John W. Young's Railroads

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This page was last updated on June 13, 2022.

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A quote from Marlowe Adkins' history of John W. Young describes his early life:

John Willard Young was a railroad entrepreneur, businessman, Mormon, and linked to what had been the most influential family in Utah. Born October 1, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois, he was the third son of Brigham and Mary Ann Angell Young.

At age eighteen he was sent on a church mission to New York City, aiding in the Mormon migration from England. Dealing with agents for shipping lines and railroad companies, he was introduced to current business practices of the day. Within three years, now a young man, he was sent on another mission, this time to England. By now, some of his attitudes were well formed, including a liking for the good life.

John W. Young's railroading experience began in 1868 as a subcontractor preparing the grade for the Union Pacific through parts of Utah. The following year he was involved in both the formation and the construction of the Utah Central Railroad. In the summer of 1871, he traveled to New York and obtained financial backing for the Utah Northern, a railroad enterprise of which he was the president. Leaving the U. N., he became involved in another railroad, the Utah Western, which was building west from Salt Lake City. During this same period, Brigham Young sent John W. Young to England on business for the Utah Central and Utah Southern railroads. Thus, by 1878, he had received a thorough and practical background in various aspects of the railroad business.

Young was the moving force behind the Utah Northern as it built north from Brigham City to Franklin, Idaho in 1871 through 1874, and south to Ogden, also in 1874. In 1875, he was forced out of his role as president of Utah Northern by eastern investors. In late 1874, he became involved in the organization of Utah Western, building west from Salt Lake City.

George Pitchard wrote about John W. Young's railroad enterprises, in the introduction to his unpublished 2004 locomotive rosters of Young's railroads:

His first having been the Utah Northern RR; the first Utah Western Ry., later the Utah & Nevada Ry.; and an early 'Salt Lake & Ogden' railroad, narrow gauge of course, intended to connect the Salt Lake City end of the first Utah Western Ry. with the Ogden end of the Utah Northern RR. This S.L.& O, does not appear to have gotten past the 'projected' stage before Young seems to have been pushed out of the Utah Northern RR, in 1875. He also lost control of the U.W. in 1878, for much the same reason as in the U.N.'s case - financial problems on the railroads, for which he seems to have been blamed (probably unjustly).

Young's 'second empire' ended up as a rather ambitious scheme to effectively encircle Salt Lake City with a narrow-gauge necklace, with the Salt Lake & Fort Douglas line on the south, east, and at least partially on the north sides of the city, with the Cottonwood branch (later the Mill Creek branch) running southerly from the southeast corner of town along the edge of the hills (i.e., the Wasatch Front).

The Utah Western Ry. was to run up the west side of town, northerly from a junction with the S.L.& Ft.D. at 8th South, and at a point about where the north-side line of the S.L.& Ft.D. (if it could be built) would intersect the U.W., the U.W. was to turn from its northerly route and run slightly north of west on a direct line to the Great Salt Lake.

Additionally, the Salt Lake & Eastern Ry. was to run east from a connection with the Cottonwood branch in the Sugar House district, up Parley's Canyon and into Park City, and continue on easterly - to Colorado!

Most of this never came to pass. The S.L.& Ft.D. did not build any trackage on the north side of the city. The Cottonwood branch ended at Mill Creek, and never went as far south as initially proposed. The two short branches from Ft. Douglas, one more or less north up Red Butte canyon to rock quarries, the other more or less east to a brewery at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, were in use for six years at most (and probably less). The Salt Lake & Eastern, after the name change to Utah Central in April of 1890, did make it to Park City, in May 1890, and apparently some seven miles or so of track was actually laid easterly from a junction point just below Park City, into the middle of nowhere, but no service on this line appears ever to have been scheduled, and the rail was apparently taken up in a few years. The Utah Western line apparently was largely graded, all the way out to Great Salt Lake, but no track is known to have been laid thereon.

