“ You Can’t Get Anywhere Without Coming to Ogden:
Railroading in the American West”
a commemorative panel discussion presented at the
2004 Utah Construction/ Utah International Symposium
Dr. Richard Roberts
Thursday, October 7, 2004
I am happy to be here today. But at my age I am happy to be anywhere! I will spend a few minutes talking about railroading in Ogden. I am going to work from slides, but in kind of a limited time. I will not have a lot to say about each one of them. The main idea I am looking at is the building, development, and decline of railroading in Ogden. It is kind of like this idea that civilizations go through birth, infancy, adolescence, and death decline. The history of railroading in Ogden is much that way.
This first slide, of course, is the joining of the rails at Promontory on the 10th of May, 1869. This is a significant event in American history and the history of Utah. The building of the transcontinental line did a great deal to change the nature of our country and especially our community here. Ogden, up to this time, was nothing but an agricultural Mormon community. And now a whole new aspect of life would come into affect with the joining of the rails. Brigham Young did not go there. He was upset because the railroad… went around the north end of the lake instead of around the south end as they were predicting they would do when they started out. As they got closer, they decided that the most economical and best route would be to go around the north end of the lake. This in many ways made Brigham Young angry. He did not attend the joining of the rails. The three representatives Ezra T. Benson, Chauncey W. West, and Lauren Farr went. They were interested, of course, later in building the railroad on the western part coming into Promontory.
This indicates another thing that was happening at the time. Corinne had shot up through Malad Valley to the markets up in Idaho and Montana. That 3
gave them a particular point on the railroad that started a competition between Corinne and Ogden and other places to be the main central junction of the railroads. Remember the Union Pacific was coming from the east and the Central Pacific from the west.
Corinne took on a period of some development but did not amount to much because it would soon be done in essentially by Brigham Young’s desire not to have Corinne be the major junction point. Corrine was challenging also to try to be the political center too. Back then the Liberal party, the non- Mormon party, established itself up in Corrine in 1871 with the idea of driving the government and also the business aspects of Utah up to that area. So it was quite a competition story. What Brigham Young did though, he came to Ogden, acquired one hundred and thirty- one acres of the land down where the present station is and turned that over to the railroads on the condition that they would make Ogden the terminal or the junction point of the two railroads and that happened. The Central Pacific had to buy forty- eight and a half miles of track from Promontory to Ogden to make that their junction also.
Corinne then was one of the challenges to the development of Ogden. Freighting wagons and also passenger wagons could take people from Uintah to Salt Lake because the railroad did not go around the Salt Lake it had gone north so there was no connection. Brigham Young got together and organized a company known as the Utah Central which became then a railroad from Ogden to Salt Lake. So Uintah was challenging Ogden to be the center also. 4
As time went on, the stations were built in 1872. It was described as a violent red, clapboard building where you could buy tickets, have a little waiting room and wait for the train. People who came traveling and wanting to go on west or east had to transfer trains here. On the left hand side were the tracks of the Union Pacific coming from the east from Omaha, and on the right are the tracks coming on the Central Pacific from Sacramento. So people would come here and make their exchange on the trains. There were rooming houses and restaurants where they could have refreshment or wait if they had a layover, or some reason to stay in Ogden, this is where they would come.
Railroading was pretty tough at this time. Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author, traveled on one of these trains and he said, “ You know, it got pretty rancid coming some five or six days on the train from the east. The room started to smell or the car that you were sitting in was really bad.” When he got to Ogden he thought he could make a switch and was really happy to get a new car. He said you got on that car and it was just the same way just going different directions!
They solved the Salt Lake City situation. Brigham Young with the Utah Central will finish that. That was completed in 1870. Their station was located in the mid- block between 24th and 25th street on the east side of the road. The train would come in going east and then it would back around on a Y- track that would turn them around and send them back to Salt Lake. Tickets usually on the Union Pacific included a trip or an extra trip from Ogden to Salt Lake as part of the ticket cost if you wanted to go to Salt Lake. 5
As Kathryn was mentioning, the railroads dictated how a city would be laid out. As you can see this is an 1890 schematic showing Ogden City, how it was laid out, and all the tracks that were coming in. You can see that Ogden is taking on quite a major role now as a railroading center known as the Junction City. In fact, Ogden was very proud and very confident they were going to be the center of Utah commerce. In the 1870’ s, if you read the Ogden papers, they thought they would surpass Salt Lake and they would be the great center of Utah. That, of course, never quite happened. Anyway, Ogden did become the major junction of the transcontinental line.
