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Golden Spike National Historic Site

The History of the Transcontinental Railroad

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Golden Spike National Historic Site

Golden Spike National Historic Site during the 140th Anniversary of the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

© zaui via Flickr

Contact Info:

Address: 6450 7200 N Rd., Corinne, UT 84307

Phone: 435-471-2209 ext. 29

Overview:

On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad joined their rails at Promontory Summit, UT. To commemorate such an important event in United States history, a golden spike was cast and a ceremony was held. By bridging 2,000 miles from the Missouri River to the West Coast, the nation was now joined by 3,500 miles of transcontinental railroad from New York to California. Transportation was now faster for pioneers and the dangers facing westward travelers decreased. Each year, the celebration of the completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad is re-enacted on May 10th at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

History:

A transcontinental railroad had been suggested as far back as the 1830's, but it wasn't until 1853 that Congress asked Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to conduct feasibility surveys for a transcontinental railroad route. Years of debate over the best route followed. In July, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act, which granted a charter to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies. The Act authorized them to build a railway and a telegraph line between Omaha and California Territory. It also gave the railroads loans for each mile of track laid, as well generous amounts of public land. The Union Pacific was to build west from Omaha across the Great Plains, while the Central Pacific would build east from Sacramento, through the Sierra Nevada.

All work began in 1863 - the Central Pacific Railroad began laying track and ground was broken in Omaha. Because of the Civil War and a shortage of funds, the project got off to a slow start, and it wasn't until 1866 that things really started to take off. That year, the Union Pacific Railroad - who workers were majority Irish immigrants- laid 260 miles of track, followed by 260 miles in 1867, and almost 500 miles in 1868. The Central Pacific used 25,000-30,000 Chinese immigrants laid tracks through the Sierra Nevada Mountains reaching Nevada in June, 1868.

By 1868, both crews had reached the Utah Territory and in January of 1869, the Federal Government sent a commission of civil engineers to determine where the two railroads should meet. The decision: Promontory Summit, UT.

So what did a ride cost on the Transcontinental Railroad? Immigrant class and first class ranged from $40-111 for a trip from Omaha to Sacramento which took about four hours. The railroad celebrated its centennial in 1876 with the Transcontinental Express- a train which traveled from New York to San Francisco in a record-breaking time of 83 hours and 39 minutes.

Getting There:

The historic site is located 32 miles west of Brigham City, UT, via Utah Highway 83. Northbound travelers should travel on I-15 exit 365 and drive west on Utah Highways 13 and 83 to Corinne. The highways divide in Corinne, so take the left fork continuing west on Hwy 83. Then simply follow the brown Golden Spike destination signs.

If you are traveling southbound, take I-84 west to exit 40, to Hwy 102 and turn west (left). You'll see a large sign for Golden Spike that will direct vehicles over a mountain pass to connect south on Hwy 83. If you're driving an RV, camper, bus, or truck, follow Hwy 102 south around the mountain to Hwy 83, then north on 83.

Eastbound travelers can take I-84 to exit 26 and drive south on Hwy 83 until signs to the visitor center pop up. Those who are westbound can take Hwy 30 west to I-15, then follow the directions for “Southbound travelers on I-15.”

Fees/Permits:

For private vehicles, a fee of $5.00 is charged in the winter and $7.00 in the summer, good for a seven day pass. For individuals entering by bicycle or motorcycle, the seven day pass is $3.00 in the winter and $4 in the summer. Also, be sure to check for fee-free events throughout the year. (See the "Special Events" section below.)

Major Attractions:

Films: A variety of movies are shown regularly at the Visitor Center showcasing the history of Golden Spike. The five regulars are: Golden Spike, Andrew J. Russell: A Visual Historian, The Great Train Robbery, Jupiter and No. 119: Recreating the Locomotives of the Golden Spike, and This is America Charlie Brown.

Big Fill Loop Trail: On this 1.5 mile (round-trip) trail, you will be walking out on original Central Pacific grade and back on the Union Pacific grade. Visitors can view drill marks, cuts, and fills all accomplished by simple tools.

Promontory Auto Tours: Two tours - which are subject to change- are offered to show construction methods used to build the railroad. The West Auto Tour is a 14-mile loop drive which is closed during the winter. The East Auto Tour is a 2-mile loop drive available 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the winter season.

Special Events:

Golden Spike National Historic Site offers several special events throughout the year. The following are fee-free events!

  • For more than four decades, May 10 has served as a reenactment of the "Driving of the Golden Spike Ceremony."
  • The Railroader's Festival is also held the second Saturday in August each year. This family-friendly event offers activities all day including reenactments, games, cab tours, and more.

Check out the online calendar for all events.

Areas of Interest Outside the Historic Site:

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is located about 30 miles east of Promontory in northern Utah. The refuge protects the marshes found at the mouth of the Bear River which happen to be the largest freshwater component of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Call 435-734-6425 or send an email for more information.

Spiral Jetty: Located on the Great Salt Lake, and only 15.5 miles away from Golden Spike National Historic Site, is the Spiral Jetty - Robert Smithson's monumental earthwork created in 1970. The artists used black basalt rocks and earth from the site to create a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that stretches counter-clockwise into the red water. Further information is available online.

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