Area: 764 square miles
County Seat: Salt Lake City (also the state capital)
Where it got its name: named for the Great Salt Lake
Main cities and towns: Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Sandy, West Jordan, Murray
Economy: government, trade, manufacturing, services, transportation and communications, finance, mining, construction, tourism, agriculture
Interesting places: State Capitol, Temple Square, Beehive House, This is the Place Heritage Park, Cathedral of the Madeleine, Utah Museum of Natural History, Fort Douglas, Hogle Zoo, Liberty Park, Wheeler Historic Farm, Kennecott Copper Mine, LDS Church Museum of History and Art, Salt Lake Art Center, Rio Grande Depot, University of Utah, and canyons and ski resorts
Salt Lake City and County building in 2002. Photo by Chris Lewis.
The fertile Salt Lake Valley lies between the Wasatch Mountains on the east, with their steep mountains and deep canyons, and the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. When the settlers first arrived, grass grew luxuriantly in the valley, and streams from the canyons flowed through the valley to the Jordan River. The Jordan flows north into the Great Salt Lake.
The Wasatch Fault runs along the mountains to the east. Geologists say that the fault will shift sometime, and when it does it will cause a major earthquake.
A kid sledding on a hill in Salt Lake City (date unknown).
For centuries, prehistoric Indians and the historic Northern Shoshone and Ute Indians used the area for hunting, fishing, and gathering seasonal foods.
Near the state prison, groups of Archaic people camped along the Jordan River. Archaeologists investigating that campsite have learned more about the lives of these people.
Fremont Indians lived in pithouses in the valley about 900 years ago. A few years ago, a crew building a light rail line found evidence of a Fremont village and the burial of a Fremont man who had been covered up by South Temple Street.
A produce wholesale truck from Emery in front of the Utah State Capitol.
The first white people to see the valley—that we know of--were trappers working for William H. Ashley in 1824-25. But the first permanent white settlers began to come in 1847, when the first Mormon wagon train arrived. Three women and three African American slaves were with that first group.
The first group to arrive immediately planted crops, on July 23. Leader Brigham Young directed men to explore the valley and canyons, build a fort, and survey a new city. In October of that same year, 17-year-old Mary Jane Dilworth opened the first school in her tent.
In the next two years settlers founded a dozen towns in the county. Because they lived so far from any other city, the settlers had to make the things they needed. They established industries to make everything from pottery to paper. Of course, they also experimented with growing all kinds of crops.
The Buddhist temple in Salt Lake City, at 247 West 100 South, in 1938.
In 1862 U.S. troops established Fort Douglas to protect communications and transportation routes—and also to keep an eye on the Mormons, who seemed so strange and unpredictable to the rest of the nation.
Tens of thousands of Mormon immigrants came to Salt Lake City. Many then moved on to outlying settlements. For thousands of travelers bound for California, the city was also the last major place to buy supplies.
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.
It has also been the center of power struggles between Mormons and “Gentiles,” particularly before statehood in 1896.
A Salt Lake bus driver in 1951.
Industrial development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought new immigrants, such as Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs, African Americans, Japanese, and Mexicans, to the county. Salt Lake County is now becoming ever more diversified as Native Americans as well as refugees from places like the Baltics, Africa, Asia, and Southeast Asia find homes here. Latinos are the largest, fastest-growing minority group in the county.
The founding of the University of Deseret (Utah) in 1850 and the dedication of the Salt Lake Theatre in 1862 show the commitment of early settlers to education and culture. Today, the county is home to several public and private colleges and dozens of theatrical, musical, and dance organizations.
Although cities and suburbs now cover much of the land, in some areas you can still find some traces of the farms that were once common in the county. Farmers in the county produced eggs, livestock, wheat, and garden vegetables.
The county also became a regional mining and smelting hub. Alta and Bingham had important mines, and Midvale and Murray had large smelters. The Salt Lake Mining and Stock Exchange in Salt Lake City was important to the business of mining.
Printing and publishing began in 1850—and have continued. Some goods manufactured in Salt Lake County today are pharmaceuticals, candy and other food products, computers, military guidance systems, and artificial organs.
The giant copper pit at Bingham Canyon--decades ago. It's much bigger now!
The county leads the state 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.