John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, Chapter 2

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By Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.

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Chapter 2

The Justification For More Railroads

This chapter will develop the justification for the formation and construction of three railroads in and near Salt Lake City in the decade between 1883-1894. With the exception of the mule-powered Salt Lake Street Railway which had limited trackage in the business district, the railroads already established served only the west side of the city.

By the beginning of the 1880s, Salt Lake City was served by two major rail networks. Feeding from the north, the Union Pacific controlled Utah Central Railroad linked the city with Ogden. From Ogden, cargoes and passengers could travel both east and west. The U. C. also provided access to the south-central portion of the territory, via Provo. Under the same corporate control as the U. C., the Utah and Nevada Railroad linked Salt Lake City with Tooele Valley to the west. Feeding from the east-southeast, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad provided a link with Denver and points south and east of Colorado. The D. & R. G. W. also extended north to Ogden. With such a network already in existence along the relatively lightly populated Wasatch Front, the financial prospects for another railroad appeared slim.

The Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad

Ironically, incentive for another railroad in Salt Lake City was due to the impact of both the Union Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroads. The year 1883 found Salt Lake City in the midst of a building boom brought about by a population that more than doubled between 1880 and 1890.[1] The migration of Mormon converts from the eastern United States and Europe was made easier and cheaper by rail travel. Salt Lake City, as the "Mecca" of the Mormons, was the natural hub for this incoming flow of humanity. This, in turn, resulted in the establishment of more businesses and a larger permanent population.

People require shelter, both for homes and businesses. In the early years of Salt Lake City’s development, adobe was the favorite building material.[2] But by the 1880s both needs and tastes were changing. Salt Lake was no longer on the edge of a raw frontier, the railroads were transporting timber from the Northwest for building purposes, and locally manufactured fired bricks were available. But a less expensive building material was in demand and, fortunately, was in abundant local supply.

Large deposits of sandstone are located in the mountains to the north and east of Salt Lake City. From a stonemason’s point of view, sandstone has an advantage over brick in an area where fuel must be imported.[3] Quarried sandstone was formed, without intermediate steps, into the desired shapes with nothing more sophisticated than a saw and chisel.[4] The odd shapes, or rubble, were suitable for use in foundation work, basement floors, and inner walls. The major disadvantage was the need to transport its heavy bulk from the mountains down into the city. The use of a railroad for this purpose was far superior to the wagons hauling their heavy load over dirt roads, but such rail service did not exist as the 1880s began.[5]

By mid-September, 1883, a group of Salt Lake City businessmen recognized the profit potential of a rockhauling railroad. Drawing up the Articles of Association papers on September 15, and filing them with the territorial secretary on September 27, 1883, they organized the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railway. Their initial intentions were to construct the railroad from the Utah Central depot to Red Butte and Emigration canyons, via Fort Douglas.[6] Because they were in the rock hauling business, Red Butte Canyon was the primary target since it contained substantial deposits of red sandstone. An additional financial interest lay on the way, however, at Fort Douglas.

Fort Douglas had been established in 1862, providing a garrison which, overtly, was to protect the overland telegraph. There were many local citizens who felt that since the guns of the fort were aimed towards Salt Lake City, its covert purpose was to keep an eye on the Mormons while the other "peculiar institution" was being taken care of through the medium of the Civil War.[7] The fort remained garrisoned after the war, and where there was a fort there were military contracts.

Happily for the investors in the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad, the fort lay directly between Salt Lake City and Red Butte Canyon. With very little cost, spurs leading into the supply yards of the quartermaster offered easier haulage of materials to the fort and its garrison. Not only supplies but the troops themselves presented revenue sources to a railroad originally intended to haul nothing more glamorous than rock.

Having planned and organized their "rock road", the original investors failed to press the issue when the proposed route met with resistance. The future of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad lay in limbo, awaiting the arrival of more dynamic leadership.

