Coalville, Utah

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Coalville, Utah, situated in Summit County, Utah, is near the trail through Echo Canyon that many immigrants traversed as they headed west. A number of communities sprang up along the trail, some as supply stations for the travelers and some as settlements.

Coalville was founded in 1859 by William Henderson Smith, a Latter-day Saint freighter. “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.”[1]

The settlement was first called Chalk Creek but the name was changed to Coalville after the discovery of coal nearby. Thomas Rhoades (a veteran of the California Gold Rush who had associated with the Mormon Battalion at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento, California) discovered coal while hunting for game. He took samples of the coal to Brigham Young. Young sent Daniel H. Wells, Briant Stringham, and Stephen Taylor to open the coal mine they called the “Old Church Mine.”[2]

Raiding Indians continually threatened the lives and hard work of the Chalk Creek settlers. Because of this danger from Indian attacks Brigham Young counseled the settlers to build a fort for protection. "Following this advice, the Coalville citizens built a fort on the hill above Chalk Creek. They called for all outlying families to come into the central location for protection. . . . When the Indian threat finally subsided, the settlers of Chalk Creek found they liked living close to each other and wanted the social and political benefits of town government. They approved a committee to lay out the town and prepare it for incorporation.[3]

Soon after the discovery of this coal in 1859, it was being transported to Salt Lake City for church and commercial use. Several dozen persons were called to the region in the spring of 1860; improved roads to connect with Salt Lake City were built; new mines were discovered, including mines at Spring Hollow, Allen’s Hollow, and Wasatch or Grass Creek. “Church and private teams plied back and forth between Coalville and Salt Lake City throughout the sixties.”[4]

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.[5]

Coal mining was hard physical work. Men worked twelve-hour shifts after sometimes walking or riding a horse several miles to and from the mine portal. Men performed manual labor with pick and shovel. . . . The mines closed on Sundays, which were the only break in a long week for the men.[6]

Many of the Church members who settled in Coalville were from the Yorkshire area of Great Britain and had worked in the collieries of England. In 1867 the town was incorporated and W. W. Cluff was elected mayor. In 1871 Summit County built a county courthouse in Coalville, and Coalville continues today as the county seat, although the population in Coalville is much smaller than nearby Park City.

The Church’s Summit Stake was formed in July 1877 and Coalville was 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, Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a charter for the Summit Stake Academy. The Coalville Opera House was built in 1899.

Summit County was not the location of the largest coal reserves in Utah: those reserves are in Carbon, Emery, and Sevier counties. A large coal field is found in Kane and Garfield counties, but is not extracted because it lies within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument[7]

Most, if not all, of the mines near Coalville are abandoned. The State of Utah has an Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program that seals the openings on state and federal lands as well as private property. “Around 200 to 300 openings are closed each year. Coal mines were a high priority for the program when it first started, which led officials to work on several locations in Coalville in the 1990s.”[8]

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