Park City, Utah, is perhaps best known for hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and being a popular tourist destination for skiers. However, the area also has a long and interesting history, as today’s historians consider it to be one of the greatest U.S. silver mining towns of the 20th century.
The first people to arrive in the Park City area were the Native Americans of the Ute and Shoshone tribes, who travelled to the high Alpine valleys in the 1600′s to hunt game in the summer. In 1776, an expedition of Franciscan Fathers, Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante, made it to Provo Valley on their way to California. The expedition went through Utah to avoid the Chirumas, a Native American tribe believed to be cannibals. In the Utah Valley, the Fathers found friendly Indians, rich land and game, and abundant timber in the surrounding mountains.
In 1826, Jedediah Smith, the famous “mountain man,” explored the trapping potential of the region south and west of the Great Salt Lake, traveling the entire length of Utah. Comanche Indians eventually killed Smith in 1830. In 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormon settlers passed near the Park City area on their way to Great Salt Lake.
In 1868, three Union soldiers discovered the first silver mining claim in Park City on a hike for possible mining sites. The site was labelled the “Flagstaff claim” because the soldiers marked the spot by tying a scarf to a dead pine tree. The very same spot is still visible today while skiing the Pinyon Ridge Trail at Park City Mountain Resort.
One of the most notable events in Park City’s history was the arrival of the train. On May 10, 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in Promontory, Utah, allowing more people to move to the West. By 1879, over 3,000 people lived in Park City, and it was officially incorporated in 1884. By 1892, there were 7,000 people and 119 businesses in Park City.
At one point in time, there were approximately 300 mines in operation. The type of mining used was called “hard rock mining” which requires drilling deep holes in rock and using dynamite to blow the rock apart. Mills then processed and refined the broken rocks for silver and other metals. In the 1860s and 1870s, miners earned between $2.75 – $3.00 per day for 10 hours of work. Lots of immigrants came from Europe to work the mines. The new residents established schools, buildings, water towers, and a fire company.
While growing as a city, Park City experienced its fair share of disasters. The Great Fire of 1898 burned down a large portion of the city, which the citizens subsequently rebuilt. In 1902, a “powder monkey” (a miner responsible for dynamiting rock) in the Daly West Mine dropped a candle or match into blasting powder. This incident known as the “Daly West accident” killed 34 men.
Pollution was also a problem in the developing Park City. The mining activities created significant air and noise pollution, and large forests in the area were cut down to provide lumber for building and fuel.
Despite its setbacks, Park City became the largest single silver producer in the United States by 1928. Mines in Park City continued performing well into the 1940s, but the industry fell into decline after World War II due to depressed metal prices. To revive the town, city leaders had the bright idea to establish a ski resort. The first big ski resort, “Treasure Mountain,” opened in 1963. It is now called Park City Mountain Resort, and as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.”
Article written by: Alex Swan