Church leaders attend celebration observing 'wedding of the rails'

A refresher course in U.S. history is re-enacted periodically at Promontory Summit, the site where East met West as the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

To mark the 125th anniversary of that historical event May 10, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency traveled by train from Salt Lake City to Brigham City and then by car to Promontory Summit, a plateau in the mountains at the north end of the Great Salt Lake. There they joined some 10,000 people assembled for the grand finale of "Golden Spike Week" proclaimed by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to commemorate the driving of the final spike connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, and the meeting of a steam engine from each line on May 10, 1869.President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Monson, second counselor, were invited to make remarks during a program marking the coming of the transcontinental railroad. The presence of the two Church leaders was fitting, since the Latter-day Saints who settled this part of the Western United States had a major role in the drama of bringing "the iron horse" to what was then Utah Territory.

As the pioneers were crossing the plains, Brigham Young marked the route over which he believed the railroad would eventually pass. As evidence of his foresight, the track of the Union Pacific Railway was laid for hundreds of miles along the route he marked.

The pioneers were in the Salt Lake Valley only four years before they became among the first to petition congress for the construction of a national central railroad to the Pacific Coast. At the first Territorial Legislature in 1851-52 in Salt Lake City, memorials were adopted and sent to Congress, asking for the railroad and for the establishment of a transcontinental telegraph line.

Two years later, in January 1854, a mass meeting was held in Salt Lake City and Congress was again petitioned for the construction of a railway from the Missouri River through South Pass and into the Salt Lake Valley. Later that month, the Utah Legislature again petitioned Congress for a railway. After 1854, Church leaders regularly sent pleas to Washington for a railway.

On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing construction of "the greatest railway." The "Wedding of the Rails" commenced with the building of two railroads, the Union Pacific coming from California, and the Central Pacific coming from Nebraska.

The Church provided much of the labor in constructing the railroad once it reached the borders of the Utah Territory. Several of the Central Pacific grades from Humboldt Wells to Ogden, a distance of about 200 miles, were contracted to Latter-day Saints, and Brigham Young himself took the contract to build the grades for the Union Pacific through the extremely difficult gorges.

The place where the rails ceremoniously met on May 10, 1869, turned out to be a rather remote spot in the Promontory Mountains, in today's Box Elder County. The town of Promontory at the time consisted of a street flanked with tents and shacks. Since there was no coal or wood in the area, sagebrush was used to fire the locomotives at times. While a crowd of 30,000 was hoped for, it is believed no more than 500 to 1,000 showed up to watch as four ceremonial spikes were driven to mark the completion of the railway. The "golden spike," the last driven, became symbolic of the beginning of a new era in the history of the Territory of Utah, as well as the United States.

President Brigham Young, who was conducting Church business in south-central Utah, was not present at the ceremony. However, he sent a large delegation to represent the Church. The Tenth Ward Band also was sent to add to the festivities. Golden spike observances on that day included a speech by Apostle John Taylor in Salt Lake City, and celebrations in Ogden and other towns.

Indicative of the general feelings toward the presence of the railroad in the Territory, the Deseret News made this comment after passengers began arriving: "The recent arrival of the company of emigrants in this Territory from Great Britain is the commencement of a new era in the gathering of the Saints to Zion. We can scarcely realize the fact that in about twenty-three days from the time they stepped on the vessel in the port of Liverpool they were safely landed in Ogden, and then traveling time was even three days less than this. . . .

"Many have had the idea that we dreaded the completion of the continental railroad, but why should we fear it? The advantages which it confers very greatly outweigh any disadvantages which it may occasion. . . .

"By its aid our missionary operations at home and abroad will be greatly promoted. Our Elders can travel with expedition and ease to the most distant parts, perform their missions, return with equal facility, bringing with them fruits of their labors."

A week after the golden spike was driven, ground was broken for the Utah Central Railroad, which would connect Salt Lake City with Ogden. In January 1870, before a crowd of 15,000, Brigham Young drove the last spike connecting the two cities.

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