Salt Lake County, Utah

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A Brief History of Salt Lake County*

The fertile Salt Lake Valley lies between the Wasatch Mountains on the east and the Oquirrhs on the west. The active Wasatch Fault runs through the eastern part of the county. The Jordan River flows north through the valley to Great Salt Lake, and canyon streams provide culinary and agricultural water and in pioneer times powered mills.

Salt Lake County, Utah

Centuries before settlement prehistoric Indians and the historic Northern Shoshone and Ute Indians used the area for hunting, fishing, and gathering seasonal foods. The first white men to see the valley were trappers associated with William H. Ashley in 1524-25.

Permanent settlement began in 1847 with the arrival of the first Mormon wagon train, which included three women and three Blacks. The advance company planted the first crops on July 23, and the pioneers at Brigham Young's direction explored nearby areas, built a fort, and surveyed Salt Lake City. In October 1847 17-year old Mary Jane Dilworth opened the first school in her tent. In the next two years a dozen towns were founded in the county. With self-sufficiency a major goal, the settlers established basic industries to supply everything from pottery to printing paper and experimented with mixed success in growing all kinds of plants. In 1862 U.S. troops established Fort Douglas to protect communications and transportation routes.

Tens of thousands of Mormon immigrants funneled through Salt Lake City to outlying settlements, and, additionally, for thousands of California-bound travelers the city was the last major supply point. As the headquarters of the LDS church, and later the territorial and state capital, Salt Lake City and its county have always been the center of population, political power, and economic strength.

Political diversity came to the county in 1870 with the founding of the non-Mormon Liberal party, and until statehood in 1896 the Mormon-Gentile conflict was intense. Industrial development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries increased diversity with the arrival of many Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs, Blacks, Japanese, and Mexicans. The migration of Native Americans to the larger cities and the immigration of southeast Asians and others continue the trend. Hispanics are the largest minority in the county.

Although cities and suburbs now cover much of the land, the county retains traces of its agricultural beginning as a producer of eggs, hogs, wheat, and garden vegetables. Mines in Alta and Bingham, smelters in Midvale and Murray, and the Salt Lake Mining and Stock Exchange made the county a regional mining hub.Printing and publishing, which began in 1850, continue as major industries. Other important manufactured goods include pharmaceuticals, candy and other food products, computers, military guidance systems, and artificial organs. The county leads in trade, services, transportation, communications, finance, insurance, and construction. Salt Lake International Airport, major medical facilities, and television broadcasting serve all of Utah and parts of the Intermountain region. Government, including education, is the leading employer in the county.

The founding of the University of Deseret (Utah) in 1850 and the dedication of the Salt Lake Theatre in 1862 provide two examples of the early commitment of residents to education and culture. The county is home to several public and private colleges and dozens of theatrical, musical, and dance organizations.

*Used by permission. Beehive History 14: Utah Counties. 1988. Utah State Historical Society, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1182, 801/533-3500.

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Salt Lake County Quick Facts

Area: 764 Square Miles
County Seat: Salt Lake City
Origin of Name: Great Salt Lake
Population: 1,029,655 (2010 Census), 898,387 (2000 Census); 978,701 (2006 Estimate)
Bordering Counties: Davis, Morgan, Summit, Tooele, Utah, and Wasatch