Salt Lake City History

In ancient times Utah was inhabited by various Native American groups. The Ancestral Pueblo People, formerly referred to as the Anasazi, built large communities in southern Utah from roughly the year 1 to 1300 AD. The Ute Tribe, from which the state takes its name, and the Navajo Indians arrived later in this region.

Salt Lake City was founded on July 24, 1847, by a group of Mormon pioneers. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by their president Brigham Young, were the first non-Indians to settle permanently in the Salt Lake Valley. The founding group numbered 148, consisting of 143 men, three women and two children.

The settlers came to the valley in search of a region where they could practice their religion, free from hostile mobs and persecution. When Young first saw the valley he said, "This is the right place."

On the very day of arrival, the pioneers began tilling the soil and planting crops. Within a few days, plans were drawn for Great Salt Lake City, named after the salty inland lake which dominated the desert to the west. Out from the center of the city, now Temple Square, blocks were arranged on a grid pattern in 10-acre squares, separated by streets 132 feet wide — wide enough for a team of four oxen and a covered wagon to turn around.

In 1848, more emigrants came to the valley. But a late frost, drought and a plague of crickets nearly destroyed the harvest. Flocks of seagulls consumed the crickets and enough of the crop was saved to enable the settlers to survive the winter of 1848-49. In gratitude, the seagull was later designated Utah's state bird.

Many of the pioneers were European converts to the church. During the decade that followed, they brought their culture, languages and skills to the valley, building Salt Lake City into a cosmopolitan center.

When the Mormons first arrived in the valley, the region was part of Mexico. A treaty signed in 1848 ceded it to the United States and, in 1850, the State of Deseret became the Utah Territory. Deseret means honeybee, a symbol of industriousness; Utah's state symbol is the beehive.

Construction on the church temple began in 1853, but the capstone of this magnificent structure was not put into place until 1892. The temple was built with granite-like quartz monzonite blocks which, until a branch railroad line was run into Little Cottonwood Canyon, were individually hauled by ox and wagon from the canyon to the building site.

The California gold rush brought emigrants through Great Salt Lake City. U.S. soldiers were stationed here in the 1850s and during the Civil War. Trade with these sojourners brought the locals a measure of prosperity, although agriculture continued as the mainstay.

In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed by the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, some 80 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Utah was thus connected to the East and West. Many people traveled by rail to see the "City of the Saints." Some stayed to make and to lose their fortunes in mining.

From the 1860s to the 1920s, hundreds of copper, silver, gold and lead mines were opened in the nearby canyons, including Bingham Canyon. Gigantic smelters were later built to refine the ore. Some prosperous mine owners constructed large, gracious homes along South Temple, once known as Brigham Street.

The 1890s were a decade of change. The church officially ended the practice of polygamy. In 1896, Utah became the 45th state and the third to extend the vote to women. Salt Lake City was its capital. "Great" had been dropped from the name in 1868.

Salt Lake began to assume its present character in the early 1900s. The State Capitol and many other historic buildings were constructed. Electric trolleys, garaged at Trolley Square (now a popular shopping mall), were installed to transport people living in The Avenues, Capitol Hill, Liberty Park and Sugarhouse areas to downtown. The trolleys were gradually replaced in the 1930s by buses. The last streetcar line was discontinued in 1941.

Eagle Gate, which had served to mark the entrance to Brigham Young's estate, was reconstructed to allow traffic flow. City parks were built, sewer systems and street lighting were installed, and streets were paved. Between 1900-1930, the city's population nearly tripled.

The Great Depression brought construction to a standstill, but the boom sounded again during World War II. War industries and military installations revitalized the economy. Workers and soldiers spent their money in the city's restaurants, shops, ballrooms and theaters.

During the 1960s, several commercial and service centers were built in the suburbs, drawing business away from downtown. To help counteract this movement, the church invested $40 million to develop a downtown shopping mall called the ZCMI Center Mall. It was named for Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution, a prominent retail chain which was begun in Salt Lake's pioneer days. In the 1970s, new businesses and shopping malls were built and classic older buildings were renovated. Citywide beautification projects generated vitality and activity in the downtown community.

Salt Lake continued to grow in the 1980s. Development included the Salt Palace Convention Center expansion, the Salt Lake International Center, University of Utah Research Park and Triad Center.

The downtown skyline changed again in the 1990s when the Salt Palace Convention Center was rebuilt and a major office tower and new courts complex were constructed. In 1991, the Delta Center was built as the home for the Utah Jazz. The arena can seat more than 18,000 for the NBA games, and 20,000 for concerts. Redeveloped city blocks, restored building facades and new urban parks further enhanced the beauty of downtown.

The Salt Lake City International Airport added a new runway, an international arrivals building and a multi-level parking structure.

Utah continues to experience strong economic and employment growth. Ranked one of the best environments for business, the Salt Lake area's concentration of biomedical, technology and software firms is among the highest in the nation.

Salt Lake was proud to host the Olympic Winter Games in February 2002. Many venues are still in place and are available for the public to enjoy and relive Olympic memories.

The Salt Palace Convention Center once again underwent expansion. It now features 164,000 square feet of meeting space, 515,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, and a 45,000 square foot ballroom. A 26-story convention hotel is next.

Transportation projects have included the I-15 freeway reconstruction and the launch of TRAX, a $312 million light-rail system which transports passengers from Ogden to Provo.

The world continues to be welcome here! Please enjoy Salt Lake's colorful past, exciting present and promising future.

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