Golden Spike helped make Murray shine 150 years ago
Mar 27, 2019 03:56PM
By Shaun Delliskave
D&RG Railroad built Murray’s first train depot on 4800 South in 1881. (Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
The Golden Spike was driven 150 years ago at Promontory Point. This historic junction of the railroads not only impacted the nation but had major impacts on Murray as well. May 10 marks the sesquicentennial of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, an event that tied the nation, and eventually Murray, together.
In the 1860s, Murray was little more than the farming hamlet of South Cottonwood. The Overland Stagecoach route took over the Pony Expresses’ No. 9 Station, calling it Traveler’s Rest, and was really the only ticket to and from Murray. However, nearly one year after the joining of the rails in 1869, Murray itself became a station on the railway map and was dramatically changed by it.
Historian Korral Broschinsky writes, “The arrival of the railroad in 1870 made the smelting operations not only possible but also profitable. Several area farmers were able to sell their land to the smelters. Hundreds of workers, mostly single men from Greece, Sweden, and a number of eastern European countries, came to Murray. Many eventually settled in Murray to raise families. As the smelters expanded the community's economic base, many of Murray's early subsistence farmers became merchants to serve the city's increasing population of smelter workers.”
Only seven months after the Golden Spike Ceremony, LDS Church President Brigham Young drove the last spike connecting the rail line from Ogden to Salt Lake City. The Utah Southern Railroad pressed further southward toward the Woodhull Brothers’ smelter.
Henry, William, and Sereno Woodhull had staked a claim in Little Cottonwood Canyon and built a smelting furnace near 4500 South at the junction of State Street and Big Cottonwood Creek. From these works was shipped the first bullion produced from Utah mine ore.
The Woodhull Brothers’ venture was short-lived, as Henry was killed in a mining dispute, and the remaining brothers carved up their wealth and left Utah by August of 1870. Yet the marriage of the railroad and smelting turned Murray into an industrial center, lasting until the last smelter closed in 1950.
Smelters sprouted up along the Utah Southern Railroad, and soon railroad spurs were connecting Murray with Park City, Alta, and Bingham. Of course, as the railroads shipped ore out, they shipped people in to fill processing jobs. In 1881, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, which owned the Alta lines, built Murray’s railroad depot on 4800 South and Box Elder Street. A competing smaller depot built in 1910 by the Oregon Short Line Railroad opened on the opposite side of the tracks.
In 1890, the Rapid Transit Company laid tracks down State Street, bringing street cars to downtown Murray. Utah Light and Railway, at the beginning of the 20th century, started running trolley cars to Murray, and they operated until the 1920s.
As automobiles helped end the era of the trolleys, they also helped end the era of Murray’s train depots; the railroad companies consolidated passenger service to larger depots. After the closure of Murray’s landmark ASARCO smelter, the railroad lines were all that was left of Murray’s industrial heyday.
Then a new era of mass transit breathed new life into Murray’s old rails. Light-rail passenger trains are now using the old train tracks, and three TRAX stations opened in Murray in 1999. The Utah Transit Authority utilized the old Bingham rail lines to connect the southeastern part of the valley with Murray. The success of TRAX has led to the return of commuter rail to Murray in the form of FrontRunner, which runs from Ogden to Provo.
Murray’s Central Station is one of two stops where passengers can connect between TRAX and FrontRunner. Due to Murray Central’s location, talks are underway to upgrade the station into a large intermodal transit center that will also connect with UTA’s new Bus Rapid Transit system.
To learn more about events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, go to spike150.org.