by Jeffrey Carlstrom
Many of us have seen firsthand the recent population boom in Emigration Canyon. Over the past decade or two, large parcels of land that had been subdivided by developers began sprouting homes up on the hillsides beyond the reach of the canyon road. But this population boom wasn’t the first in Emigration Canyon. The first one happened about 100 years ago. It was tied to the old Emigration Canyon Railroad.
This electric narrow-gauge railroad was originally built by LeGrand Young (Brigham’s grandson) for hauling sandstone from his rock quarries in Pinecrest and upper Brigham Fork. However, it soon became apparent that money could be made hauling people too, and in 1909 passenger cars were made available to bring picnickers and sightseers to Emigration Canyon.
Alas, Mr Young’s enterprise was in trouble. With demand for sandstone lagging, LeGrande had to set his sights on increasing passenger traffic to keep the railroad running. So he partnered with the National Real Estate Company to aid in building the Pinecrest Inn as a destination resort in the mountains. This resort would be surrounded by a community of summer cabins, whose owners would create a steady base of railroad passengers. Other development interests climbed on board as well, subdividing land all along the railroad line in Emigration Canyon. LeGrande was optimistic about his future, declaring “I am safe in saying that there will be one thousand homes in that canyon before three years is up if we can do our part.”
Young’s prediction was off. His railroad struggled on only until 1917. But the land that was subdivided by his business associates continued to attract buyers that would become canyon residents during the summer months. “The Groves” subdivision in Pinecrest, offering 918 small “tent” lots, starting filling up right away. It never quite “filled up,” but cabins were built and a small community was established.
Down canyon, at Killyons Canyon, business cronies who called themselves the Emigration Improvement Corporation, offered some106 lots. This same organization subdivided land below the Killyon fork, selling 103 lots in “Little Mountain Subdivision #1” and another 72 lots in “Little Mountain subdivision #2.” Below that was “Maple City” in Maple Grove, subdivided into 52 lots.
Halfway to Pinecrest along a railroad siding was “Pioneer Addition,” 217 small “tent” lots that were developed by a related firm, the Emigration Canyon Investment Company.
A couple families got into the act as well. Percy Goddard and his family kept a plot of land next to the Pioneer Addition, surveying that property into 45 lots (calling it “Spring Glen”). And RH Lenkeit added 69 lots to his “Margaretha Subdivision” across the road from Maple Grove.
LeGrande Young had sold his property near the bottom of the canyon (the old Johnson Homestead) to his uncle in 1909. Joseph A. Young had hoped to create a resort hotel there but the demise of the railroad likely sidetracked his plans. This subdivision would not see any development during this population boom.
Adding them up, we find 1582 lots for sale over a span of just a couple years (1913 – 1915). We don’t know how many people this brought up the canyon. Many of the lots that were purchased were never used. Many takers purchased several lots for a single dwelling. Many of the lots in Pinecrest were on steep uninhabitable slopes. And of course, all these lots were used in the summers only, with primary residence remaining in the valley.
Though we have a hard time quantifying this 100-year-old population boom, it’s safe to say that the canyon would have seemed crowded during the summer months, though this was nothing new to Emigration Canyon. Wagon trains and freighters certainly crowded the canyon during their heyday. Quarry workers and timber cutters must have interrupted the canyon’s solitude in the early days, not to mention the invasion of the railroad itself, rumbling loudly up canyon and with brakes squealing on overloaded cars on the way down. But this population boom of the early 1900s brought a leisure class to Emigration Canyon who built dwellings. This was a preview of things to come.