the completion of the church office building. (Stone, March 1916, Volume 37, Number 3, page 150)

September 1916
"Salt Lake & Alta Railroad", article. Ties and rails had been delivered for the recently incorporated Little Cottonwood Transportation Company. The "Shea" locomotives were "on their way." (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 18, Number 12, September 30, 1916, page 38)

(The closure of the granite quarrying operations in 1916 meant that, after moving over 800 carloads of granite, the traffic base for Salt Lake & Alta was reduced to the minimal movement of ores from the Little Cottonwood mines.)

(Read more about the decline of the mining traffic from the Alta mines)

1917
D&RG took over the operation of its Little Cottonwood Branch between Midvale and Wasatch, terminating the lease of the Sandy to Wasatch portion by Salt Lake & Alta. (LeMassena, p. 131)

September 1917
News item about the D&RG "taking over" the Salt Lake & Alta. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 19, number 11, September 15, 1917, page 43)

Abandonment

September 6, 1933
D&RGW received ICC approval to abandon 6.8 miles of the Little Cottonwood Branch between Sand Pit and Wasatch. The line was built as narrow gauge in 1873 by the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad. Operation was discontinued in 1899 and the line was relaid as standard gauge in 1913. It saw daily service from 1913 to 1917, while leased to the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad. Between 1917 and 1923 there was only irregular service, about two or three times per week. There was only occasional use after 1923, with two trips made in 1932 and none in 1933. No shipments of ore were made after June 1930. There was no service on the branch after June 1932. Car loadings of granite building stone furnished "considerable traffic, but all of that traffic now moves by truck". (ICC Reports, Volume 193, page 461, "193 ICC 461"; Finance Docket 10077; applied July 15, 1933; submitted August 25, 1933; decided September 6, 1933)

Granite Quarries

December 19, 1912
Utah State Capitol Building -- The contract for the construction of the Utah state capitol building was awarded on December 19, 1912 to James Stewart & Company. Groundbreaking ceremony was held December 26, 1912. The capitol was to be built of stone, with a concrete and steel superstructure. By spring 1913 the foundation and basement walls were in place, and the steel columns and wooden frames for the concrete were being installed. On April 4, 1914, a cornerstone ceremony was presided over by Governor William Spry.

By July 16, 1914, about half of the exterior granite had been installed, and by the end of summer 1914 the basement, second floor, and exterior walls were nearing completion. The columns were being installed, and work was progressing on the dome, including covering it in Utah copper. The floors are made of marble from Georgia. By the time the last large block of granite was shipped in February 1915, 800 carloads had been shipped. With the building was still under construction, on February 11, 1915, the session of the Utah State Legislature was moved from the interim location in the Salt Lake City and County building, to the new capitol building. Even though the legislature was meeting in the capitol, it took more than a year to finish the remainder of the building sufficiently for the executive and judicial officers to move into the building. Work was finished and the capitol was publicly dedicated on October 9, 1916. (Wikipedia entry for Utah State Capitol; Salt Lake Telegram, July 16, 1914; photo of last stone of the capital, dated February 1915)

June 10, 1913
"Little Cottonwood Granite Selected" for the new state capitol building; as to the railroad - "Plans for early construction operations are being taken up by the Alta & Jordan Railroad company, which owns the old right-of-way from Jordan to Alta... This company, incorporated about two years ago,... "The old roadbed from Jordan to the Wasatch resort near the mouth of the canyon is still in such shape that the reconstruction would not be very costly. From Wasatch to Alta, the old rails of the gravity tram way are still intact much of the way, although now overgrown with brush. In some places, the wagon road has appropriated the right-of-way. "Midvale to Wasatch Railroad to be Completed at Once." J. G. Jacobs is to build a railroad to the granite quarries at once, the work to start in a day or two; nearly four miles is built now, and the grade for the 11 miles to Wasatch has been established. "The roadbed and right-of-way has been leased from the Denver & Rio Grande." (Salt Lake Daily Herald, June 10, 1913)

June 10, 1913
The granite for the state capitol building was to come from quarries owned by the Cottonwood Granite Company, and the Wasatch Granite Company. These two companies were not part of the recent consolidation of companies placed on contract to furnish the stone, and would not assist in the work of quarrying the stone. Instead, they would receive royalties as part of the contract. (Salt Lake Tribune, June 10, 1913)

June 30, 1913
Utah Consolidated Stone Company -- The stone company was to be organized as a consolidation of several separate stone companies. The main offices were to be at those of the Cottonwood company, and each of the affiliated companies would not lose its identity:

