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Tidbits of history — Unusual highlights of Salt Lake County

SHARE Tidbits of history — Unusual highlights of Salt Lake County

Plodding through hundreds of pages of history books can be a tedious and slow process at best. Especially if you're not a fast reader, you likely won't read many historical books/publications. Also, in this fast-moving world, people tend to want facts and trivia now — without having to expend much effort or time.

In line with brevity and summarizing, here's a look at some unusual highlights of Salt Lake County history, listed in an easy and quick-read format:

Parleys Canyon was originally known as Big Canyon. It was later called Golden Pass Toll Road and then Parleys Canyon, in honor of Parley P. Pratt, who constructed a toll road through the canyon in 1849-50.

Drownings were among the unusual dangers that pioneers faced in the Salt Lake Valley — a desert climate. For example, on June 29, 1854, two children who were herding animals in Red Butte Canyon drowned by unexpected floods that poured out of the canyon.

In 1854 in Salt Lake, 120 deaths were reported. Forty-five of those were children under age 5.

The first winter in Utah, 1847, was spent on the site of today's Pioneer Park by about 1,700 residents in a fort and huts. A school with six pupils also operated that winter.

The first winter for the pioneers in Salt Lake was a mild one and a lack of food was the biggest shortcoming. An outbreak of measles also came and hit the area's American Indian population hard. For example, settlers had to bury 36 natives in one grave.

The second winter in Salt Lake was much colder and snowier, but much more food was stored. Many residents didn't like the howls of wolves at night and teams were organized to rid the valley of the predators. On Christmas Day 1848, 331 wolves were shot and killed by an army of 84 settlers.

The first speeding law in Salt Lake came in 1848 and stated that no speed would exceed a slow trot, or face a û1 fine.

Slavery was legal in the Utah Territory from 1852 and lasting about 10 years. In 1850, there were 24 free blacks and 26 slaves in Salt Lake.

The first store in Salt Lake opened in 1849 where today's West High School is and offered some East Coast goods for sale.

Salt Lake County officially started on Jan. 31, 1850, with just over 11,000 residents.

The old fort on today's pioneer site, where the first Salt Lake settlers spent the first two winters, was destroyed in the early 1850s, after leaders realized it was being used as a gathering place for persons with loose morals.

The Fourth of July celebration in 1881 included a first to Black Rock beach for picnics, swimming and singing. The event didn't end at dark, as the wagons and carriages remained there overnight and partygoers slept on the Great Salt Lake's beaches.

American Indians in the Salt Lake Valley were mostly friendly. However, one settler's journal talks about how a young Elizabeth Morgan was stolen by whooping and yelling young bucks and taken to the Indians' camp. When a group of men went after her, they found her safe. The Indians were playing a prank, but the settlers weren't taking it lightly.

Wagons would commonly run over snakes and cut them in two in the Fort Douglas area of Salt Lake.

Main Street in Salt Lake was nicknamed Whiskey Street in the 1860s, because of the Army's influence in making alcohol much more available there. By 1863, liquor licenses provided more city revenues than any other source. A liquor license in Salt Lake then cost 750 a month.

The "Great" in Salt Lake City's name was dropped in 1868.

By 1883, there were 14 mule-drawn street cars going along nine miles of track in Salt Lake City.

In 1869 before the railroad, there were only 700 non-Mormon church members among the Salt Lake Valley's 11,000 residents. By 1873, the "Gentile" population had risen to 25 percent. Most non-Mormons lived on the south and west sides of downtown, while members of the church dominated the north and east sides.

Brigham Young named Sandy City in 1873, for its thirsty soil.

Calder Park, a popular amusement place that attracted up to 100,000 patrons a season, eventually became Nibley Park Golf Course.

In the late 1880s businesses in Riverton used to close every Thursday for decades. No one remembered why this was, although theories of the Thursday Mormon fast day or traditional British half-days off might have caused it.

The original Salt Lake Palace was on 900 South, between State and Main.

In 1915, Salt Lake City began chlorinating drinking water.

World War I meant more jobs in Salt Lake City — even mechanical jobs — became open to women for the first time.

Smoke pollution was a problem in the early 1900s in Salt Lake. Some said the city rivaled Pittsburgh pollution, but it was the topography that made it seem worse. Smelters in Murray finally closing eased pollution somewhat.

Sources: "A History of Salt Lake County," by Linda Sillitoe and "The Utah History Encyclopedia," edited by Kent Powell.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com