A forceful personality was present by early May 1884, for John W. Young had become associated with the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas in an active way.[8] In October of the same year, the organizational papers were modified to include him as a stockholder.[9] On December 2, 1884, new Articles of Association were filed under which he held 291 shares of stock while all other Stockholders held but one share apiece. In this manner he insured that he alone would control the railroad.[10] Now heavily committed to the enterprise, he based much of his enthusiasm upon his ownership of rock lands in Red Butte Canyon and high economic expectations.[11]

In October 1884, a prospectus was prepared for the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad which indicates the financial hopes of the railroad and the broader economic base being formulated by Young. The figures were based upon the actual wagon haulage of 1883, considering the "natural proportion" that the railroad was expected to acquire.

Projected SL&FD Traffic [12]
65,000 tons of rock @ .50/ton $ 32,500
40,000 tons of brick @ .50/ton 20,000
15,000 tons of lime and sand @ .50/ton 7,500
27,000 tons of limestone for fluxing @ .50/ton 13,500
7,500 tons of mountain ice @ $1/ton 7,500
8,000 tons for Fort Douglas and Wagener’s brewery @ .50/ton 4,000
15,000 tons of coal and lumber to parts of the city @ .50/ton 7,500

From these figures, he estimated a gross of $92,500 per year. The freight traffic now included brick, limestone, sand, ice, brewery supplies, coal and lumber. Additional revenue sources later developed included serving the Burton-Gardner Fence Factory, the Elias Morris fire brick and sewer-pipe works, Lefler’s Flour Mills, another brewery, and Fuller’s Pleasure Gardens.[13] Traffic was planned to be two-way, carrying raw materials into the factories and the finished products out. Even with these additions, Young found additional prospective business.

A projected branch line, reaching south from the city to what was then called Millcreek (the present-day Sugar House) and on towards the Holladay-Cottonwood area was planned.[14] This branch, referred to as the Cottonwood Branch of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad, led towards a community that contained a lumber mill, a flour mill, and the only paper mill in the territory.[15] With the addition of building materials and produce, this branch could maintain considerable freight traffic.

Passenger traffic was not ignored. Passenger platforms were to be established at intervals along the line, and the train would stop on signal to board passengers anywhere outside of the city limits. Within the city, passengers would be able to board the train at any street intersection along the line. Passenger traffic was oriented towards three main destinations outside of the city: Fuller’s Pleasure Gardens, Wagener’s brewery, and the territorial penitentiary. For those living away from the extant horse car lines, the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas might serve the purpose of an interurban railroad. Special student rates were to be offered when schools were in session.[16] Taken together, the freight and passenger service provided the financial justification for the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas. What was not foreseen was that this small, local railroad would spawn yet another railroad, this one with much greater ambitions.

The Salt Lake and Eastern Railroad

The opportunity to make a profit by transporting limestone and shale created yet another branch of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas. Limestone was in heavy demand for the manufacture of mortar used in the building of stone and brick structures.[17] Shale was thought to be a more suitable paving material for the city streets than gravel. Both substances were found in large deposits east of Salt Lake City in Parleys Canyon, but a stimulus was needed to justify the expense of constructing a railroad to the shale beds.

Encouragement came from the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce. In early May 1888, this body communicated with John W. Young relative to his extending a branch of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas into Parleys Canyon. His response was rapid, replying in the affirmative on May 4.[18] Within three days he was seeking permission to cross the federally-controlled lands of the territorial penitentiary which lay between Sugar House and the mouth of Parleys Canyon.[19] While publicly acknowledging the goal of removing shale and limestone, his mind was already conceiving greater, more profitable pursuits.

Park City, Utah, was an economic delicacy to John W. Young. Beginning as grazing lands and timber country, Park City by the early 1870s was a boom town. Silver, and some gold, was being wrenched from the earth on a regular basis.[20] By 1888 the Union Pacific controlled Echo and Park City Railroad was hauling out the mined ore to smelters, but the ore reached its destination in a roundabout manner.