September 9, 1913
D&RG Ogden Freight Terminal -- Construction of the new D&RG freight depot in Ogden began on September 9, 1913. Construction started on September 16th, after D&RG surveyors marked off the site of the new building. Operations were moved from the old freight depot, to the new location on February 28, 1914, with the first day of full operation planned for Monday morning, March 2, 1914. (Ogden Standard, September 8, 1913; September 16, 1913, "this morning"; February 12, 1914, "nearing completion"; February 28, 1914, "this afternoon and tomorrow")

October 1913
News item about Utah Consolidated Stone Company, which had the contract to furnish the stone for the new state capitol building, purchasing the twenty-five acres in Midvale formerly occupied by the Bingham Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company. The property was held for some time by N. Rosenblatt & Sons Company. The property still contained cranes, hoists, boilers, engines, and other machinery, and was to be manned by a force of 150 stone cutters to produce 500 cubic feet of cut and dressed stone for the capital building per day. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 15, number 13, October 15, 1913, p.38, "Dips, Spurs and Angles")

(According to the Ogden Standard for September 19, 1913, the contract to use Little Cottonwood granite was signed at 7 p.m. on September 18, 1913. The contract was between James Stewart & Company, the general contractor, and Utah Consolidated Stone Company, and the amount was reported as $608,223.00.)

October 1, 1913
D&RG announced that stone for its new freight terminal in Ogden would be furnished by Utah Consolidated Stone Company. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 2, 1913)

February 3, 1914
Utah Consolidated Stone Company completed a large powder blast at the quarry that brought down 277,000 cubic feet of loose granite. Among the loosened granite were two blocks that totaled 75,000 cubic feet, and single block that was 10,000 cubic feet. The capital was to include 165,000 cubic feet of granite stone. (Improvement Era, March 1914, Volume 17, Number 5, page 498)

According to an article about the Utah Consolidated Stone Company in The Salt Lake Mining Review of June 30, 1914, upon obtaining the $608,000 contract to furnish 165,000 cubic feet of granite for the building of the Utah state capitol, the stone company advanced the funds needed to build the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad. The line was 10 miles long and connected directly with the stone company's dressing works in Midvale on the old smelter site of the Bingham Consolidated Co., which was adjacent to the United States smelter.

Salt Lake Mining Review article for June 30, 1914, reported that the semi-finished stone, including the columns turned on a large lathe at the Midvale plant, were shipped by D&RGW to a second plant located at 660 West 2nd South, where the final finishing was completed. The finished stone was then shipped over the street railway system to the capitol grounds.

August 1914
During the first week of August 1914, the first of 52 columns for the capitol building were delivered, each in three sections. The columns had been turned on the large lathe at the Midvale plant of Utah Consolidated Stone Company. (Salt Lake Telegram, July 28, 1914, "will arrive at the capitol grounds this week")

LDS Church Administration Building -- Constructed between 1914 and 1917, the building is built of quartz monzonite from the same quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon as the stone used for the Utah State Capitol and the nearby Salt Lake Temple. The Mt. Nebo Marble Company supplied marble and travertine for the interior of the building, using Birdseye marble from the Thistle area of Utah County, and travertine and onyx from Pelican Point near Utah Lake in Utah County and the Cedar Mountains of Tooele County. The building was opened on October 2, 1917. "Like the Salt Lake Temple, the Administration Building is composed of granite, taken from the same area in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but with a key difference. While all the stone for the Salt Lake Temple was taken from loose granite boulders in the canyon, stone extracted from the canyon walls is what was used for the Church Administration Building." A cornerstone weighing ten tons was laid on (??), and was reportedly the heaviest cornerstone used so far in the intermountain west. The building was dedicated for its intended use on (??). (Wikipedia entry for the LDS Church Administration Building; Deseret News, May 17, 2011; Davis County Clipper, September 11, 1914)

Locomotives

Salt Lake & Alta Locomotives -- Roster listings of the Shay locomotives used by Salt Lake & Alta Railroad.

More Information

Corporate information -- Information about the corporate organization of Salt Lake & Alta Railroad.

Copper Belt Railroad -- Information about another of J. G. Jacobs Shay-operated railroads in Utah.

Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad -- Information about another of J. G. Jacobs Shay-operated railroads in Utah.

Joseph G. Jacobs -- Biographical notes for J. G. Jacobs.

Little Cottonwood Railroads -- Information about all the railroads that served the quarries and mines in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

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