John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, Summary

Index For This Page

By Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.

(Return to Adkins Manuscript Index Page)

Summary and Conclusions

The concepts behind John W. Young’s Utah railroading efforts were sound. In each instance a major mineral source was established as the basic goal. For the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad the goal was sandstone and limestone in Red Butte and Emigration canyons. The Salt Lake and Eastern Railroad sought the lead and silver ore traffic of Park City. The Utah Western Railroad was to transport that most necessary of all minerals needed to sustain human life, salt. Once the primary economic base was determined, additional revenue producers were sought.

The diversity of materials transported attests to the wide variety of businesses served. Freight cargoes included bricks, ice, lumber products, grains, coal, beer, flour, and dry goods. All of this was in addition to the transporting of sandstone, limestone, shale, and silver and lead ores.

Passenger traffic was of secondary importance. Although initially established on a scheduled basis, all passenger schedules except a twice daily train to Park City were abandoned within two years. Whereas there are a few references in extant records to freight income, there is not a single dollar figure available for passenger revenues. There is mention of heavy passenger traffic to the territorial penitentiary, located near Sugar House, but no indication is given as to how long this traffic lasted. Whether passenger or freight, a transportation need was being filled.

The actual construction of the railroads was a slow process. This was due to the lack of capital, the shortage of workers, and the natural topography. Steep grades occurred at three different points. Climbing the east bench on a north-south angle required a 5.5 percent grade. In both Red Butte Canyon and near the summit of Parleys Canyon grades of 6.0 percent were found. Two major trestles were constructed, one over Fuller’s Gulch on the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas line, the other crossing the mouth of Lambs Canyon on the Salt Lake and Eastern (Utah Central) route. All in all, considering the steep grade and hemming-in effect of the canyons, the railroad builders did a sound job of engineering and construction.

Unfortunately, there is no available information on the total freight and passenger revenues actually earned by the operating railroads. We do know that the railroads were running at a profit until the economic depression of 1893, and that tonnages were adequate to justify the railroads even after they entered into receivership.

The fact that the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas and the Utah Central railroads did operate with sufficient profit to meet operating expenses, make bond interest payments, and still be able to invest in new equipment until 1893 indicates a successful enterprise. This is all the more significant since Young did not invest additional outside capital into these railroads after late 1890. When receivership did come as a result of the economic depression, the S. L. & F. D. and the U. C. had plenty of company.

At least sixty-five major railroads in the United States entered into court-ordered receivership during 1893-1894, including the Union Pacific Railroad.[1] This meant that, in Utah, not only the U. P. but also the Oregon Short Line (formerly the Utah Central, Utah and Nevada, and Utah and Northern railroads) and the Echo and Park City Railroad were placed into the hands of receivers. The Denver and Rio Grande Western was the only railroad in Utah that continued to operate under its own management, aside from the short section of the California-based Central Pacific that came into Ogden.[2]

Whereas other people were primarily responsible for the construction and operational aspects of the railroads, John W. Young bore the weight of obtaining local franchises, permission to cross federal lands, and outside financing. In each of these areas he did well. The local franchise requests required patience and had to overcome conflicts of interest within the Salt Lake City Council. On a national level, he received permission to cross Fort Douglas in spite of his concurrent efforts to defeat the passage of the anti-Mormon Edmunds-Tucker Act. In finances he ranged far, including the London stock exchanges, to raise the needed capital. Until he became interested in the Mexican railroad venture, Young was always able to raise the needed funds for his railroads in and near Salt Lake City. The weakness in his money raising efforts was his diversified interests.

Concurrent with his railroad building, he was involved with the North American Exchange Company, Limited, and the Saturday Evening Globe in New York. These enterprises required his time, and in the case of the latter, money. In Utah he also controlled the Salt Lake Supply and Forwarding Company, and the Salt Lake Rock Company. He was also interested in, but not controlling, other businesses. Spread so thin, perhaps attempting to emulate the business giants he knew in the east, he was not able to keep as close a rein on the railroads as was necessary. For instance, Black’s men in Parleys Canyon were paid when they made threats, once Young received word of it in New York. Other contractors, however, who were less vocal in their demands, were not immediately paid.

