Interview with Darlene Van Werkhoven

A Brief History of the Utah Southern Railroad Depot

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act into law on 1 July 1862 while the country was embroiled in civil war. The Transcontinental Railroad was built by the Central and Union Pacific railroads who linked their roads at Promontory Summit in Utah. The Brigham Young-organized Utah Central Railroad Company, incorporated on 15 March 1869, started construction southward from Ogden one week after the driving of the “Golden Spike”. The thirty-seven miles to Salt Lake City were completed on 10 January 1870.

One year later Utah Central organizers incorporated the Utah Southern Railroad, intending to extend the line sixty-five miles southward to Payson. Utah Southern’s first symbolic spike was driven by Brigham Young on 1 May 1871, and track laying began a month later. The thirteen miles to Sandy were to open to traffic in September. By February 1872, the line had reached Traverse Mountain northwest of Lehi.

“There was rejoicing in Lehi yesterday” reported the Deseret News on 28 September 1872 as the first train chugged into Lehi amid the cheers of hundreds of townspeople. Most of the enthusiastic crowd saw for the first time a steam locomotive with its huge blunderbuss smokestack and shrieking whistle.

The line’s depot was constructed on State Street from 1871 to 1872. The local station master and his family lived in the upper portion of this two-story “Railroad House”, while the lower portion housed railroad operations. The effects of the Utah Southern on Lehi were dramatic. For almost a year the town served as the terminus for the line. Teamsters and bullwhackers transported goods to and from points south as well as timber and ore from the rich mines in American Fork Canyon and the Tintic District. Many local men found employment in the freighting and forwarding business. In 1873 the line moved on to American Fork and points further south.

From 1872 to 1873 the American Fork Railroad operated a narrow-gauge feeder line on the Utah Southern grade between American Fork and Lehi. In 1881 the Utah Central, Utah Southern and Utah Southern Extension railroads were consolidated into the Utah Central Railroad. In 1889 the line became part of the Union Pacific’s Oregon Short Line and Utah Northern Railway Company. In 1887 the organization was renamed the Oregon Short Line Railroad. In 1902 it became part of the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. Since 1921 it has been part of the Union Pacific system.

The Utah Southern Railroad Depot is the oldest restored railroad building in Utah and the only surviving station of the Mormon railroad empire of the 1870s and 1880s. It was restored in 2000 through the joint efforts of the Lehi Historical Preservation Commission and Lehi City Corporation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

National Register of Historic Places