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The Salt Lake Tribune Arch
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Early Utah Toll Project Was No Road to Riches
Hal Schindler
Published: 07/18/1996 Category: Nation-World Page: A4

In the early history of Utah, it was not unusual for the Territorial Legislature to grant individuals the right to construct public roads, bridges or ferries and exact a toll until they were paid for. Probably the best known of these projects was Parley P. Pratt's toll road, which had its beginnings during the gold rush of 1849 and enjoyed some success the following year, but faded into obscurity by 1860.

Pratt and Jacob Workman explored the country around today's Silver Creek and Park City in 1848, and noted in Pratt's report to the Mormon High Council in Great Salt Lake City that emigration could be diverted from the "pioneer road" at the mouth of Echo Canyon and conducted by a new and superior route into Salt Lake Valley." It wasn't until the Forty-Niners began streaming into the valley the following June that Pratt undertook to build himself a toll road. "I commenced in July to work a road up the rugged Kanyon of Big Kanyon Creek," he wrote in his Autobiography. (Big Kanyon, of course, later was renamed in his honor and is today's Parleys Canyon.)

Hard work it was, but in June 1850, the Deseret News carried the first advertisement for Pratt's new "Golden Pass Road." Here is how he described his "new road through the mountains:"

    Travellers between the States and California, are respectfully informed that a new road will be opened on and after the 4th of July, between the Weber River and Great Salt Lake Valley--distance about forty miles; avoiding the two great mountains, and most of the Kanyons so troublesome on the old route. The road is somewhat rough and unfinished; but is being made better every day. Several thousand dollars are already expended by the proprietor, who only solicits the patronage of the public, at the moderate charge of

    50 cents per conveyance drawn by one animal.
    75 cents per conveyance drawn by two animals.
    10 cents per each additional draught, pack or saddle animal.
    5 cents per head for loose stock.
    1 cent per head for sheep.

    The foregoing prices will average about one dollar per wagon. If a road worked by the most persevering industry, an open country, good feed and fuel, beautifully romantic and sublime scenery, are any inducement, take the new road, and thus encourage public improvement.

Pratt noted that, with the road open for California immigration, the amount of toll taken in 1850 was about $1,500.

There is speculation regarding his choice of the name Golden Pass for the road. Some thought it was suggested by the color of outcropping on the north face of the canyon, while others believed it was inspired by the magic significance of "gold" for all those seeking their fortunes in California. And still others believe Pratt may have been thinking of his prospects for the future of the new highway and had the Golden Goose in mind. Judging by the size of his first season's take, it would seem at least 6,000 immigrants may have passed over the new route. On the other hand, much of his toll would have come from Mormon settlers taking out timber and construction stone from the canyons.

The tollhouse and entrance to the road was in the general vicinity of what is now 3300 East just south of 2100 South in the gulch of Parleys Canyon. As a continuous whole, the road fell into disuse after one year. Pratt had ambition and energy, but early in '51 he was forced to sell his interest to finance an LDS Church mission to Chile. The Golden Pass then seems to have atrophied from benign neglect. The need for maintenance likely was excessive on the toll road, especially during winter when drifts would pile up to ten feet deep in the narrow stretches of the canyon.

Pratt did not live to see his Golden Pass road amount to much; he was shot and killed outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1857 by an outraged husband, who--accused the Mormon of seducing his wife. As a popular byway, Golden Pass did not make the grade; in the course of time, however, Pratt's vision proved clearer than most, for today's I-80 through his "Big Kanyon" is a success.

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