What John W. Young accomplished, he did on his own. The family name of Young did not serve to open any financial or political doors for him, either in Utah or back east. Indeed, in both places his family background seems to have placed obstacles in his path until his own personality and drive established his credentials. At a time when polygamy was a very emotional issue, he was able to function freely within the financial centers of New York. This fact alone speaks highly of his personal abilities.

His fortunes declined after the 1893 depression, but he was ever seeking new business ventures. A few years before his death in New York City, he was showing young Mormon missionaries his plans for a huge pier and facility on the Hudson River, and a hundred-story tall, block square building.[3] (At the time he was working as an elevator starter.)[4] He also continued to state that everything he had attempted had been for the eventual building up of the Mormon cause.[5] Following his death in New York City on February 11, 1924, he was buried in the Salt Lake City cemetery on February 17, 1924. He rests beside one of his estranged wives and their son.

The railroads he built suffered varied fates. The Salt Lake and Fort Douglas was discontinued due to an injunction issued by the Third District Court on December 5, 1896. By 1898 the only physical evidence of the S. L. & F. D. in the city was some streets that had been formed by the original railroad grade.[6]

The Utah Central faired much better. Surviving receivership, the Utah Central was sold to a new Utah Central Railroad Company formed on December 28, 1897. This company acted as an intermediary for the Denver and Rio Grande Western which purchased the Utah Central in early 1898, and continued to run trains to and from Park City. After the turn of the century, the rails were broadened to standard gauge and the switchbacks and 6 percent grade replaced by a tunnel. Like the original owner, the D. & R. G. W. Park City branch outlived its time, bowing to the economics of truck traffic in the late 1940s. Unless you know what you are looking for, no noticeable trace of John W. Young’s railroads remain today.



Arrington, Leonard J. Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 830-1900. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Arrington, Leonard J. David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1975.

Arrington, Leonard J., Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May. Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976.

Athearn, Robert G. Union Pacific Country. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.

Athearn, Robert G. Rebel of the Rockies: The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Utah. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1889.

Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity. Chicago: National Historical Record Company, 1902.

Burton, Richard F. The Cit of the Saints and Across the Rock Mountains to Ca iforn a. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861.

Carr, Stephen L., ed. Holladay-Cottonwood: Places and Faces. Holladay, Utah: Holladay-Cottonwood Heritage Committee, 1976.

Clemens, Samuel L. [Mark Twain]. Roughing It. New York: New American Library, Inc., 1962.

Cochran, Thomas C. Business in American Life: A History. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972.

Cooke, Alistair. Alistair Cooke’s America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Deseret News 1978 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, 1978.

Friedman, Milton and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Furniss, Norman F. The Mormon Conflict 1850-1859. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960.

Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia. 4 vol. Salt Lake C ty, Utah: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1914.

Jessee, Dean C., ed. Letters of Bri ham Young to His Sons. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1974.

Josephson, Matthew. The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1962.

Kirkland, Edward Chase. Industry Comes of Age: Business Labor and Public Policy, 1860-1889 . Chicago: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1967.

Knowlton, Ezra C. History of Highway Development in Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah State Department of Highways, n.d.

Langley, Harold D., ed. To Utah With the Dragoons and Glimpses of Life in Arizona and California 1858-1859. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1974

Larson, Gustive O. The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood. Huntington Library, 1971.

LeMassena, Robert A. Rio Grande ... to the Pacific! Denver: Sundance Limited, 1974.

Lippman, Joseph, comp. The Revised Ordinances of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, Utah: Tribune Job Printing Company, 1893.

McKee, Harley J. Introduction to Early American Masonry: Stone, Brick, Mortar and Plaster. Washington, D. C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, 1973.

Newbold, Noal C. and Bea Kummer. Silver and Snow: The Story of Park City. Salt Lake City, Utah: Par lament Publishers, 1968.

Poor, Henry V. Manual of the Railroads of the United States. New York: H. V. and H. W. Poor, 1883-1890.

Price, Raye Carleson. Diggings and Doings in Park City. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1972.

Riegel, Robert Edgar. The Story of the Western Railroads: From 1852 Through the Rein of the Giants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964.

Roberts, Brigham H. A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6 vol. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965.

Sessions, Gene A., ed. Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle. Salt Lake City, Utah: Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975.

