Joseph G. Jacobs (1851-1920)

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J. G. Jacob's Railroads

(Portions of this article were first published in the blog on May 22, 2013)

Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad

Joseph G. Jacobs came to Utah in 1890, and within four years was planning and building the Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad. The road was placed into service in January 1895, and remained successful as long as the mines at Mercur themselves remained successful. The mines shut down in March 1913, and the railroad held on until the following October 1913. In the intermediate years, the Salt Lake & Mercur purchased a total of six Shay locomotives to operate its steep and winding railroad.

(Read more about Jacobs' Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad)

West Side Rapid Transit Co.

In about 1891 or 1892, J. G. Jacobs became involved in the West Side Rapid Transit Co., a single-track street car line along Salt Lake City's Seventh West to "Tenth South" (today's 1300 South), then west across the Jordan River to the Garden City, Brighton, and El Dorado subdivisions. The line extended for seven miles, to about 3800 West.

(Read more about the West Side Rapid Transit Co.)

Copper Belt Railroad

In 1900, Jacobs negotiated a lease of Rio Grande Western's narrow gauge horse tramway in Bingham Canyon, with the intent of rebuilding it as a standard gauge rail line, serving many of the mines in the rapidly growing mining district. Jacobs, together with his associates who owned the Bingham Copper and Gold Mining Company, organized the Copper Belt Railroad, with the planned goal of connecting the mining company's mine at the upper portion of Bingham Canyon in Copper Center Gulch, with the Rio Grande's own Bingham Branch adjacent to the Bingham depot. The Copper Belt went into operation in January 1901, using a Shay locomotive borrowed from Jacobs' SL&M railroad, but soon began receiving new Shay locomotives of its own, eventually owning a total of five Shays. The Copper Belt proved to be so important to Rio Grande's operations serving the Bingham mines, that in January 1905, Denver & Rio Grande purchased the entire railroad and its locomotives.

(Read more about Jacobs' Copper Belt Railroad)

Salt Lake & Alta Railroad

In 1908, Jacobs had leased the defunct narrow gauge line in Little Cottonwood Canyon from Denver & Rio Grande, with the hopes of rebuilding it to serve the mines being developed at Alta, in the upper reaches of the canyon. The mines were shipping by wagon, and one was using an aerial tramway with its lower terminal at Tanners Flat at about the midpoint of the canyon. Jacobs told the local newspapers that he was going to build a railroad that covered the distance between Sandy and the lower terminal of the aerial tramway at Tanners Flat.

Financial support was hard to find until the state government announced that the new capitol building was to use granite from the quarries in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The schedule for completion meant that a single stone company would not be able to complete the contract on time. To support the schedule, multiple stone companies organized the Utah Consolidated Stone Company, to provide the financial resources to quarry the stone, and to provide the needed personnel and facilities to finish the granite needed for the capitol's exterior. Research has yet to find a direct financial connection between the stone companies and J. G. Jacobs, but very soon after the granite contract was announced, Jacobs organized the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad with himself as the president, and his son Fred as the vice president. By this time, Fred Jacobs was a 33-year-old mining engineer. The senior Jacobs held 3,994 shares of the outstanding 4,000 shares.

The Salt Lake & Alta Railroad was completed and the first stone was shipped in mid November 1913. Shipment of granite blocks, both large and small, continued until the capitol exterior was completed in the fall of 1914. But by that time, granite for the exterior of the LDS church's new administration building was being shipped by Utah Consolidated Stone. This building was under construction between 1914 and 1917, but by September 1915, the granite for all four sides had been placed. One other large building known to have used granite from Little Cottonwood was the D&RG freight depot in Ogden. Started in October 1913, it was completed and opened for business in March 1914.

The last carload of granite for the capitol was shipped in February 1915. The last carload of granite for the church administration building was shipped in September 1915. In March 1916, the stone company announced that due to the completion of the church administration building, it would close its stone finishing plant at Midvale, and its stone yards in Salt Lake City. Without the movement of large blocks of granite to sustain its operation, and only with the minimal shipment of ore from the Alta mines to support its existence, the Salt Lake & Alta shut down its operations. Without any significant income, the railroad was not able to keep up the lease payments to D&RG, and in 1917, Denver & Rio Grande took over the operation of the leased line between Sandy and Wasatch.

