Utah and Northern Railway

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Utah & Northern Railway
Locale Ogden, Utah to Butte, Montana
Dates of operation 1871–1889
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge ; originally 3 ft (914 mm) gauge
Headquarters Ogden, Utah
File:UtahNorthernRailway.png
Roadside marker noting route of Utah & Northern Railway through Franklin County, Idaho.

The Utah & Northern Railway is a defunct railroad that was operated in the Utah Territory and later in the Idaho Territory and Montana Territory in the western United States during the 1870s and 1880s. It was the first railroad in Idaho and in Montana.

The original 75 miles (121 km) of the Utah Northern Railroad (later named Utah & Northern Railway) was conceived and built by the Mormons. It was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge spur off the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad. The labor for this railroad was largely volunteer Mormon labor as the intent of the railroad was to serve the Mormon communities in the Cache Valley that had been settled almost entirely by the Mormons. It was a case of Mormons forming a company and building their own railroad because existing railroad companies showed no interest in building such a railroad.[1] The northern half of the Cache Valley is in Idaho and, due to claims and disputes by the Shoshone and Bannock Indians, was not settled by the Mormons until after the Bear River Massacre and subsequent Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 that forced the Shoshone and Bannock onto reservations.[2] The original Mormon plan for the Utah Northern was to build a railroad to the communities in the Cache Valley and about 60 miles (97 km) into Idaho to Soda Springs, Idaho that lies in a valley beyond called the Bear River Valley. This was by dictate of Brigham Young as he owned land in Soda Springs and believed that the Bear River Valley had potential for further Mormon settlement.[3] The Mormons also believed they could break the monopoly that the anti-Mormon town of Corinne, Utah had on the wagon freight business on the Montana Trail by extending the railroad into Idaho.[4] There were tentative plans to eventually extend the Utah Northern to Montana. The road was constructed northward from the Union Pacific line at Ogden commencing construction on August 24, 1871. In three years, the largely volunteer railroad company had built only 75 miles (121 km) of road. It reached Franklin, Idaho, just across the Idaho border, in May 1874 where construction was halted. Investors had become hesitant after the panic of 1873 and the railroad was now moving into the northern half of the Cache Valley where there were many fewer Mormon volunteers due to this area only recently having been relinquished by the Bannock and Shoshone. Poor decisions by the planners and the lack of business from the frugal residents of the Cache Valley led to the bankruptcy and foreclosure sale of the Utah Northern only a few years later in 1878.

Utah & Northern Bridge at Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls), Idaho circa 1880 with railroad shops in background.

It would be the robber baron Jay Gould who would transform the Utah Northern. He and Union Pacific acquired the Utah Northern Railroad, changing the name to the Utah & Northern Railway and infusing the railroad with capital.[5] Big business knew that an electrical age was coming and that the demand for copper switches, copper bars, copper fittings, and most importantly, copper wire was putting a charge on copper prices.[6] They also knew that there were rich copper deposits at the mines near Butte, Montana. Union Pacific wasted no time and resumed construction on the Utah & Northern Railway immediately after purchase in April 1878. In fact, Jay Gould invested personal money to get some construction started just beyond Franklin in the fall of 1877.[5] The new plan was not to build the road to Soda Springs, however, but to build a much longer road on a direct route through the Cache Valley, then north across eastern Idaho and north across western Montana to Butte, Montana. In the first year of construction, they reached Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls, Idaho), 120 miles (190 km) north of the Utah/Idaho border, where they built a bridge across the Snake River in early 1879.[7] In the second year, they added another 90 miles (140 km) of track and crossed the continental divide at the Idaho/Montana border. After three and a half years of construction, before the close of 1881, they completed the additional 120 miles (190 km) of road to Butte, Montana. Butte soon grew to be the largest copper producing city in the world and Butte's population, by some estimates, grew to nearly 100,000 residents for a time, making Butte, with its "Copper Kings," the second largest city in the West with more influence than Salt Lake City, Denver, Sacramento, Seattle, or Portland. Only San Francisco remained larger and more important. Butte, with its large-scale mining and smelting operations, was dubbed the Pittsburg of the West.[6]

The Utah & Northern was switched from 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge on July 25, 1887 [8] only six years after completing the line to Butte.[9] The railroad operated successfully for several years and finally became a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Colorado Rail Annual No. 15, Colorado Railroad Museum, 1981, pp 9-10.
  2. ^ Bd Madsen, The Northern Shoshone, Caxton Printers, 1980. pp 33-36.
  3. ^ Colorado Rail Annual No. 15, Colorado Railroad Museum, 1981, p 14.
  4. ^ Colorado Rail Annual No. 15, Colorado Railroad Museum, 1981, p 12.
  5. ^ a b Colorado Rail Annual No. 15, Colorado Railroad Museum, 1981, p 31.
  6. ^ a b Ken Burns Presents: The West, Directed by Stephen Ives, Writers: Dayton Duncan, Geoffrey C. Ward, 2004
  7. ^ Deseret News, 1879-07-17 p. article "Utah and Northern" describes the scene at Eagle Rock and describes the new railroad bridge.
  8. ^ Union Pacific Railroad Track Profile 11Feb2004
  9. ^ Colorado Rail Annual No. 15, Colorado Railroad Museum, 1981, pp 55-56.

External links[edit]