Stover, John F. The Life and Decline of the American Railroad. New York: Oxford Un vers ty Press, 1970.

Thompson, George A. and Fraser Buck. Treasure Mountain Home: A Centennial History of Park City, Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1968.

Tullidge, Edward W. Tullidge’s Histories of Utah, vol 2: Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Press, 1889.

White, John H. American Locomotives: An Engineering History, 1830-1880. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.


Chappell, Gordon. "Scenic Line of the World." Colorado Rail Annual (1970), 3-96.

Keller, Charles L. "Promoting Railroads and Statehood: John W. Young." Utah Historical Quarter, 45 (Summer 1977), 289-308.

Government Documents

U. S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Military Affairs, Report to Accompany S. B. 1840, 49th Cong., 2d sess., February , 1887.

U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Military Affairs, Report ~~ to Accompany H. R. 3973, 49th Cong., 2d sess., February 8, 1887.

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, 892.

Compiled Laws of Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah: Herbert Pembroke, 1888.

Compiled Laws of Utah Territory. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Steam Printing, 1876.

The Revised Ordinances of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, Utah: Star Printing Company, 1888.

Manuscript Material

Provo, Utah. Special Collections, Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Charles W. Hardy Collection

Salt Lake City, Utah. Archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John W. Young Collection.

Salt Lake City, Utah. Western Americana Section, Marriott Library, University of Utah. John M. Whitaker Collection.

Salt Lake City, Utah. Genealogical Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John W. Young' family group sheets.

Salt Lake City, Utah. Archives of the State of Utah, State Capitol.

Salt Lake City, Utah. Salt Lake City Engineer’s Office, City and County Building.

Coombs, Barry B. Letter to Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr., July 17, 1974. [Mr. Coombs works for the historical section of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Omaha, Nebraska.]

Adkins, Marlowe C., Jr. "End of Track: Park City." Manuscript on file with the Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Three Salt Lake City newspapers were examined for pertinent information. Articles and editorials relative to John W. Young’s enterprises were carried in the Deseret News, the Herald, and the Salt Lake Tribune between 1883 and 1894. The Park City Park Record a weekly newspaper, was examined for the period 1889-1894.

Oral Interview

Grover, Roscoe A. with Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr. February 25, 1978. Interview conducted at the home of Mr. Groves, 62 Virginia Street, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Appendix A

The "Cats-paw" Note

(Note: This undated, unsigned note is found in the John W. Young papers. The handwriting is the same as that of Appendix B. While a handwriting expert was not consulted, there is a marked resemblance between these notes and the handwriting of Joseph F. Smith. It is understandable how Appendix B came to be located in the Young papers, but how the "cats-paw" note came to be there is a minor mystery in itself.)

1. A combination was organized to create a monopoly.

2. A number of men and their interests were sacrificed, and are today.

3. Under pretence of the power of Railroad grants an attempt was made to force a way through North Temple Street; thus providing for the projectors a Railroad bed for nothing to them, but at the expense of property owners on the route, in the interest of the above monopoly. This was frustrated by the action of the people.

4. As this became unpopular and appeared unprofitable, the projectors offered to sell it out to Pres. Taylor for $ ------. He did not buy.

5. There was held out to him the prospect of the U. P. R. R. purchasing and that it was desireable to keep it from them as monopolists.

6. John W. Young next appears on the scene. He tells us that he had nothing to do with the monopoly; that he stepped forward to save it from going into the hands of the U. P. We are informed that it is his, in his own right, that he is the sole proprietor and possesor.

7. Has he paid for it, or is the cats-paw of the original proprietors? If he is, where is the Monkey?

8. Has he paid anything for this? If so, how much; and what is the real status of the case?

9. What is the amount of bonds to be used?

10. Are these people to be paid in bonds for the alleged purchase of the property? Is the railroad iron that is contracted for to be paid for in these bonds?

11. A proposition has been made to furnish $4000 worth of Iron to the Street Railroad on reasonable terms--Is that iron to be paid for, to the vendors, in those bonds? If so, where would the $4000 go which is supposed to be obtained from the sale of the iron?

12. What is the amount of stock, and why are these favorable conditions offered to the Trustee in Trust? For if the Trustee in Trust pays in produce that money must go somewhere. It would seem the iron is provided for on certain conditions, is that to be paid for in stock or bonds?