Active construction on the Salt Lake & Ft. Douglas did not begin until 1886, and as much of it as would ever be done appears to have been completed in 1888. Construction on what would become the Salt Lake & Eastern began in late 1887, and was finished into Park City in May, 1890; such track as was laid eastwardly from the Park City area appears to have been laid in 1890-1891 (and was taken up, it appears, in 1894). What grading was done on the Utah Western line appears mostly to have been done in 1889, with perhaps a bit being done in 1890.

Once the standard-gauge Utah Central Railway, running south from Ogden, through Salt Lake City, Provo, et cetera, on into southwestern Utah, was merged with several other lines into the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern Ry., effective August 1, 1889, John W. Young decided to appropriate the 'Utah Central' name for his group of railroads, and effective April 8, 1890, the railroads began to be operated as the Utah Central Railway, a move which apparently caused no end of confusion (then and now!), as the locals, after 20 years, were used to referring to the north-south standard-gauge line as the Utah Central, and indeed the OSL&UN continued calling it the 'U.C. District' for some time. Young claimed the right to the name by virtue of his having suggested it back in 1869 for the first Mormon railroad project, the 'Utah Central Rail Road' between Ogden and Salt Lake City (and one of the three predecessor companies of the 1881 Utah Central Ry. that in 1889 became part of the OSI&UN Ry).

In any case, Young's narrow-gauge lines were operated as the Utah Central Ry., legally incorporated as such, though the preceding companies continued their legal existence, too, until sold in 1897, at the conclusion of the 1893 receivership.

Judging from the state of such records as still exist, Young seems to have lost interest in his Utah railroad projects along about 1891 or 1892, leaving active management to the company secretary, or to his lawyer. Financial difficulties had always been a problem, ever since the beginning of this 'second empire,' and the famous "Silver Panic" of 1893, et cetera, brought about receivership in November of 1893. During the receivership, operation of the Salt Lake & Ft. Douglas line above and beyond the wye at 9th South and 10th East, to Ft. Douglas and the branches to Red Butte and Emigration canyons, was suspended - the last known operation on these lines was in 1894, after which the track lay unused until taken up in 1897. The Cottonwood branch also appears to have been shortened early on in the receivership period, leaving only that portion south from the junction with the Park City line (by now the 'main' line) in the Sugar House district, to a brick works in an area known to this day as 'the Brick Yard,' and at which time it seems to have become known as the Mill Creek Branch. (ed. note: This branch served the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Co., later Interstate Brick Co., and remained in place until the mid 1970s, albeit as a standard gauge branch for successor D&RGW. The site of the brickworks is today, the site of the Brickyard shopping mall.) Such of the easterly extension beyond Park City as had had track laid on it, lost same early in the receivership; and of course the Utah Western line never had track to lose, so far as is known.

By the end of 1897, the pruning of the branches had left the Utah Central with its main line to Park City, which ran from the R.G.W. connection, easterly along 8th South and 9th south, southerly along 10th East and 11th East, easterly up Parley's canyon, and so forth, into Park City; and the Mill Creek branch. Not much else, except a few minor spurs here and there.

When the several railroads were sold in 1897, in the winding-up of the receivership, to the reorganized company, the Utah Central Railroad, the Rio Grande Western turned out to be the backer of the new company; in early 1898, the R.G.W. officially leased the U.C.RR. for a period of 49 years. Plans were already in process for the widening of the 'Utah Central branch,' which work began in 1899 and was completed in mid-1900. The R.G.W. was taken over operationally by the D & R G in 1902, but certain legalities delayed actual merger until July 31, 1908. The next day, August 1, 1908, lease of the Utah Central RR ended with the sale of the U.C.RR. to the D.& R.G.

At an as-yet-uncertain date, but known to be before the R.G.W. took control in early 1898, a third (standard-gauge) rail was laid on the line along 8th South, et cetera, and on into the Sugar House district, apparently for the benefit of the several lineside industries then present (but now long gone, of course). In 1900, the entire remaining line was widened by the R.G.W., which necessitated several new bridges and trestles, as well as a tunnel through Parley's Summit, at Altus (indeed, the entire line over the worst part of the hill was almost entirely relocated, to reduce grades from more than 6 percent to a mere 0!). Shortly after the widening project was completed, a new line (standard-gauge, of course) was built, at the behest of the City, more or less along what is now 21st South into the Sugar House district, which made necessary some rearrangement of tracks in that area, and allowed the abandonment of the old 8th South-10th East line, this work being completed by mid-1901.

