Martha Sonntag Bradley
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994
Summit County’s early history is largely defined by a trail. The road through Echo Canyon taken by a series of immigrant groups, some famous for the disasters that befell them, others for the success of their colonization efforts, became the line that drew history in this mountainous canyon to the northeast of the Salt Lake Valley. A number of communities sprang up along the road: some were supply stations for the bands of travelers, and others were permanent settlements of farmers anxious to try agriculture in the Great Basin.
The location of one such settlement, Coalville, was chosen by chance. In the fall of 1858 on a freight run between Salt Lake City and Fort Bridger, William Henderson Smith stopped to camp near Chalk Creek. He noticed that wheat had fallen to the earth from earlier travelers’ wagons had taken root and ripened without any attention. He took samples of the wheat with him into Salt Lake City and by the next spring had convinced two other men, Andrew Williams and Leonard Phillips, to join with him in the area’s settlement. By April 1859 they were joined by Henry B. Wilde, Joseph Stalling, and Thomas B. Franklin and their families.
At first the new settlement was called Chalk Creek, but after the discovery of coal nearby the name was changed to Coalville. Thomas Rhoades discovered coal while hunting for game. He took samples of the coal to Brigham Young. Soon Young sent Daniel H. Wells, Briant Stringham, and Stephen Taylor to open the coal mine they called the “Old Church Mine.”
Over the next several decades Mormon settlers opened a series of mines across the canyon walls, including mines at Spring Hollow, Allen’s Hollow, and Wasatch or Grass Creek. The Weber Coal Company ran the Wasatch Mine for a number of years and then leased it for a period of time to J. H. Roberts. Most importantly, the coal mines provided an important natural resource that benefited locals, providing needed income, jobs, and fuel for their homes. Before 1873 coal was shipped to Salt Lake City by ox teams; by 1873 a narrow-gauge railroad had been built to the Wasatch Mine. The Utah Eastern Narrow Gauge greatly facilitated the transportation of ore to market. In 1880 a line was completed to Park City.
The settlers built a mill at Sulphur Springs in 1861, a rock schoolhouse in 1865, and regularly held court in Coalville. In 1867 the town was incorporated; W. W. Cluff was elected as mayor, and H. B. Wilde, W. H. Smith, H. B. Clements, Ira Hinckley, and John Staley were elected to the council. In 1871 Summit County built a county courthouse in Coalville, thereby solidifying the town’s political importance to the area. This yellow sandstone structure was described by one observer as “by far the most beautiful public building we have seen for a city of its size.” The formation of the LDS Summit Stake in July 1877 made Coalville the center of religious, political, and commercial life. By the turn of the century, a diverse group of businesses lined Coalville’s Main Street and spread out from the center in all directions.
In 1892 LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued a charter for the Summit Stake Academy, a school opened in an upper chamber of the co-op building on Main Street. In 1912 the public school district built a school. Typical of the two-story buildings constructed during the consolidation movement, this school had four classrooms in the corners of the two levels and multiuse recreation rooms on each floor.
Coalville is located about 5,600 feet above sea level, a town cradled by mountains with ready access to water. One visitor to Coalville described Coalville as being “very picturesque. Through the city, from east to west, emptying into the grand Weber river, which is the western boundary of the city. Hemmed in by these two beautiful rivers, surrounded by majestic mountains, every home surrounded by flower gardens and fruit orchards, the pure mountain air—well, draw the picture yourself, a pen cannot describe it.”
In 1908, Coalville had a population of 1,200 and about twenty businesses, the largest of which was a ZCMI. The city boasted its own opera house, electric light plant, and the elegant Summit Stake Tabernacle. Today, life in Coalville proceeds at a pace established long ago. Known for its extreme winter temperatures, Coalville is still a quiet, peaceful town. Occasionally the scene of heated battles about land usage in Summit County, it is nevertheless a place with a sense of tradition and a proud history that stretches back more than 140 years.