PROMONTORY SUMMIT, Utah — President Russell M. Nelson spoke Friday at the Golden Spike Sesquicentennial Celebration Ceremony on the spot where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met and created the literal Crossroads of the West in Utah.
He called the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, “a gargantuan accomplishment” that showed diverse people could work together to build and unite a nation.
“This celebration today also reminds us to be true to our vision for the future,” he said. “Lincoln prayed ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.’ So, we pray today that in Jon Meacham’s words, ‘The Soul of America’ will prevail. These hardy laborers achieved a oneness that can guide us as a people to move forward to fulfill God’s plan for this nation, the world, and all of His children.”
An estimated 15,000 people crowded the rails at Golden Spike National Park about 85 miles northwest of Salt Lake City for an event that included the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Utah’s two senators and its governor and was covered by more than 200 journalists from over 80 news outlets from around the world.
President Nelson spoke for three minutes during a two-hour program. He brought a little-known railway spike commissioned by Brigham Young for the railroad line from Ogden to Salt Lake City.
“This iron spike is engraved with these words: ‘Holiness to the Lord,’” President Nelson said. “These words honor and thank our Lord who watched over his people as they completed the link to the nation’s new train system.”
The golden spike famously belonged to California’s Leland Stanford. Other spikes driven at the original ceremony in 1869 were from Nevada and Arizona. There was no spike for Utah.
Now there is.
President Nelson joined Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other dignitaries who took turns driving a new Utah copper spike during the ceremony.
“All the transcontinental railroad spikes — gold, silver, iron and now copper — are symbols of how important it is to come together from various countries and cultures to celebrate our accomplishments,” President Nelson said. “They are reminders of what can be accomplished when we join hands.”
He praised the day’s theme of unity. “When I learned of the theme of today’s celebration — ‘As One’ — I thought about people — the thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants, the newly freed slaves from the Southern states, the veterans who recently fought in the Civil War, the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were trying to settle this harsh land, the Native Americans whose land was altered forever, and the many immigrants from Italy, Germany and other places that came together to build this railroad that crossed a vast country. They came together ‘As One.'”
Brigham Young saw the transcontinental railroad as a way to help Latter-day Saint emigrants travel to Utah and as a boon to a struggling Utah economy. In 1852, he and the Utah Territorial Legislature passed a “memorial” to Congress encouraging it to build such a railroad. After President Abraham Lincoln signed the 1862 Pacific Railway Act, President Young bought five of the 31 original shares sold in the Union Pacific Railroad, which was created to build a railroad west from Council Bluffs, Iowa, a location dear to Latter-day Saints’ hearts.
“Brigham Young understood the importance of the railroad and had the foresight to ensure that rail served the Salt Lake Valley,” Gov. Herbert said. “That rail line allowed early settlers to reap the benefits of the railroad and thrive in this new frontier.”
President Young struck construction contracts with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific to provide thousands of Latter-day Saint workers to grade the beds for rails from both the west and east ends of Utah to Promontory Summit.
The railroad cut a six-month journey across the country to six or seven days, transforming the journey of Latter-day Saint emigrants. Subsequent railway spurts eventually helped workers bring the granite from quarries down to the Salt Lake Temple.
“This celebration,” President Nelson said, “is a time for us to remember and honor what they accomplished. Their hard work, sacrifices and spirit to get the job done helped connect this country in a way that has allowed generations of Americans and immigrants to fulfill their dreams.”