Living History: An Emigration Canyon railroad inspires the Pinecrest Inn
Emigration Canyon, long associated with the emigrant trail, Donner-Reed Party, the 49ers, Johnston's Army and the Pony Express, was early on abuzz with commerce, from timber rights and sandstone quarries to the Emigration Canyon Railroad and the Pinecrest Inn.
In 1907, during Salt Lake City's building boom, the Utah pioneer jurist LeGrand Young built a 14-mile narrow-gauge electric railway to better serve the city's increasing demands for building foundation sandstone (see May 12, 2013, Salt Lake Tribune's "Living History").
Although successful in delivery, but with seasonal runs only, the railroad was losing money. When an inexpensive product, Portland cement, was introduced to builders, it easily became their product of choice. Sandstone orders waned. To stay in business, the railroad had to diversify.
For years, Emigration Canyon was cherished as a refuge from the pressures of city life and summer's sweltering heat. Empty freight cars returning to the canyon often carried hitchhikers seeking cool mountain breezes, flowing streams and stunning scenery. When Young added four passenger cars to the line in 1909, he envisioned Emigration Canyon as an accessible tourist destination for everyone.
Taking railroad passengers on day trips throughout the canyon proved profitable but limiting. Other venues were needed. When Young learned that Charles N. Strevell and James H. Paterson, principals of the National Real Estate & Investment Company, wanted to build a resort in the canyon, they met. When they asked for his help, he agreed.
Following the railroad tracks to the end of the line in the high mountain district in 1913, Strevell and Paterson began construction of the $65,000 Pinecrest Inn on land donated by Young.
Young pinned his hopes on tourism, increased passenger traffic and a possible reprieve for his struggling railroad. He also donated free transportation of building supplies, workers and employees. Pinecrest Inn was designed by Salt Lake architect Frank Winder Moore as an outdoor resort with the conveniences of a modern home equipped with steam heat, electric lights, telephone and running water. Its substantial structure contained 75 rooms (25 with baths), spacious dining and living rooms, a commercial kitchen, stone fireplace, large ballroom, meeting rooms and 112-foot porch overlooking the canyon.
"No more charming hostelry could be imagined than in this beautiful place set in a veritable hill forest of giant pines and stately birches, silver-barked quaking asps and pretty maples," enthused a June 13, 1913, Salt Lake Tribune advertisement flanked by Emigration Canyon Railroad's seven-day-a-week summertime schedule. "The view from Pinecrest will be magnificent unfolding a scene of grandeur and enchantment to all lovers of nature."
Outdoor lunchrooms, verandas, a spring grotto and a stone bridge residing alongside rustic benches, shady niches, rockwork and landscaping exuded natural elegance. Live orchestras and dance bands entertained weekly. Tennis courts and a children's playground enticed. Streams were stocked with trout, trail guides were attentive, a zip-line cable ran across the creek and ponies thrilled children with rides.
Ideal for summer-long or weekend visits, enthusiasm ran high and land speculation became an investment reality. Nearby Pinecrest cottages were built for sale. Subdivisions of land, provided by Young, started to sell. The resort was packed. Young ordered five more passenger trains for the one-hour ride.
It was a beautiful place in a perfect locale with increasing clientele, but it wasn't enough to save Young's railroad. He needed significantly more lot sales and passenger fares to stay afloat.
When Strevell and Paterson asked Young for another year of free railroad transportation the cost of maintaining the large, well-appointed inn in the mountains was beyond exorbitant the entrepreneur declined.
In 1916, the railroad closed and its parts were sold to an Army base in Tacoma, Wash. Pinecrest Inn struggled to survive. Sold in 1919, and often again, the once-beckoning destination was unceremoniously stripped for salvage in 1949.
Yet even in failure they succeeded. Through the development of tracks, roads and residences, they had opened Emigration Canyon for business.
Eileen Hallet Stone, oral historian, may be reached at email@example.com. Additional sources: Nat'l Real Estate and Inv. Co.'s 1913 booklet, "Summer at Pinecrest and Emigration Canyon."