13. It seems the property is paid for, is that to be paid for in Stock or Bonds?

14. How much will the stock be in excess of the bona-fide purchase? And who gets the difference? What provision is there made for the payment of claims for a right of way, for grading, supplying ties and rolling stock, etc, and where does that come from?

These and other questions want answering, associated with the equipment and running of the road. If there is no tangible prospect for the supply of funds, other than that required of us, how is the thing going to be done?

Appendix B

Reply of the Mormon Church to John W. Young’s Proposal to Sell Part Interest in the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad

(Note: This note is unsigned but written on paper bearing the letterhead of the- Office of the President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quoted exactly as written including spelling errors.)

In answer to your propositions if we had anything to do with that arrangement, I should want it to be placed in a condition that we could have the controlling interest. And, as I understand it, things are about thus: You have bought the quarries and other realty, for which you have agreed to pay $27,500. About one-half of that you say you have paid, and given your note for the remaining half. If we are expected to embark in the matter we must start at the bed rock, and if you pay $13,750 and we pay $13,750 we should then be equal. We should then put in something more to give us the controlling interest, and should then want to be consulted about the manipulation of stock, and matters connected with the building or running of the road. Your proposition regarding the purchase of iron, and for the grading of the road, if the grading is on an economical basis, your offer to us would be satisfactory, and the purchase of the $4000 for iron would make it easier for us to meet the cash obligation, providing it was on terms that would not be hazardous. Ties, rolling stock, and other equipments would have to be furnished.

Should these-former propositions be acceptable the question would arise as to the amount of bonds to be issued. We would suggest that if 8 miles would do at first, it would be better to start it than 10.

8 miles at 15,000 per mile --$120,000.00

to cover the quarriers would take -- 50,000.00

total -- 170,000.00

or 8 miles at 20,000 per mile -- 160,000.00

This would give 2 miles less railroad, and $30,000.00 less bonds, the interest on which would be quite a consideration. If any odd money was wanted for other contingencies it would come out of the difference between the $50,000.00 and the price given for the quarries.

Is it supposed that this $15,000.00 per mile would cover all expenses connected with the building and equipment of the road? If the foregoing is agreed to, it is further understood that neither party is to sell stock or bonds beyond a certain defined amount, without mutual consent.


Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.

Candidate for the Degree of

Master of Science

Thesis: "A History of John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, 1884-1894."

Biographical Information

Personal Data: Born Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 20, 1940, son of Marlowe C. Adkins, Sr., and Mary Afton Siddoway Adkins; married Kate Klingenberg on August 27, 1962; one child, Leah.

Education: Elementary and secondary education completed in Salt Lake City public schools. Attended Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, California; graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Utah State University, Logan, Utah in 1972. Major in History, minor in Business Education.

Professional Experience: United States Marine Corps, 1958-1968; Business Administrator of Fairmont, Kenwood, and Radcliffe Hall private schools, Anaheim, California, 1968-1970;

Teacher of United States history, Sky View High School, Smithfield, Utah 1972 to date. Prepared text for Bicentennial unit entitled "Native Americans of Utah" for the Cache, Logan, and Box Elder School Districts, 1975-1976. Prepared nonvisual portion of slide and tape presentation "Utah Engineering: Past and Present" for the Utah Engineers Council, 1976.


[1] Riegel, Western Railroads, 305.

[2] Athearn, Rebel of the Rockies, 181.

[3] Oral interview with Roscoe A. Grover, February 25, 1978.

[4] Grover interview.

[5] Grover interview. This attitude had been expressed in a letter much earlier. "I made up my mind many years ago to try and do my duty as I understood it, and to build up the cause to which we are enlisted. I am glad to say that this has always been uppermost in my mind, and although I have been greatly misunderstood at times, and people have been full of criticism and fault finding, yet, when the day comes that all must be adjudged for what they have done, good or evil, certainly my intentions will prove that my interests have been ever for the cause and the people ..." John W. Young to John M. Whitaker, August 11, 1888. JWY papers.

[6] The expansion of the city caused the injunction and resulted in the use of the roadbed as cit streets. The original complaint was from a property owner whose house shook and was in danger of fire from the sparks of the locomotive each time a train passed.