The nearest major smelters were in the Salt Lake Valley, south of Salt Lake City. The Echo and Park City route went north out of Park City to Echo Junction. Here the cars of ore were routed west over Union Pacific tracks to Ogden. At Ogden, they then proceeded south over the Utah Central tracks to the smelters. A more direct, east-west rail route between Park City and Salt Lake City would cut both the time and the cost of transporting the ore, an obvious competitive threat to the E. & P. C. It had been tried before, with a railroad building west from Park City, but the effort had failed.[21] Prior failure or not, Young still had another economic incentive to extend the rails eastward.

Timber on the mountains near Salt Lake City had been harvested since 1847, and lumber for building purposes was now brought in from as far away as the Pacific Northwest.[22] However, east of Park City lay Kamas, or Camas Prairie as it was then known, with large stands of virgin timber.[23] In one stroke, a railroad driving east from Salt Lake City could tap both timber and ore.

Geographically, the most feasible route between Salt Lake City and Park City (to points east) lay through Parleys Canyon. With a branch line already started into this canyon to the shale beds, it was only logical to continue on to Park City. With proper management, it was conceivable to push even beyond Kamas, join with another railroad building west from Colorado, and establish direct connections with the eastern states.[24] The question was, was this feasible for a local railroad such as the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas?

John W. Young removed his newest railroad enterprise out of the control of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas on September 21, 1888. Outlining a proposed route from Salt Lake City to Kamas via Sugar House, Parleys Canyon, Parleys Park, and Park City, Articles of Association were drawn up to create the Salt Lake and Eastern Railway.[25] Ahead lay the potential profits of ore traffic to smelters, lumber for construction, and ice to the residents of Salt Lake City.

A century ago ice production was solely in the domain of nature. Ice houses were constructed and the ice was cut from ponds during the freezing winter weather. Using sawdust for insulation, the blocks of ice were then stored for later use. The streams used to produce this commodity in the Salt Lake Valley had, by the 1880s, become polluted with sewage and other foreign matter.[26] The mountains still offered a supply of clear, clean ice which Young recognized as a source of a usable commodity. He therefore determined to establish ice ponds and houses along the Salt Lake and Eastern right-of-way up Parleys Canyon. This ice was not only more pure, the season for ice harvesting was longer due to the higher altitude.

The Utah Western Railroad

Stretching west and west-northwest of Salt Lake City lies the lake that gives the city its name. Surrounded by arid and alkaline land, the lake itself gained early attention from the white settlers on two points. First, and most important, the high salinity of the brine provided a ready source of salt. Second, this same salinity made it impossible for a bather to sink below the surface of the water. This latter, novel effect caused two resort areas to be opened on the shores of the lake by the 1880s.

Garfield Beach, located on the southern edge of the lake, was served by the Utah and Nevada Railroad. The Denver and Rio Grande Western company established a resort on the eastern shore, midway between Salt Lake City and Ogden at Lake Park.[27] Tourists and citizens alike traveled with comparative ease to the resort of their choice over the respective railroads. As the population (and tourist popularity) of Salt Lake City increased, the opportunity for yet another lake resort was present.

In early January 1889, there was considerable local newspaper speculation centering upon a new railroad to be constructed from Salt Lake City to the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Reportedly, the route had been staked out, and a name selected for the new enterprise. The reported goal was the Jeromy Salt Works, and actual construction only awaited the arrival of better weather.[28] (ed. note: see Salt Lake, Nevada & California Railway, organized on January 11, 1889.) This purported railroad enterprise disappeared into the mists of dreams by the end of the month, but it was sufficient to engage the interest of John W. Young.

From his office in New York City, Young initiated the action that would result in a new railroad. Writing to his secretary, John M. Whitaker in Salt Lake City, he related how he came to be aware of the proposed railroad and what action he wanted accomplished.

