The electric railroad that once hauled building stone out of Emigration Canyon to meet the needs of a growing Salt Lake City is now commemorated by a historic marker at the canyon's mouth.
The base of the marker, dedicated Thursday by the Canyon Rim Chapter of Sons of Utah Pioneers, is made of the red and white sandstone that the railroad once hauled from the top of the canyon.The marker is located on the plaza just east of the entrance to Hogle Zoo, which once was part of the rail right-of-way.
During the hourlong dedication, Gary Topping from the Utah State Historical Society gave a brief history of the electric-powered railroad. Richard W. Jackson reminisced about the rail route and some of the activities in the canyon in the early 1900s.
The dedicatory prayer was offered by Kenneth Rasmussen, national president-elect of the SUP.
The Emigration Canyon Railroad was built in 1907 to bring building stone out of the canyon.
Shortly after settling in the Salt Lake Valley, Mormon pioneers discovered a plentiful supply of stone in the canyon. The steady stream of settlers created a building boom, and freight wagons moved daily between the valley and upper reaches of the canyon to supply the stone.
With the development of power-generating plants to supply plentiful amounts of electricity in the early 1900s, a group of enterprising Salt Lake residents envisioned a small, efficient, electric-powered railroad system to replace the slow, cumbersome freight wagons.
Construction began early in 1907, and by winter the tracks had been completed from the depot at the intersection of 500 South and University Avenue 14 miles to the railroad's terminal point at Pinecrest, near the canyon's summit. Using two homemade motor cabs to pull flatbed cars, the railroad began operations.
A small limestone quarry and gravel pit were located a short distance into the canyon. Two quarries, one for white and the other for red sandstone, were located at the top of the canyon in the Burr Fork area.
By 1909, there was pressure to add passenger cars to the railroad. A lodge was built at Pinecrest to accommodate overnight and weekend visitors who relished the cool of the canyon. The railroad was a catalyst for the construction of summer homes that soon began dotting the canyon's hillsides. And soon the railroad, using tracks belonging to the Utah Light & Traction Co. (which provided downtown streetcar service), made regular stops at the Hotel Utah during the summer months.
Winter was a different story, however. Notoriously heavy snows closed the line in winter, and time was devoted to putting equipment into shape for the next summer.
By 1912, stronger concrete products were becoming available, and the need for building stone to reinforce foundations was waning. The stone mining ceased in 1916, and while passenger interest remained high, the revenue from passenger service was not enough to make the line profitable. The railroad was disbanded in April 1917.
With the United States' entry into World War I and the ensuing demand for steel, the tracks and tie spikes were pulled up and sold for scrap. Many of the railroad cars found their way to Tacoma, Wash., where they were used for a time to transport workers to the shipbuilding yards.