|Officially, Salt Lake City was founded on July
24, 1847 by a group of approximately 150 Mormon pioneers. Of course,
people had been living in the region for centuries. In fact, as the United
States was declaring its independence in 1776, Catholic fathers and
explorers Dominguez and Escalante were documenting Utah's geography and
people. Ancient indigenous people, the ancestors of the Ute and Navajo
tribes, are reported to have been in the area from approximately 1 AD to
1300 AD. Spanish explorers and Mexican traders followed Escalante and
Dominguez in the 18th century. Mountain men and trappers arrived to
exploit Utah's abundant wildlife during the 1820s.
Mormon pioneers began arriving in 1847 and, over the course of that year, nearly 2,000 migrated to the Salt Lake Valley in search of religious freedom. The pioneers faced much adversity as they established their community. In 1848 a late frost, drought, and a plague of crickets nearly destroyed the settlers' harvest. Flocks of seagulls from the Great Salt Lake consumed the insects and enough crops were saved to ensure the pioneers would survive the harsh Utah winter.
The University of Utah was established in 1850. The famous California Gold Rush of 1849-50 also brought many settlers to the area who--after a harsh crossing through the unforgiving Rockies--were not willing to cross the desert to get all the way to California. In 1853, construction began on Temple Square with granite quarried from nearby canyons and hauled by ox and wagon to the building site. The structure took forty years to complete. By the time the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 at Promontory Point (approximately 80 miles north of Salt Lake City), Utah--or as the Mormons called it, The State of Deseret-- had a population of more than 60,000 Mormons. Thousands of soldiers, miners, ranchers, and merchants followed. The completion of the transcontinental railroad also brought many of Utah's first tourists who were determined to see this new 'City of Saints.' In 1896, Utah became the 45th state admitted to the Union.
The modern character of Salt Lake City began to evolve in the early 1900s. The Utah State Capitol and many other extant buildings rose on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Electric trolleys, operating from what is now Trolley Square, transported people living in the outlying regions of Sugarhouse, Liberty Park, and The Avenues. The Eagle Gate that had served to mark the entrance to Brigham Young's estate was reconstructed to allow traffic flow into the city. Parks, sewer systems, and street lighting were put in place. It was a prosperous time in Deseret, and its people made the most of it.
Copper, silver, gold, coal, and lead mines were opened throughout the state, and silver became king. Many of the city's most graceful mansions were constructed by those early mining tycoons and remain as examples of an opulent time in the state's history. The population of Salt Lake City tripled in the first decades of the 20th century. Although the Great Depression slowed the area's growth, the numerous defense installations and manufacturing concerns that were developed to meet the needs of World War II revitalized the economy. Hill Air Force Base (approximately 30 miles north of Salt Lake City) is still an active and important part of northern Utah's economy. A number of corporate entities that got their start duringWorld War II and in the post-war years, and such organizations as Hercules, Cordant Technologies (formerly Thiokol), and UNISYS have maintained an important presence in Utah for the past forty years. Utah's healthy economy has also attracted a wide variety of national and international companies including Delta Airlines, Intel, American Express, and E-Bay.
As with the rest of the United States, the suburbs around Salt Lake City expanded and developed their own identities in the 1960s and '70s. Today, Sandy, West Valley City, Sugarhouse, Holladay, Murray, Riverton, and Draper have become communities unto themselves. The nearby canyon communities and the ski resorts evolved into the world class ski areas that will host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Each ski area, like each section of Salt Lake City itself, has a distinct personality and cache. For example, Park City is now renowned as the home of the Sundance Film Festival and Deer Valley, one of the world's premier ski resorts. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort and Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon also rank among the world's top ski areas, and 'just over the mountain'Brighton and Solitude remain local favorites with both skiers and snow-boarders. Salt Lake City's UTA busses make runs to the Cottonwood Canyons on an almost constant basis during the ski season.
The mountain men and early pioneers would undoubtedly be amazed by what the mountains have become! Because Salt Lake City exists in the shadows of these nearby mountains, it has evolved into a city that is deeply connected to its geography and environment. The downtown skyline continues to grow, but it is always dwarfed by the mountains to the east and by the desert and the Great Salt Lake to the west. Its history has been one of contrasts, and its future is certain to highlight those contrasts even further.