Of course, one way to show its importance was to build a station that would merit the title or the idea of being a prosperous community. Henry Van Brunt, a well known architect in Kansas City, was hired by the Union Pacific to do several stations along their line. Actually, the Union Pacific built six stations in this time period, the 1880s. This is his rendering of what the station in Ogden was going to be like. The architects rendering does not usually get put in to form and it does not quite match up to that rendering but it was quite a building.
Here is the laying of the cornerstone. The Masonic Order is doing the Masonic ceremony which is common in those days. This was November 7, 1888, the laying of the cornerstone of the Union Station.
It is called a hotel station, you can see the dormer windows, those were all rooms that would be rented to people who were coming through and on a layover or an evening stay in Ogden. It was quite an important building. It was built, completed, and put in to use in 1889 and lasted until 1923 when it burned down. 6
It got to be a tremendous station. In fact, at its height there would be sixteen passenger tracks where people could unload, plus the freighting areas. The steam engine and all the confusion and bustle of the station really created a lot of, well kind of excitement and a situation.
I want to tell a little story here that happened in Ogden. It has to do with a preacher who was traveling across country with his son, about a ten year old boy. As they went across the country his father was talking about heaven and hell, and how confusing and terrible hell was. They ended in Ogden in the middle of the night and had to change trains. So he took his son by the cuff of the neck and walked across the tracks to get on to the next train but going across these tracks, the trains were putting out steam, smoke, and a lot of noise, clatter, and confusion. They boy asked his father, “ Father, is this hell?” The father says, “ No son, this is Ogden!”
The Chamber of Commerce’s usual theme “ You Can’t Get Anywhere Without Coming to Ogden” or, “ You Can Go Anywhere from Ogden” was another version of that, or “ The Gateway of the West.” So this became quite a station, always something going on there. In fact, one of the favorite past times of people was to go down to the train station and watch people who got off the train. There were always some famous kind of people; it had U. S. senators, generals of the army, Indian chiefs, all kinds of things. So that was a past time for many people to go down and watch things happen.
Another thing that happened down at the Ogden station were a group of industrial workers in 1894 who came from California on their march towards 7
Washington D. C. to get some relief from their unemployment, they were going to march on Congress. They got to Ogden on the Central Pacific but the Union Pacific would not pick them up and take them farther East because there was a fine of $ 2.00 for every unemployed carrier brought into the states to the East so they would not take them. So these men sat down in Ogden Depot for about eight days and finally marched out up Washington Boulevard, over the hill, took over a train of the Union Pacific at Weber Canyon and went on their way to Washington. After a period of time we had about six trains stolen in Ogden Depot and the National Guard chased them up the canyon several times trying to stop those kinds of things. Another thing that happened at this station was the going and coming of soldiers during the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II. The station burned down on February 13, 1923. I believe it was started by leaving an iron unattended and it caught on fire and burned the station. They debated whether to rebuild and finally decided to rebuild the station. The last function of this station was on August 14 when the funeral train of Warren G. Harding came through and people crowded down to the station, it was completely overrun with people to see the funeral train. Of course, Harding’s reputation hadn’t broken out yet about his corruption so he was highly honored on that funeral train.
The new station was built in 1924. The architects were John and Donald Parkinson. They had also been the architects for the Hotel Utah, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles Station, and the Los Angeles City Hall, so they were well known architects. 8
This is said to be an Italian Renaissance although it has a lot of Spanish influence. Some call it Spanish Renaissance style. The escargot tile roof had a lot of bright colors on the inside that had been painted over and pretty much removed. Again, railroading was big in this new station. The 1920s, 30s of course was the time of the depression. Railroading dropped off. One man said, “ First time in my life on a railroad ticket I could have a car to myself.” In the depression time people just did not travel. They did not have the money. It picked up again in World War II. It has been estimated that a hundred nineteen passenger trains a day went through Ogden carrying troops and other things during the war years of World War II. They also had a big ice plant here in Ogden that would restore the cooling systems into the freight cars that carried fruit and other perishable goods to different markets.
So you get an idea that railroading was big. Probably at one time as many as three fourths of the population of Ogden was somehow engaged in railroading or its subsidiaries. It is a time period you cannot neglect. I am happy that in 1978 the Ogden City took over the stations. It was going broke, all railroads were in terrible fixes. Rather than seeing the station demolished, or done away with, the city took it over and made it into a community center which houses a nice museum. If we can talk Mayor Godfrey into not destroying it then we might have a jewel here that will last for many years and remind us that railroading in Ogden was an important event especially from 1869 to the mid- 1950s. Thank you very much.
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