You say Brother Harrington speaks of a location to Jeromy’s Salt Works, and it should be made at once if I expect to get it. Why doesn't Brother Harrington give me particulars so I may know what he means, and who it is that is liable to build there, instead of saying other parties. I don't like this vague way of giving information. You can tell Brother Hardy to go and have a talk with Jeromy, and go out quietly to the edge of the Lake, North of Jeromy’s Salt Works, on the old Island Road and see where is the best Beach, and the best point to locate there. As nearly the whole line could be tangent from Salt Lake City, the first thing to do is to locate a terminus where the best Beach is on a direct line; but it must be somewhere between the old Island Road and Jeromy’s Salt Landing. He should see Jeromy, and they should go out together, but I want to do it quietly, and then let me know results immediately ...[29]

The results were favorable, for within five months Young had formed the Utah Western Railway.[30] In Articles of Association drawn up on June 24, 1889, the proposed route was very vague, reading simply "from Salt Lake City to the east shore of the Great Salt Lake ..."[31] Certainly the financial justification for this enterprise was questionable.

John W. Young had more in mind to justify the expense of this new railroad than just tourists and salt. For some time he had been encouraging Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific Railroad to build a new line around the south end of the Great Salt Lake.[32] Simultaneously, the Salt Lake City Council had become more reluctant to grant railroad franchises within the city. Such feeling was understandable as four steam railroad lines presently entered or passed through the western part of the city.[33] By immediately organizing the Utah Western, Young was able to accomplish two objectives. First, granted a franchise he had an egress from the city towards the west. Second, by having as his visible destination the beaches of the Great Salt Lake, possible speculation about linking with another railroad from the west was minimized. The Utah Western thus became his "ace-in-the-hole" for future expansion plans.

The formation of all three railroads was based upon sound economic planning. The profit motive was present, based upon both sound business judgment and the gambling instincts of an experienced entrepreneur. A transportation service was needed and the transportable goods were available in wide variety.

These railroads were to have a very diversified economic base. The Salt Lake and Fort Douglas was to transport sandstone, limestone, grains, lumber, flour, beer, brick, and sewer pipes. The Salt Lake and Eastern was to carry ice, limestone, shale, silver ore, coal, and various commodities required by the merchants of Park City. The Utah Western offered the immediate potential of transporting salt. All of the railroads intended to provide passenger service compatible with the increasing population density.

To this point we have but "creatures of state," formed by filing pieces of paper with the proper authority. Whatever the economic hopes, the railroads had to be transformed from intent into deed.


[1] U. S., Department of the Interior, Census Office, Compendium of the Eleventh Census of the United States 1890: Population Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, '1892,438.

[2] Adobe homes were built in the Salt Lake Valley from the outset of Mormon settlement. See Bancroft, History of Utah, 276-77, 292. Popular because of the availability of the necessary clay and the scarcity of lumber, adobe buildings are described in many of the accounts of travelers through the city during the past century. An example can be found in Mark Twain, Roughing It (New York: New American Library, Inc., 1962), 92. Twain describes therein the look of the city in 1861. See also: Sir Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints and Across the Rock Mountains to California (London: Longman, Green, Longman, an Roberts, 1861), 419. Also Harold D. Longley, ed., To Utah With the Dragoons and Glimpses of Life in Arizona and California 1858-1859 Sat Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1974), 90. These examples are not intended, however, to infer that only adobe was used prior to the 1880s in Utah, for this was not the case.

[3] An interesting, informative description of the brick making process, prior to modern manufacturing methods, can be found in Harley J. McKee, Introduction to Earl American Masonry: Stone Brick, Mortar and Plaster Washington, D. C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, 1973), 41-44. Common to all processes then used in brick making was the need to fire the brick at high temperatures using coal or charcoal fueled kilns.

[4] McKee, Earl. American Masonry, 31.

[5] The transportation of heavy goods a century ago in Utah was much different than it is today. Unless he lives in a particularly remote region, today’s Utahn is hard pressed to appreciate the problems of transportation over dirt roads. During the summer the churning action of the wagon wheels resulted in roads literally inches thick with dust. Drawn by animals, the rate of travel might be as little as two or three miles per hour. With the coming of wet weather, dust turned to mud and the rate of travel might well slow even more. During the winter, as snow accumulated, the mountain passes would be totally closed, choked with snow until the spring melt. The few macadamized roads to be found were only in the populated areas that provided the traffic and manpower to justify the expense of construction. Utah road development, including transportation problems, is extensively covered in Ezra C. Knowlton, History of Highway Development in Utah [Salt Lake City: Utah State Department of Highways, n.d.]