(Read more about Jacobs' Salt Lake & Alta Railroad)


November 3, 1850
Joseph Galoway Jacobs was born in Yellow Springs, Greene County, Ohio; his father was Cyrus Jacobs.

September 20, 1876, Jacobs married Una Stewart, daughter of Robert Stewart and Rachel E. Jacoby; they were married in Clifton, Greene County, Ohio.

June 12, 1880
Jacobs and his family (wife Una, daughter Grace, and son Fred) were counted in the 1880 U. S. Census, living in Springfield, Clarke County, Ohio; Jacobs' occupation was shown as "Druggist."

Jacobs moved to Salt Lake City, based on 30 years as the length of time shown on his death certificate, he was in residence in Salt Lake County at the time of his death.

February 20, 1892
J. G. Jacobs is manager of the West Side Rapid Transit Company. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, February 20, 1892)

July 1894
Jacobs helped organized the Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad; he is shown as holding 450 shares of the outstanding 20,000 shares, A. A. Noon held 1,000 shares; by 1897, Jacobs held only five shares.

October 5, 1905
J. G. Jacobs sold "an interest" in the Salt Lake & Mercur railroad to L. L. Nunn and his associates. Jacobs had built the railroad in 1895 and had previously been vice president and general manager of the railroad company, but resigned to "take up other work." Jacobs was to remain as the company's corporate secretary and as a director of the company. L. L. Nunn became the president of the railroad. Nunn and his associates owned the Telluride Power Company, which furnished almost all electrical power in Utah. The new general manager of Salt Lake & Mercur was A. D. Smith, formerly with Telluride Power. (Salt Lake Herald, October 5, 1905; June 26, 1908)

(There were rumors that the "other work" Jacobs was to be involved was as a subcontractor to Utah Construction company's building of the Western Pacific railroad between Salt Lake City and Oakland.)

Biographical Notes

The following comes from "Utah, The Inland Empire," published in 1902; pages 102, 103:

Salt Lake And Mercur Railroad.

Few mining camps in America are better equipped with transportation facilities than Mercur, the marvelous gold camp of Utah, and nothing could reflect the greatness of "the Johannesburg of America" better than its superior railroad connections. This is to such an extent true that it has become a maxim in mining circles that where capital seeks investment in railroads there must be certainty rather than speculation. In the latter sixties and for many years thereafter the district had been thoroughly prospected and worked for silver. Among those who operated in the district in the early days were the late Senator George C. Hearst of California and the late Marcus Daly, the great copper king of Montana. The district died at the time of the great silver slump and was resurrected by the discovery of gold and the invention of a process that made it profitable to work. But even with the deposits of gold in the camp it could not have been the great camp of today without the transportation facilities which it now enjoys, and for that reason the agency which has affected this intimacy of relation between the mining industry of Mercur and the great outer world must be recognized as a vital element in the unrivaled development and prosperity of Utah's wonder camp. That agency has been in the major portion one man, and the name of that man will be recognized in the title of this article, in which will be briefly told the story of his eventful career.

Joseph G. Jacobs was born on a farm in Clark County, Ohio, fifty years ago. He was raised in the farming regions of Ohio until he engaged in business upon his own account in Springfield, Ohio. Business perception and executive ability were his heritage, and these had been supplemented by an education which fitted him for the creation, control and expansion of extensive interests. Accordingly we find him engaged in contracting and sub-contracting on railroad work in various parts of the West. He was an experienced railroad builder before he came to Utah in the early '90s, where he at once identified himself with the best interests of his adopted State. One of his first enterprises was the building of the West Side (City and Suburban) Railroad, a road which was of incalculable benefit in the upbuilding of the suburbs along its line. The road prospered until the financial depression of 1893, when along with practically every other enterprise it suffered from the effects of the unsettled conditions then existent. The road has been kept constantly in operation, however, and is now enjoying a good traffic. Mr. Jacobs after completing the West Side road looked about for an opportunity to build a road which hard times would not affect. The thriving little mining camp of Mercur was practically isolated, all supplies and ores being hauled by team, an expensive and slow method of handling such quantities of freight as were daily required for the mines. Mr. Jacobs carefully examined the district and speculated upon its possibilities. He then made valuable ore hauling contracts and soon had the road under course of construction and completed.

