How Sandy Got Its Name

By Don Strack

This page was last updated on January 18, 2007.

The railroad arrived in what today is Sandy, Utah, in early September 1871. The railroad was known as the Utah Southern. Having had its ground breaking at Salt Lake City in May 1871, construction had progressed rapidly along what today is Utah Transit Authority's TRAX light rail line.

While there have been two versions published of how Sandy got its name, it was most likely named for the sandy nature of the area's soil, especially the area to the east of today's UTA TRAX Historic Sandy station.

As a minor side note, the least believable version of how Sandy got its name has it that the settlement was named for the engineer of the first train into the small settlement, Alexander Kinghorn, whose nickname was said to be "Sandy." But since Sandy did not exist as a settlement or railroad station until the railroad was built to get granite blocks from the quarry to Salt Lake City

The second and by far the most likely version, comes from Brigham Young's naming the location due to the sandy nature of the surrounding soil. This version has a bit more background to it, coming as eye-witness accounts from two sisters who were there. They were daughters of Charles and Ann Malin Sharp.

Ann Parry Sharp, who was 13 years old in 1871, told the following story in 1940:

The tracks came by the bottom of our field. A train of flat cars made trips from Salt Lake City to the end of the line, hauling the workmen and building material. There was a camp of railroad workmen and teams at the bottom of our field, near the ditch about a block north of what is now Midvale Junction, in East Midvale. They bought food from us, such as home made bread, pies, butter, eggs and milk.

We were invited to ride on the flat cars whenever we wanted to go to the City. One day my mother, Ann Malin Sharp, took all of us children including Mary Easter, Elizabeth, George T., Lottie (Harriett Charlotte) and myself to Salt Lake City to buy some new clothes and we rode on the flat cars. When we went to the depot to return home, there was a train with one coach, a caboose and a group of men who, judging from their conversation appeared to be railroad officials. They were going south on that train. Brigham Young invited us to ride in the coach with the gentlemen, which we did. When we reached our field, the train slowed to a stop to let us off. Brigham Young invited us to remain on the train and ride to the end of the line and return. The invitation was gladly accepted.

The railroad was then extended as far as Dry Creek. Going south the train stopped at about where the Sandy Depot now stands. The men got off the train, looked around and talked awhile; then the train continued to Dry Creek. Returning north the train stopped at the same place as before. A ditch had been built to try to irrigate the land where Sandy City now stands. East of Sandy from where the ditch was built the earth was so extremely sandy they doubted if it would carry water--they feared the banks would wash away. The ditch carried the water, that washed part of the banks, depositing the sand with the water on the sandy soil. At the place where the train stopped a great deal of sand had been washed onto the soil making it very sandy in this location. Brigham Young raked his cane in the sand and scraped his foot in the sand, then turning around he looked in every direction and then said, "Sand! Sand! Everywhere sand! We'll call this place Sandy."

Ann's younger sister Mary Easter Sharp, was 10 years old at the same time. Her daughter, Ethel Young Lambson, remembered her mother's saying several times that riding the first train to Sandy as a guest of Brigham Young was the highlight of her childhood. She often dramatized Brigham Young in the naming of Sandy, even to the tone of his voice. (part from Heart Throbs of the West, by Kate B. Carter, Volume 12, pages 111-112)

Later research suggests that the stop by the railroad officials at what was later called Sandy, would have likely been to discuss the movement of granite blocks to the LDS Salt Lake City temple, which was under construction at the time. Following completion of Utah Southern through both Sandy and Draper in late 1871, surveys were completed during the following summer of 1872 for a spur line between Utah Southern at Sandy, and the granite quarries at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon five miles to the east.

During the summer of 1871, Utah Southern construction was halted briefly at the north side of Dry Creek while a large trestle bridge was constructed to cross what today is known as Dimple Dell. In 1872, construction of the Utah Southern spur was completed for a distance of three and a half miles, just over half the distance to the quarries.

The difficulty of construction due to steep hills and sharp curves soon pointed to the need for a narrow gauge railroad, and a separate company was organized in October 1872 to build the actual line to the quarries. Known as the Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad, the new narrow gauge line continued past the granite quarries to serve a smelter, and the mines in Little Cottonwood Canyon, reaching Alta in September 1875. The granite quarries had been reached in the fall of 1872, and the transfer of granite blocks from narrow gauge tracks to the Utah Southern's standard gauge tracks, was the main reason for the sudden growth of Sandy as a town. Smelters soon were built at the same location, and Sandy became a center for mining activity as well.

The north side of Dry Creek, where Utah Southern track laying halted briefly in the summer of 1871 while a bridge was built, is the location of today's UTA TRAX light rail Sandy Civic Center Station, at about 10000 South.

UTA TRAX Historic Sandy Station is a couple blocks south of the historic center of Sandy where Main Street crosses Center Street. As with many towns that grew up around a railroad station, when it came time to name the streets, the east-west Main Street (8700 South) ended at the depot and was located to run west from that point, and the north-south Center Street (150 east) paralleled the railroad tracks.

Historic Sandy was also the interchange point, and crossing point, between the standard gauge Utah Southern and the narrow gauge Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad (D&RGW after 1881).