The 1870s were bright years in the annals of mining in Utah. The early settlers from 1847 to 1869 were mostly members of the Church of Jesus Christ od Latter-day Saints and their leader, Brigham Young had discouraged his followers from associating themselves with any part of mining for precious metals.
The coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 made migration to the west much easier, but the Church continued to pretty much control the economy of the Territory. So, the federal government, under the guise of what they claimed was potential insurrection by Church members, sent a series of armed contingents to “ensure law and order”. The hidden agenda, many early settlers believed, was to attract more non-Mormon emigrants to the area to ensure a balanced representation from the USA.
It also appears that the influx of military men had the hidden purpose of opening the Territory to more mining claims. This especially was true around the large settlements in Salt Lake and Utah Valleys. So, most of the copper mines, silver mines and mercury mines of the Oquirrh Mountains were discovered by Army ventures, and the Tintic mining district was soon added.
Colonel Patrick E. Connor of Fort Douglas, in the foothills of Salt Lake Valley, instigated the exploration and even sent men into the mountain valleys east of Salt Lake looking for minerals. As the claims mounted so did the influx of people interested in mining and supporting businesses. The history of Utah is spiced by the sharp contrasts between Mormon settlers and folks interested in extracting ore from the landscape.
The mining boom in the area of the current town of Park City brought hundreds of people to the high mountain valley very quickly. The first recorded claim was the “Young American Lode” in 1869. Production began clearly in 1870 with the large vein of ore that would become the Ontario Mine. Some would claim it would be the greatest silver mine in the world.
In May of 1872, George Snyder and his family arrived in the mountain valley. Awed by the lush grasses and blazing wildflowers in the spring, he christened the area “Park City, for it is a veritable park.”
Between 1870 and 1900, the population increased by 40%. As with most mining camps the town grew up around the mills and smelters. Originally, the town was made up of boarding houses, mills, saloons, stores, theaters, mine buildings, and prostitution cribs, but by 1880 the men working in the Daly Mines and the Anchor Mines had made enough to send for their families and the town settled into a more cosmopolitan make up.
As with many mining towns, Park City’s history is marked with a number of fires. Built primarily of wooden structures, due ro the plentiful supply of pine on the nearby slopes, the town experienced its worst destruction in June, 1898. Canyon winds fanned the flames of an early morning fire. Before it was over three quarters of the town had burned to the ground causing over one million dollars in damage – and that when the value of the dollar was very low. Two hundred businesses, houses and other buildings were ashes. But, the town was rebuilt, still with wooden frames and roofs.
As the mines began to excavate the last of their ore bodies, the town began to dwindle. But, the town never died. It merely reinvented itself as a center for tourism and skiing. Today the town is still an entertainment “park” with a much more stable industry.