The road is fourteen miles in length, and connects with the Oregon Short Line at Fairfield, Utah. Mercur, one of the greatest gold camps in the world, is the other terminus. The road is a series of "cuts" and "fills" and reverse curves from start to finish. In the short distance of nine miles the road makes an ascent of 1,986 feet. Despite all the scenic attractions and the constant squirming and winding of the road, it has been pronounced by experts to be one of the safest and best managed in the country, and it is a noteworthy fact that notwithstanding that thousands of passengers and thousands of carloads of freight are annually hauled, there has never been an accident that could be attributed to mismanagement. This is a wonderful record for a road that has more curves to it than a corkscrew and one that is operated during all seasons of the year. Mr. Jacobs is the Vice-President, General Manager and owner of this remarkable railroad, which has been on a dividend paying basis almost from the start, and is now one of the best paying propositions in the West.

During the year 1900 Mr. Jacobs Mint a short line at Bingham, Utah, connecting with the Rio Grande Western Railway. The line is known as the Copper Belt Railroad, and was built for the purpose of hauling ore from the high mountains upon which the great camp of Bingham is situated to the terminus of the Rio Grande road in the canyon below. In an engineering way the Copper Belt road even surpassed the feats accomplished on the Salt Lake and Mercur line. The road has a maximum grade of 7.4 per cent. and some 40-degree curves. It is operated with Shay engines, and 150 tons of ore are handled in one trainload. Mr. Jacobs operated the line successfully until 1901, when it was purchased by the Bingham Copper and Gold Mining Company.

Mr. Jacobs' interests, while largely centered in the various railroads which he has built and managed, are by no means confined to these limits. His liberal investments have contributed to the growth and development of the entire Commonwealth. Coming to Utah twelve years ago, he demonstrated the value of energy, foresight and pluck in building a railroad that has proven of great value to the city, and when Mercur presented its opportunity, by building and operating the Salt Lake and Mercur Railroad.

In directories for Salt Lake City for the years 1916, 1917, and 1918, Joseph G. Jacobs was shown as president of Salt Lake & Alta Railroad. The same directories also show a business address for the railroad itself. Newspaper accounts for December 4, 1918 reported that Jacobs' son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Sherman White, stationed at Fort Douglas, had been killed in action in France while serving with the Twentieth Infantry. In the 1919 directory, Jacobs was shown with no business position, and a simple residential address. The directory for 1920 revealed that Joseph G. Jacobs passed away on March 24, 1920, at age 69.

January 5, 1920
Counted in the 1920 U. S. Census, on January 5, 1920, shown with his wife Una, and son Fred P. Jacobs and his wife, all in the same household at "857". His occupation was shown as a Promoter of Railroads. By the time of his father's death in March, Fred had moved to the Esther Apartments.

March 24, 1920
Joseph Galoway Jacobs passed away on March 24, 1920, and was buried in the Mount Olivet cemetery on March 27, 1920. His death certificate shows the cause of death as related to cardiac arrest. (His wife, Una Stewart Jacobs, is shown in the 1930 census living with their youngest daughter Dorothy and her family in Glendale, California. She died in June 1943 in San Diego. His son Fred Progue Jacobs continued his occupation as a mining engineer, and passed away on June 13, 1957, at age 77.)

More Information

Copper Belt Railroad -- Information about J. G. Jacobs' Shay-operated railroad that served the mines of Bingham Canyon.

Salt Lake & Alta Railroad -- Information about J. G. Jacobs' Shay-operated railroad that served the granite quarries of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad -- Information about J. G. Jacob's Shay-operated railroad that served the gold mines of the Mercur mining district.