OGDEN — The transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, but it wasn’t until the late 1870s that Union Pacific officially established Ogden as their “Junction City.”
With UP’s choice, Ogden eventually became one of the west’s major passenger railroad junctions — serving as a main stop along other large east–west and north–south routes. The city’s Union Station eventually served as the biggest rail center between the Midwest and the West Coast, with travelers from all over the world passing through the city, as well as hordes of soldiers during World War II.
Local historians say the “Junction City” designation brought Ogden economic success, ethnic diversity and infrastructure still standing today. But what would Weber County’s seat have looked like had the junction never been established?
“I always tell people, had the junction stayed in Corrine, Ogden would have probably ended up looking a lot like Corrine and Corrine would have looked like Ogden,” said Sarah Singh, Weber State University Special Collections curator.
In the years before Ogden was tabbed, Corrine — the tiny Box Elder town that has a population of less then 1,000 today — served as the shipping center for the railroad.
According to a history profile of the city on Box Elder County’s website, early settlers in the town had big plans for Corrine. Shortly after the final spike of the transcontinental line was driven, activity began spawning in the city. There were blacksmith shops, hotels, an opera house, a newspaper, banks, factories and even gambling halls. But the building of the Utah-Northern Railroad and the Lucin Cut-Off across the Great Salt Lake drove activity away from Corrine and the town faded.
WSU history professor and Director of Public History Kathryn MacKay mentioned another Box Elder County city when pondering Ogden without the railroad, and said the impact of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here would have been much greater sans Union Pacific’s presence.
“I think Ogden would have looked much more like Brigham City had the railroad not had this tremendous impact,” she said. “And LDS leaders would have been able to hold on to more of what the city looked like.”
MacKay said early 20th century Ogden economic engines like the American Can Company and the Ogden Union Livestock yards also would have never been established in the city. Same goes for the former military installation Defense Depot Ogden, which today operates as Ogden’s largest business park.
“Ogden just would have been a completely different place without the railroad,” MacKay said. “The two are forever tied.”
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.