Early Utah Coal Discoveries

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This page was last updated on December 28, 2018.

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Early Coal and Coke In Utah

September 18, 1875
"When it is considered that very large quantities of coke are shipped from Pennsylvania to Utah and Nevada, a distance of 2,000 miles, at a cost of $35 to $40 per ton, for the purpose of smelting silver ores, it will at once be seen of what the immense value this mine is likely to prove to owners of low grade silver mines." (Engineering and Mining Journal, September 18, 1875, "Discovery of Large Coal Beds Near Evanstown (Wy. T.)")


Coal was first discovered in Utah in Chalk Creek Canyon near Coalville in 1849. (Alexander, p. 235)

The coal in Coalville was worked for a generation, until the discovery of the Castle Gate coal seams diminished the value of Coalville's product. (Jones, p. 23)

Daughters of Utah Pioneers tells this story of early coal discoveries in the Coalville area:

"Thomas Rhodes, pioneer hunter and explorer, discovered coal in the Coalville district by accident. Rhodes was searching for game on a high promontory, known as Skunk's Point, when he came upon a small vein of coal. Using his hunting knife, he cut out samples which he took to President Young. In 1860, two men, Samuel Fletcher and John Muir, were sent to investigate the possibility of working Rhode's discovery. Mr. Muir shot and wounded a deer and while the two men were trailing the animal, they came upon a ten foot outcropping of coal. They immediately reported their findings to the Church leaders, under whose direction the Church Coal Mines were developed in the district. From this time on, hundreds of tons of coal were hauled from Coalville into Salt Lake City by ox-teams. Later other mines were developed in the same locality." (Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 7, p. 74)

The first coal discovered in large, marketable quantities in northern Utah was at the Grass Creek vein near Coalville in 1860, at what was called the Church Mine. The Church Mine was located forty-five miles from Salt Lake City, just missing the $1,000.00 reward that was offered by the Territorial Legislature in 1854 for coal found within forty miles of Salt Lake City. Later, John Spriggs and William Kimball found coal in nearby Chalk Creek Canyon, above Coalville, and also claimed the reward. But they too were located outside of the forty mile limit. (Powell, Labor, p. 9)

The first commercially successful coal mine in Utah Territory was mine that by 1886 was operated by the Home Coal company. The mine was operating from both the Wasatch and Crimson mines in the vicinity of Coalville. During 1886, the mines produced 24,417 tons of marketable coal, which was shipped principally to Park City and Salt Lake City. The coal bed was 12 feet thick and the coal was used principally for domestic purposes and for stationary boilers. At the Grass Creek mine, which had shipped 29,131 tons of coal to outside markets, the coal vein was 10 feet thick. (Charles A. Ashburner, "Coal Production In Utah, 1886," AIME Transactions, Volume 16, 1887-1888, page 356)

The Spriggs & Kimball mine in Chalk Creek Canyon was later worked as the Wasatch Mine, and still later as the Weber Mine, and by 1898 (before the 1899 opening of the Sunnyside mine in Carbon County) was the fourth largest coal mine in the state. (Powell, Labor, p. 9)

(The Wasatch Mine lost its place in the top five mines in Utah with the 1899 development of the Sunnyside mines of Rio Grande Western's Utah Fuel Company in Carbon County.)

(Read more about the coal mines in Summit County, and the area surrounding Coalville)

San Pete

Coal was discovered in Sanpete County by two former Welsh miners in 1854. In 1857 they named the town near the mines Wales, after their homeland. (Alexander, p. 235)

The first commercial venture involving coal mining in Utah was at this same Sanpete County mine. The Wales mine soon became known for its high quality coke, used by many of the new smelters in the territory. The mine benefited from a newly built railroad, completed in 1882, that furnished low-cost transportation for the coal, the coke, and for the residents and farms in the region. The Wales mine remained in operation until about World War One, although direct rail service ended in the 1890s.