Only minor changes to the remaining trackage occurred over the next 45 years. In 1946, most of the Park City line was abandoned, leaving only a few miles in operation up to quarries at Shale, in lower Parley's Canyon, and a bit of the former Mill Creek branch, down to Brick Yard. Most of this came up in about 1962, leaving only the 'Roper Spur,' along 21st South to about 11th East, in the Sugar House district. This track has, at this writing, been out of service for several years, and is missing in spots, but it is now owned by the Utah Transit Authority, and at some future date is to become part of Salt Lake City's highly successful light-rail transit system.

February 11, 1924
"The Late John W. Young. John W. Young, son of Brigham Young, and one of the builders of the Union Pacific Railroad, died in New York on February 11. He was in his 80th year, having been born in Nauvoo, Illinois, October 1, 1844. He came with his parents to Utah in 1848. In 1867 he became a subcontractor of construction of the Union Pacific, and later was identified with the organization of the Utah Central, Utah Northern and Utah Southern Railroads. In later years he organized and promoted the rail lines from Salt Lake to Garfield, and to Park City. He built the first street car lines in Salt Lake City. In the early 90's he was abroad interesting European capital in the construction of lines in Mexico." (Union Pacific magazine, May 1924, page 29)

Biographical Note

After selling the last of his railroads in Utah to Rio Grande in 1893, John W. Young moved to New York City and continued to make a meager living promoting various business opportunities. He spent a lot of time in England promoting various railroad and mining investment schemes. His son was convicted of murder in 1903 and was sentenced to life in Sing Sing. Known most of his life as "J. W.", he remained in New York until his death in 1924 at age 79. Research has found that throughout the 1890s and later, it seems Young was in the news regularly for investigations of fraud. Although he was Brigham Young's son, the LDS church itself kept him at arm's length. He continued attending his local branch in New York City until his death.

The Railroads

(Listed chronologically)

Utah Northern Railroad 1871-1878 -- Information about the pioneering narrow gauge line that was built north from Ogden and into Idaho.

(In June 1870, John W. Young was promoting the Lake Side resort, on the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake, located between Farmington and Kaysville, but closer to Kaysville. It had its own station on the Utah Central between Farmington and Kaysville, and apparently for a brief time, its own spur track to handle the at times eight- to ten-car trains of excursionists.) (Read more about Lake Side resort)

Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway, 1883-1897 -- Information about Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway, which built the line from Salt Lake City to Sugar House

Salt Lake & Eastern Railway, 1888-1890 -- Information about Salt Lake & Eastern Railway, which built from Sugar House to Park City, by way of Parley's Canyon.

Utah Western Railway, 1889-1890 -- Information about the projected and only partially completed line northwest from Salt Lake City to Great Salt Lake.

Utah Central Railway, 1890-1897 -- Information about the consolidated company formed in 1890 that included the Salt Lake & Eastern Railway from Sugar House east to Park City, and the portion of the Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway from its Rio Grande connection east to the junction at Ninth East and Tenth South.


During mid September 1871, a boat by the name of 'Lady of the Lake', owned by John W. Young, was running up and down the Jordan River. (Deseret Evening News, September 14, 1871)

(Read more about the Lady of the Lake, and other boats that operated on Jordan River and Great Salt Lake)


Map -- A Google Map of the later SL&FD/SL&E route

Map -- A map from an 1890 Journal of Commerce showing the area around Ninth South and Tenth East.

Other Sources

Marlow C. Adkins' research -- Information about the railroads built by John W. Young, including the Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway.

More Information

Ghosts In Your Backyard -- An article about Young's Salt Lake & Eastern, lifted from the Fall 1997 issue of "The Gandy Dancer", the newsletter of the Wasatch Division of the National Model Railroad Association