The History Of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, Preface and Abstract


Clarence A. Reeder, Jr.

A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University
of Utah in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Department of History

University of Utah

June 1970


The nation's railways hold a fascination for thousands of enthusiastic Americans, young and old, who band together in model railroading clubs and organizations formed to study the history and folklore of the railroad. These arm-chair "railroaders" demand and are provided with numerous periodicals and countless histories of the railroad and that fantastic steed, the "iron horse, " that in "olden" days snorted and steamed down the nation's endless tracks, pulling strings of cars loaded with unimaginable wonders and destined for far-off and exciting places.

The history of the building and development of Utah's railroads from 1869 to 1883 is in many ways the history of building and development of the Territory, for it was the railroad, during that period of time, that encouraged economic, social and cultural growth. The story of the construction and operation of Utah's early railroads that were successfully built and those that began and ended as the "dream" of their promoters is the object of this study.

Initiated in 1869 by the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the next fourteen years witnessed the construction of twenty short line railroads in the Territory and the attempt to construct more than forty in others. Several periodical articles and chapters of books have told the story of some of these railroads; others have received only mention in dusty histories written years ago, and still others are lost entirely except for their charters, buried in the darkened stacks of the State Archives or concealed in short paragraphs of century-old newspapers. To gather the fragments to make this study possible has been exhilarating, and it is hoped that the history of all of these railroads has found a place in the pages that follow.

It is with sincere gratitude that I express thanks for the assistance I have received in this undertaking. The materials and research facilities of the University of Utah Libraries; the L.D.S. Church Historian's Library; the Utah Power and Light Company; the Utah State University Library; the Brigham Young University Library; the Utah State Archives; the Utah State Secretary of State's Office; the Economic and Social Records Division, The Public Documents Division and the Cartographic Records Division of the National Archives; the Library of the American Association of Railroads; the Library of Congress; the Bancroft Library; the Utah State Historical Society; and of the L.D.S. Church Information Service, have been made available to me. I am indebted to the helpful and efficient personnel of each of these agencies who so willingly rendered assistance.

The direction and, as important, the encouragement I have received from my supervisory committee at the University of Utah is acknowledged and deeply appreciated: to Dr. David E. Miller who has directed and guided my study and has taught me the value of field work, to Dr. C. Gregory Crampton, Dr. Brigham D. Madsen, Dr. Philip C. Sturges and Dr. Halbert S. Greaves who have assisted me in numerous ways and who have been my friends, and to the late Dr. Leland H. Creer, Dr. W. Harold Dalgliesh and other members of the History Faculty who have given aid and encouragement on many occasions.

A great number of people have helped in various ways during the course of this research and writing, and to each of these I express my sincere appreciation. For their aid I am especially grateful to: Patricia H. Parsons for assisting in both the research and writing of this study, Dr. Leonard J. Arrington who has rendered much valuable advice and made his extensive research materials available to me, Larry Southwick for his friendship and assistance, Stanford J. Layton for editing and Tone Glenne for typing the manuscript and to the University of Utah Administration and the staff of the Office of the Registrar for their support and encouragement. Special appreciation is expressed to my family for their endless patience and to my wife Roslyn for assisting me in this study and especially for assuming full responsibility for rearing our children. Finally, gratitude to my Father, gone from us now, whose watch with its gold chain rests on a shelf above my desk, a loving reminder that he was a "Railroad Man."



The development of Utah from an uninhabited wilderness in 1847 to a self-sustaining, and to some degree prosperous, Territory peopled by 100,000 inhabitants in 1877 may be attributed largely to the leadership of Brigham Young. During the last decade of this period, the tool he used most effectively to promote this development was that of railroads.

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were the first to touch Utah. Their junction at Promontory Summit in the Territory on May 10, 1869, bound the nation into one conveniently traversable unit and provided the base from which Brigham Young and other farsighted Utahns built a Territorial system of railways. The Mormon leader and his people gained their first experience in railroad construction by taking and completing contracts for the bulk of the grading work required on the transcontinental road in Utah. This experience provided valuable knowledge that was used in construction of their own iron expressways.

Once the rails of the national road touched Utah, the Mormon leader moved with amazing speed and energy to marshal his people in the construction of the Utah Central Railroad to link the city of Salt Lake to the bypassing transcontinental line.

This first effort was followed by the construction of the Utah Southern and the Utah Northern railroads which were built primarily to join the major cities of northern and central Utah, located along the Wasatch Front and in Cache Valley.

A second group of railroads was constructed to tap the rich mining areas of Utah. Two of these were built into the canyons of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains that towered above the Salt Lake Valley. A third road wound its way up the American Fork Canyon, and a fourth line was constructed from a junction with the Union Pacific Railroad in Echo Canyon to the rich coal mines around Coalville. Still another road, the Utah Western, was pushed west from Salt Lake City to the numerous mines of the Tooele and Stockton area.

All of the local railroads mentioned thus far were in operation by 1875. Salt Lake City became the hub around which these railroads operated; and the city also enjoyed the benefits of an intracity street car system.

The development of a railway system continued at a reasonably rapid pace between 1875 and 1883. Brigham Young continued to exert an influence in railroad promotion until his death in 1877, after which time other prominent Mormons assumed leadership roles. This prominence was shared, however, with nationally known railroad financiers and non-Mormon Utah businessmen who entered actively in Utah railroad promotion.

In this second period of development, there were extensions of existing lines and the chartering of new railroads that reached untouched sections of the Territory. The Utah Southern Railroad pushed southward to the rich mining districts of Beaver and Iron counties. A branch line was built to the coal fields in the Sanpete Valley; and the Utah Northern laid track through Idaho and Montana to a junction with the Northern Pacific at Garrison, Montana. Park City, a rich mining community in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, was joined by rail to Coalville and then to Echo; and the Salt Lake and Western Railroad laid track to the Tintic Mining District in Juab County.

The Utah and Pleasant Valley Railroad was built to exploit the coal fields of central Utah and then became part of the main line of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad as it pushed west from Denver, Colorado, to Ogden in 1883. The "Western" formed a junction with the Central Pacific at Ogden and, with its connections to the east, became a competitor to the Union Pacific for the transcontinental trade.

This railroad system brought about a metamorphic change in the Territory. The months that had been required for travel across the nation were reduced to days, and freight and farm products could be shipped at reasonably inexpensive rates. The convenient method of transportation the railroads offered brought about the development of a great mining industry in the Territory and changed the economy immensely.