[6] Archives of the State of Utah, Corporation File No. 246, State Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] Roberts, History of the Church, 5:17-18.

[8] Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1884.

[9] State Archives, Corporation File No. 246.

[10] State Archives, Corporation File No. 246.

[11] Salt Lake Tribune, May 8, 1884.

[12] Prospectus draft, John W. Young papers, Church Archives.

[13] Edward W. Tullidge, Tullidge’s Histories: Northern Utah and Southern Idaho (Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Press, 1889), 534-35.

[14] Salt Lake City Herald, November 12, 1884.

[15] Stephen L. Carr, ed., Holladay - Cottonwood: Places and Faces (Holladay, Utah: Holladay - Cottonwood Heritage Committee, 1976), 22-23, 30-31.

[16] Salt Lake Tribune, September 16, 1888.

[17] McKee, Early American Masonry, 62-65.

[18] John W. Young to M. J. Forhau, May 4, 1888. JWY papers.

[19] John W. Young to Marshal Frank E. Dyer, May 7, 1888. JWY papers.

[20] Raye Carleson Price, Diggings and Doings in Park City (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1972).

[21] The Utah Eastern Railroad, a three-foot narrow gauge line, linked Coalville with Park City in competition with the Summit County Railroad. (The latter was renamed the Echo and Park City Railroad.) Grading for the Utah Eastern to continue on into Salt Lake City was begun, but the . Union Pacific (which controlled the E. & P. C.) gained control of the U. E. through stock manipulation. Once in control, the U. P. forced the U. E. into bankruptcy, bought out the bankrupt railroad, and abandoned the line in December 1883. Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr., "End of Track, Park City" (unpublished manuscript on file with the Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah).

[22] Arrington, David Eccles, 62.

[23] John W. Young to James W. Barclay, April 16, 1889. JWY papers.

[24] John W. Young had previously discussed with David H. Moffat, of the Denver and Rio Grande system, the opportunities present if a Moffat controlled line was constructed from Denver to Utah via the Uinta Basin. Moffat, in 1889, organized a company separate from the Denver and Rio Grande for this purpose although construction did not begin until 1891. John W. Young to David H. Moffat, October 22, 1889. JWY papers.

[25] State Archives, Corporation File No. 487.

[26] John W. Young to Mr. Dick, January 22, 1889. JWY papers.

[27] Gordon Chappell, "Scenic Line of the World", Colorado Rail Annual, 1970 (Golden; The Colorado Railroad Museum, 1970), 84.

[28] Salt Lake Tribune, January 6, 8, and 31, 1889.

[29] John W. Young to John M. Whitaker, January 24, 1889. JWY papers. The Brother Harrington referred to is Daniel Harrington who became associated with Young’s railroad enterprises in 1887 and was later a prominent Salt Lake City lawyer. Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity (Chicago: National Historical Record Company, 1902), 119. The Brother Hardy is Charles William Hardy whose railroad engineering experience began with the construction of the Utah Central in 1869. He was the chief engineer for John W. Young, and during his career also held the positions of Salt Lake County Surveyor and Assistant Territorial Surveyor-General. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City, Utah: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1914), 2:101.

[30] This was the second railroad bearing the name of Utah Western. The first Utah Western Railroad was an earlier enterprise of John W. Young’s, formed in June 1874. State Archives, Corporation File No. 4296. This railroad later came under the control of the Union Pacific Railroad and was renamed the Utah and Nevada Railroad. State Archives, Corporation File No. 4311.

[31] State Archives, Corporation File No. 536.

[32] John W. Young to David H. Moffat, February 20, 1889. JWY papers.

[33] Both the Utah Central and the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroads passed through the city on a north-south axis. The Utah and Nevada departed from near the Utah Central depot within the city and went west while the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas connected with the Denver and Rio Grande Western tracks but passed through the city to the east.