The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) was one of two railroads that served Park City in the 20th century. In 1888, the Salt Lake & Eastern (SL&E) branch of the Utah Central Railroad began construction of a narrow gauge line up Parley’s Canyon to serve Park City. The Union Pacific Railroad was already serving Park City via a Wanship and Silver Creek Canyon branch. But the UP’s predatory pricing and circuitous routing to Salt Lake City encouraged the Utah Central to provide an alternative.
The SL&E began service to our town in 1890. The line was an immediate success, especially in the reduction of travel time between Salt Lake and Park City from four hours to two. Evidence of the roadbed remains visible on the left just past the Mountain Dell Golf Course as you drive up Parley’s to Park City.
In 1898, the SL&E became part of the Denver & Rio Grande and the line was converted to standard gauge. At that time, the D&RG constructed a stately Queen Anne style station at 820 Park Ave. This complex included a freight house. The freight building’s siding was corrugated metal painted mustard yellow. The name Rio Grande was in bold lettering on the front of the building. The coloring and script were “classic” D&RG.
By the 1940s a several factors compelled the D&RG to abandon its Park City branch. These included the UP’s continued strength, competitive pressures from motor vehicles, declining fortunes in the local mining industry, difficult grades up Parley’s Canyon, and the state’s desire to improve the roadway between Salt Lake and Park City. UDOT’s predecessor wanted the D&RG right-of-way. In 1946 the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approved the D&RG’s petition for abandonment and the rails were removed thus ending 56 years of service.
The original passenger station was dismantled in 1940. The freight building, however, evaded the same fate. Over the ensuing years the building dodged the ravages of neglect, fire and obliteration by development. By the early 1990s Zion’s Bank had adapted the freight building for re-use and preservation. They were careful to preserve what remained of the structure’s historical significance including the corrugated siding, coloring, and Rio Grande name.
This story of preservation, adaptive re-use and respect for historical significance was “derailed” in 2015.
The address of the former D&RG complex – 820 Park Ave – is now the site of a construction project. Take a stroll to the west side of the development and you will see the unmistakable silhouette of the freight building. Regrettably, any indication of the building’s historic significance has been stripped away severing its connection to the history of the D&RG in Park City. It was an unfortunate and preventable fate for a building that was part of Old Town’s history for 115 years. RIP, evidence of the D&RG in Park City – you may be gone but are not forgotten.