The demand for coal in the 1890s was limited by both its short supply and limited number of uses and applications. The local supply in Utah came from Wyoming and two or three mines in the eastern portion of the Utah territory: the Pleasant Valley mines, the Wales mine, and the Coalville mines. A large reserve in Utah was unknown until geologists and engineers were sent into the field in the later years of the decade. Within a few short years, instead of one or two companies controlling the complete supply of coal, namely the Union Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande railroads, several strong and heavily financed corporations became producers and shippers, supplying not only the local demand, but reaching out into the surrounding states of Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and California. (Higgins: Consolidated, pp. 15,16)

Carbon County has produced ninety percent of all the coal mined in the state of Utah. (Watts: Carbon County, p. 400)

The first recorded evidence of coal in eastern Utah came from the Gunnsion Expedition in 1853. While surveying a route for the transcontinental railroad, expedition members discovered coal along the eastern slope of the Wasatch Range, near present day Emery. The remoteness of the location, along with the known availability of coal from the Coalville and Wales mines, soon led to the report being forgotten. (Powell, Next Time We Strike, p. 18)

By January 1919, the coal mine at Wales was active, but all coal was hauled by wagon. Some coal from the Wales mine was hauled by wagon to the nearest railroad track and loaded into railroad cars. (Letter, January 17, 1919, D&RG Railroad general superintendent of Utah Lines, to Utah Public Service Commission)

Winter Quarters

Pleasant Valley Coal Mines, including the earliest mines aat Winter Quartes in 1873-1875

Price Townsite

The Price River was named after William Price, a Mormon bishop from Goshen, Utah, who was exploring the region during the summer of 1869 and named the convergence of Fish Creek and the White River (at today's Colton) after himself. He continued his exploration and followed his namesake river past the famous Castle Gate rock formation as far east as today's Wellington. (Madsen, p. 8)

Price townsite was surveyed and laid out in November 1882. (Reynolds, p. 85)

The new D&RGW rail line between Pleasant Valley Junction and the Utah-Colorado line, through Castle Gate and Price, was completed on April 8, 1883. (Madsen, p. 14)

The first frame structure in Price, a dry goods store, was built by Frederick Grames, who was also the town's first postmaster when the post office was established on August 30, 1883. The stock of dry goods for the store was purchased from a contractor of the D&RG. (Reynolds, p. 85)

The railroad station at Price was originally called Castle Valley, and the name was changed to Price in January 1884. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 13, 1884)

(The first Mormon congregation (called a branch, and if larger, a ward) was established on November 20, 1882, taking the name "Price River Branch" from the river that was furnishing their irrigation water. In January 1884, the railroad merely changed the name of the railroad station to match the name of the town, which was being called Price, shortening the full name of the Mormon ward.)

(C. H. Madsen, page 14, states that a station called Castle Valley still existed as late as December 31, 1887, and that it was between Price and Castle Gate. In 1883 Castle Valley was the only station in the twenty-two miles between Castle Gate (today's mile post 630.4) and Farnham (later mile post 608.7, now retired). The 1890 RGW timetable No. 1 shows Castle Gate at mile post (from Ogden) 147.7, and Farnham at mile post 169.3, with Helper at mile post 151.5 and Price at mile post 158.5.)

Carbon County was created by an act of the Utah Territorial legislature on March 8, 1894. The new county was made up portions of the northern part of Emery County. (Madsen, p. 2)

Helper Townsite

The D&RGW station at Helper was originally just a spur, called Pratt's Siding, after Teacum Pratt, an 1880 settler to the area who had surveyed the townsite and sold the land to the railroad in 1883. The first parcels of land for Helper yard were sold to the railroad in 1891, with one of the parcels being purchased from the Helper Townsite Company. The first depot at Helper was actually an old boxcar, but a new depot, together with a railroad hotel for the crews, a locomotive coaling facility, and a roundhouse were completed sometime before June 1892. The name Helper was chosen by Rio Grande's general superintendent Arthur E. Welby because it described the new yard's function, being the terminal where helper locomotives were added to trains to move them over Soldier Summit. There had been an effort by locals to name the new town after Welby but Mr. Welby preferred the name Helper instead. (Madsen, pp. 15,19)

(The station called Helper existed before 1891, and was shown in the June 1890 RGW timetable No.1, at mile post (from Ogden) 151.5.)

In 1930 the new engine facilities were built at Helper, after the new facilities at Soldier Summit were closed. (Madsen, pp. 21,22)