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Origin of Sandy's name remains mystery

An empty lot sits adjacent to the Sandy Amphitheater. How Sandy got its name is unknown.
An empty lot sits adjacent to the Sandy Amphitheater. How Sandy got its name is unknown.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Where and how did Sandy, Utah's fourth-largest city, receive its name?

After many hours of research, the answer is still indefinite and may never be known for certain. However, some theories are more likely than others and thorough research uncovers some important early history of Sandy.

The two most commonly cited origins to Sandy's name are:

1. It was named for Alexander "Sandy" Kinghorn, a legendary, sandy-bearded, red-haired railroad engineer, who hauled cargo and people to the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, starting in 1871.

2. Brigham Young named the area "Sandy," after taking one of the first trains to the area, by saying, "Sand! Sand! Everywhere sand! We'll call this place Sandy."

There are the only two name possibilities cited in both "A History of Salt Lake County," by Linda Sillitoe (1996) and in "The History and People of Early Sandy," by Roxie N. Rich (1979).

The other and much less frequently cited possibility.

3. Sandy was received it name in general from the sandy nature of its soil, attributable to no one person in particular.

Let's examine this trio of possibilities in extensive detail:

According to Don Strack of Salt Lake City, who has conducted extensive research on Utah's railroads (and who has an extensive Web site on that research,, the railroad arrived in what today is Sandy in early September of 1871.

"The railroad was known as the Utah Southern," Strack wrote in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. "Having had its ground breaking at Salt Lake City in May 1871, construction had progressed rapidly along what today is Utah Transit Authority's TRAX light-rail line."

Indeed, the first newspaper reference to a "Sandy station" is found in the Sept. 13, 1871 issue of the Deseret News, where it is described as "the nearest point to Little Cottonwood kanyon (sic)."

(Many early Utah newspapers are searchable by keyword now on a State of Utah Web site:

Kinghorn was a real person, but it seems unlikely that only a few weeks of train service to the area by early September was enough to firmly affix his nickname to the rail station and soon the entire community.

Some Utah pioneer towns were named for people (Murray, Brigham City, Layton, etc.) but most such titles stem from early settlers or prominent leaders in the area.

So, the Sandy train engineer origin seems unlikely.

Could Brigham Young have named Sandy?

Again, not likely, as there is no firm record of such an occurrence. The only such tale comes from Kate Carter's Daughters of Utah Pioneers book, "Heart Throbs of the West," volume 12, pages 111-112.

Here, Ann P. Greenwood Sharp, who was age 13, in 1871, recalled for Carter in 1940 (at age 82) her experience in riding "the first train to Sandy."

"At the place where the train stopped a great deal of sand had been washed onto the soil making it very sandy in this location," she recalled 69 years later. "Brigham Young raked his cane in the sandy and scraped his foot in the sand, then turning around he looked in every direction and then said, 'Sand! Sand! Everywhere sand! We'll call this place Sandy."'

Rich states in her book that the date of this first train ride to Sandy was Sept. 23, 1871 — or 10 days after the first reference to "Sandy station" in the Deseret News.

However, there appears to be no other first-person account of this visit by Brigham to Sandy.

In fact, Andrew Jenson's "Encyclopedic History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," published in 1941, doesn't even mention Brigham Young it is look at Sandy's name origination.

"The origin of the name is uncertain, some claiming that it was given because of the sandy nature of the soil in this region of country, and others that it was named in honor of Alexander Kinghorn, commonly known as 'Sandy,' the engineer who ran the first locomotive to the station," Jenson wrote.

He also wrote that the railroad site in sandy was chosen in 1871 as the best location, where a branch line could constructed therefrom to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. This canyon was where there was extensive mining, as well as the granite extraction for the Salt Lake Temple.

Jenson also said the first LDS Church meetings in Sandy started in 1873, as an extension of the nearby South Cottonwood Ward.

Sandy was said to have been first settled in 1871 and had its own post office by 1872. However, by 1863, there may have been four homes between Union (7200 South) and Dunyon (Point of the Mountain), according to the Utah History Encyclopedia, edited by Allan Kent Powell. That book also keys on Sandy being located on an alluvial terrace, with "thirsty soil."

Finally, the book "Utah Place Names," by John W. Van Cott mentions the "sand bench" on which the community is located as his choice for where the city's name derived from. He only mentions the "Sandy" Kinghorn tale in passing as an "alternate claim."

So, after this research, you'll have to decide on what Sandy name origin story you favor.

I'm leaning to this Sandy name origination: the sandy nature of the soil likely dominated the thinking of all who came there and that's the basis of Sandy's name.

A Sept. 21, 1864 account in the Deseret News discusses the planned "Jordan Kanyon Canal" and mentions the "soil being rather sandy" in an area by Little Cottonwood Creek and Union Fort.

The "Sandy" name was already affixed to the area by the time Brigham Young rode the first train there and so his speech along the ditches there was either agreeing that Sandy wax indeed a perfect name for the area, or else he believed the name Sandy was suitable for the whole area, not just the probably already named train station.

"Sandy" Kinghorn's name is probably simply a coincidence for the area, that was already being called that before the first train came along. Kinghorn may have been an unforgettable Scotsman, a jolly, likeable fellow, but I doubt that was enough for him to become the area's namesake.

Indeed, another "Sandy City" in the west is Sandy, Oregon, located just east of Portland and along the southern edge of Mount Hood.

"Sandy was named for the nearby Sandy River which was originally identified as the 'Quicksand River' by Lewis and Clark; however, the name 'Quicksand' gradually evolved into 'Sandy,'" that city's official Web site states.